Hockey fans can expect to see a new look at 3M Arena at Mariucci this season. A seven-month long $14 million renovation wrapped up this week. The biggest change? The rink.
Since 1993, the Gopher men’s hockey team put their rivals to the test with their large Olympic size sheet of ice. The team was one of the last in the country to hold onto this size in collegiate hockey.
“Everyone wants to get closer to a NHL ice size,” hockey facilities director, Craig Floor said.
Floor has been with the University of Minnesota athletics department for 26 years. He says discussions on replacing the ice started nearly a decade ago.
“I remember coach Don Lucia wanting to size down,” Floor said.
It’s a natural move as many who have worn the Maroon and Gold jerseys go on to play in the NHL.
“Was it an advantage? Yes. Was it a disadvantage? Yes,” Gopher head coach Bob Motzko said.
Why did the Gophers get the big ice in the first place?
It was a trend for rinks following the “Miracle on Ice” 1980 Olympics. After decades playing inside what is now known as the Sports Pavillion, Mariucci was built in 1993.
“What evolved over the years on the Olympic ice was more defense. Slow game,” Motzko said.
The smaller rink will increase the speed of play. Motzko says more offensive opportunities will lead to a more physical game, too.
“A casual fan may not notice the difference,” Floor said. “But Gopher hockey fans know.”
The new rink was slimmed down 16 inches to be 85 feet wide and 200 feet long. It made room for around 250 more seats in the arena, which sits roughly 10,000 people. The additional seats include a premium seating area near the boards. It has wider seats with some small tables next to them.
Don’t forget to look up.
The low-hanging lights have been replaced with a new LED light system that Floor says will improve the fan experience.
“We can make this rink look more like games at the Xcel Energy Center,” Floor said.
An update to the system that preserves the ice was needed, too. The refrigeration system was replaced, and Floor says it now also works inside Ridder Arena where the Gopher women’s hockey team plays. The arena will also be updated soon.
“I tell people to think about their fridge. If it’s 30 years old, then you probably need a new one. We needed a new one, ” Floor said.
The first game on the new ice will be played on Oct. 8 when the Gophers face off against Bemidji State University in an exhibition game.