MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — No doubt about it, winter is here in Minnesota and that means hockey. It’s played on ponds and in parks, but we wanted to find the best high school hockey rink in Minnesota.
Your votes sent WCCO’s Matt Brickman all the way up to Thief River Falls to see the Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Even on a snowy day when school and hockey practice are cancelled, there’s no shortage of rink rats on the ice in Thief River. With a look around the Ralph Englestad Arena it’s easy to see why.
“Wow” is probably the best way to describe the $16 million facility built by Thief River Falls’ favorite son. Ralph Engelstad owned the Imperial Palace Casino in Las Vegas, and when he built this place 10 years ago, he brought some of the Sin City glitz: from the granite floor and brass ceiling in the lobby, to the elevator.
“I think there was quite a bit of, ‘well, why did Ralph do this for hockey?’ Well, he was a hockey player. He had a passion for hockey,” former Thief River Falls Mayor Dale Wennberg said. “Hey, if Ralph would have been a swimmer, I’m sure we would have had the nicest swimming pool in the state of Minnesota.”
It also features a college-caliber weight room and an over-the-top press box. But for all its bells and whistles, this place is also dripping with history.
Thief River was a powerhouse in the 1940s when Engelstad was a goalie for the Prowlers and in the 1950s when they won state championships two out of three years.
As much as this place acts as a museum for Thief River’s hockey history. It’s also an asset for youth hockey. That’s one of the big reasons former NHLer Tim Bergland came back to coach his home town team.
“It’s helped our program, it’s helped the success of our program and I just wanted to be a part of it,” Bergland said.
After graduating from Lincoln High School in Thief River Falls, Ralph Engelstad went on to play hockey at the University of North Dakota. The ice arena there is also named in his honor.