by Jackson Boline
Let’s Play Hockey Contributor
In the year 1993, the ‘new’ Mariucci Arena was opened, seating over 10,000 spectators for Gopher Men’s hockey. A staple of Minnesota Gopher hockey for the past 30 years has been the Olympic-sized 100’ x 200’ rink, which is 15 feet wider than the traditional NHL size. This size of ice sheets became popular with college and amateur rinks after the 1980 Olympics. Another rink with an Olympic-sized ice sheet includes the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center, home of the St. Cloud State University Huskies Hockey teams, built-in 1989. No group has built an entire Olympic or an Olympic hybrid since Northern Michigan did so in 1999.
After 30 years of a larger ice sheet at 3M Arena at the Mariucci, it was decided to shrink the rink to a more traditional size. The reason is, there is a consensus between coaches and schools with hockey clubs that kids grow up with the goal to win championships at all levels; youth, high school state tournament championships, college conference or national titles, and even the Stanley Cup. All these championships usually have one thing in common, and it’s that there played on a traditional-sized ice sheet, a size that is close to NHL standards of 85’ wide x 200’ long. So, with that in mind, schools around the nation have decided to shrink their ice sheet to make it a more traditional size, this way all ages of hockey players are competing on a consistent rink size no matter what level of hockey they are playing.
“The number of the 100’ rinks is getting low, and some rinks including Colorado College, Alaska who had that Olympic size ice, don’t even play at those rinks anymore. They are becoming much more traditionally sized nationwide,” said Craig Flor, Director of ice arenas, 3M Arena at Mariucci and Ridder Arena.
Along with shrinking the ice sheet, the University of Minnesota has three other significant renovations.
Replace the aging refrigeration system
Purchase an updated dasher board system with acrylic shielding for better player safety, which is NHL standard.
Update the arena lighting to LED Sports lighting
The refrigeration system at the Mariucci was the first thing that was replaced. The former 30-year-old system had exceeded its projected lifecycle. It utilized R22 Freon, which after 2019, was no longer manufactured or imported into the United States. The refrigeration was showing signs of its age with wear and tear in the system, but the main problem was the difficulty of finding replacement parts and system components to keep it operating efficiently. The cost of the system was becoming a problem as well. The project to change the refrigeration system began three days following the Big Ten Championship. The change to the system was moving to an ammonia indirect ice plant instead of the direct flooded system that was in place for 30 years.
New dasher boards are the next step after the shrinkage is complete, and along with the boards is a new acrylic shielding, this will give players an NHL standard safe feel.
The final step in completing the renovations of 2023 is updating the arena lightning to LED sports lighting.
“We were at about 90-95 foot candles, we’re going to be at 125-128 which is getting closer to the NHL level of 150. It will be better for broadcasts and will change the feel to spotlight the product more,” said Jeff Seifriz, Associate AD of facilities and capital projects.
The planning for the shrinkage in the arena goes back many years.
“The planning process goes back a long time when our coaches were talking about the shrinkage of the rink,” said Flor.
Many coaches and other members of the University wanted to not only get the rink smaller, but also have other projects done, and that’s when it was realized there were many things that should be done all in phases.
“The coaches started talking about getting NHL-style corners, and much more, which is when I realized that we can’t just do ‘X’ and we can’t just do ‘Y’, we have to do A, B, C, D to get to X, and Y. If we’re going to do it, we wanted to take the steps to do it right.”
The current renovations are seen as phase three of the multi-phase process.
“Phase one included renovating the locker room suits in 2016, which involved taking down three locker rooms to make them into one. Phase two was to redo the lounge/lobby area and weight room, taking out walls to give more room for strength and conditioning. Along with renovating coaches’ offices,” said Flor.
There are big plans ahead for 3M Arena at Mariucci, including making the arena more accommodating for fans.
“The shrinkage is our third phase, the fourth phase will be focused on improving the environment for the fans. Concussions upgrade, branding, more fan amenities. We are working on fundraising for that now,” said Flor.
Improvements to 3M Arena at Mariucci are far from over, but with ‘phase three’ coming to a close this September, they are one step closer to completing their four-phase plan. The Mariucci is a cornerstone venue to watch a hockey game and included with the shrinkage of the rink, there is going to be an extra row of seating that will accommodate 250 more spectators. The timeline for the next phase of the four-phase process is still unknown, but this current project will wrap up next-offseason when the concrete floor at Ridder Arena will also be redone to work with the new refrigeration system.