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Old Ralph Engelstad Arena starts to come down: Hockey players say goodbye, football program awaits next step

FNS Photo by Eric Hylden Mark Poolman, strength and conditioning coach for UND hockey, talks about the old Ralph Engelstad Arena with UND hockey players during a break from training to watch demolition begin on the old arena on campus Monday.

GRAND FORKS -- The University of North Dakota hockey team took a break from its summer workout to line up along Second Avenue North and pay respect to a building that produced the program's last national championship.

A little to the west, meanwhile, UND football coach Chris Mussman peered out the entryway of Memorial Stadium to take in the moment that will pave the way for the UND Athletics High Performance Center where his players will have an opportunity to practice indoors.

With the old Ralph Engelstad Arena beginning to be torn down, Monday morning marked an end to one era and the start of another.

To begin the demolition process -- expected to last a few weeks -- construction workers from Berger Enterprises used an excavator to claw at the entryway of the old Ralph, which faces Memorial Stadium. While bricks fell to the ground, water was sprayed on the building to minimize airborne dust.

"We were going to do more of a workout today, but I think this was more important," UND hockey strength and conditioning coach Mark Poolman said. "The idea of the old Ralph being torn down makes this a sad day, but the message to the guys was to bring that rich tradition and history over to the new building."

Memories remain

For the football program, the razing of the old Ralph is less about what's coming down and more about what's coming next.

The UND Athletics High Performance Center, an indoor practice facility, will take the place of the old Ralph, which was home to UND hockey from 1972 to 2001. Phase I of the new facility will include a full-sized football practice field, an eight-lane, 300-meter track, areas for throws and jumps, and seating for approximately 1,500 spectators.

"For us, it's that moment you know it's going to happen," Mussman said. "Until you tear down the old Ralph, it was just an idea out there on paper and talked about."

However, the significance of the old Ralph isn't lost on him.

"I remember my first year here in '99 and coach (Bubba) Schweigert and I went in during the high school hockey tournament," Mussman said. "It was a great moment.

"I remember taking my kid, Jake, to our first UND game. We sat behind (former UND goalie Karl Goehring). Great seats. It's sad to see it go, but the progress will be very exciting for us."

Poolman said it was important for the players to be present for the building's demolition.

"I did an impromptu study a few years back about why recruits come here," Poolman said. "The No. 1 reason was the history and tradition. And as you look around and see all the people here, you can see the history and tradition are extremely important to everybody."

Mussman, meanwhile, hopes the indoor practice facility can lay the groundwork to build new history and tradition for his program.

"This is a big step for us," he said. "It'll be nice for us be able to do winter workouts. If our young quarterbacks were able to throw in there all winter, it would've been a great advantage."