University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux Hockey Game – Grand Forks, ND
We’ve heard the same thing said in various places across the country, and have seen varying answers to that statement. From football in Nebraska, to the International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, the “biggest thing in town” is taken very seriously.
That’s exactly what we found in Grand Forks, ND, as the UND Fighting Sioux hockey is most certainly the biggest draw. What we found were not only students, faculty, and alumni involved and excited for the hockey team, but an entire community that puts this college hockey team on the top of their list. And when an entire city and most of a state support you, great things can happen.
Aside from their winning history (The Sioux have appeared in the NCAA tournament 26 times, the Frozen Four 19 times, won 7 NCAA Division I Championships, League Leading 15 WCHA Regular Season Championships, and 9 WCHA Tournament Championships), the Fighting Sioux thrive because of the area’s commitment to the sport and to the team.
Hockey has a history in the northern part of North America, where the games of British soldiers and immigrants to Canada, influenced by stick-and-ball games of First Nations, evolved to become a game played on ice skates, often played with a puck, and played with sticks made by the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia. Hockey is mostly popular in cold weather regions of the US, a category that Grand Forks solidly falls under. Grand Forks has 11 outdoor ice rinks and 5 indoor ice rinks, keeping kids playing hockey all year round. The community’s love of the game easily translates into love for the best team around, the Fighting Sioux.
It’s not hard to see why everyone in the area is so infatuated with Fighting Sioux hockey. The arena, pre-game and in-game festivities, university and arena staff, as well as the play on the ice can all be described with one word: Professional.
The Ralph Engelstad Arena, which seats 11,640, opened in 2001 and is called the “Taj Mahal of hockey”. The $110 million arena was built with granite floording in the concourse, seats made of cherry wood and leather upholstery, escalators that bring spectators between levels, and full-color LCD TVs throughout the arena. An interesting fun fact is that although located within the campus of the University of North Dakota, the arena and land itself is owned by The Engelstad Family Foundation and rented conditionally to UND each year for $1. The Engelstad’s love for the university has kept this hockey powerhouse in tact.
As for the game itself, watching the Fighting Sioux hockey team at the Ralph Engelstad arena is truly no different than going to an NHL game. The pre-game light and video displays rivaled anything that we’ve seen at Staples Center during LA Kings games. Even though this particular game was during winter break for the students, and only an exhibition game against the Russian Red Stars, the crowd was still electric and exciting. The Fighting Sioux handled the young Russian team on the night, beating them 5-1. Stellar goal-tending, rowdy checking, and exceptional power plays saw the Sioux win a game that was never really in doubt.
As we’ve come to find throughout this trip, the story of our experience becomes more than just the game or the sport itself. In this case, the looming story affecting the fans of the Fighting Sioux is their battle with the NCAA. After the NCAA barred several universities that use Native American imagery from hosting post-season tournaments or wearing such imagery in post-season play, the university sued them. A preliminary injunction was granted that would have allowed the Fighting Sioux to both host post-season events and wear their regular uniforms while the lawsuit was in progress. The supporters argue that the Florida State Seminoles have not been required to change their name, which shows that UND has been somewhat unfairly targeted. In addition,many Fighting Sioux supporters have noted that UND has a Native American Studies program, has Native Americans on its faculty, and has a significant Native American student population.
To make matters more interesting, midway through construction, Ralph Engelstad threatened to withdraw his funding if UND’s Fighting Sioux sports teams were renamed. In an effort to make the prospect of removal both difficult and costly, the Fighting Sioux logo was strategically placed in thousands of areas in the arena, including a large granite logo in the main concourse, which would cost UND a pretty penny to have removed and replaced. The lawsuit with the NCAA was settled under the condition that UND has three years to gain tribal support from both Sioux nations in North Dakota, or retire the Sioux name and logo.While UND supports the settlement conditions, the Ralph Engelstad Arena has declined to commit to removal of the Sioux name and logos from the arena, even if they are retired.
In my opinion, this seems to be a case of the NCAA fighting a moral battle for a group of people that might not necessarily want that battle fought for them. The UND Fighting Sioux not only resonate with students, alumni, and fans, but also with a large group of people in the area. The historical significance is never lost, as there are descriptions and historical accounts of the Sioux people in the arena, as well as a video that is shown every game paying homage to the Sioux. In addition, its hard for the NCAA not to come off as hypocritical, as they seem to have no problem with other controversial collegiate mascots that portray ethnicities in a negative light, including: University of Illinois Fighting Illini, Ole Miss Rebels (confederate soldiers), San Diego St. Aztecs, and the Notre Dame (seemingly drunk in their logo) Fighting Irish.
It will be interesting to see how this situation plays out, although every indication that we got seemed to point in the direction of a name change. As to what that name will be is anyone’s guess. As much as the “Fighting Sioux” name and logo are iconic to fans, it’s hard to imagine anything less than a great college hockey team, with a large and faithful fanbase, playing and winning in an exquisite arena, whatever their mascot name might be.
If you’d like to check out a Fighting Sioux hockey game, dates and more information can be found on their website: www.fightingsioux.com. We had such a great time in Grand Forks, and the arena and team are definitely worth a visit.