Ralph Engelstad Arena is one of the finest hockey facilities in the nation. Sure, I have only been to six or seven, but REA in Grand Forks, North Dakota is top notch. I used to work for a corporate sponsor of the arena and we got a behind the scenes tour that was amazing. Now, I have never toured the Xcel Energy Center so I will try and tread lightly here, but I remember saying to the manager of REA and my Grand Forks counterparts that Ralph Engelstad Arena may be better than the Xcel Energy Center. There. I put it in print. I may be one of the biggest MN Wild Freaks out there, but I was in complete awe of Ralph Engelstad Arena and the amenities it offers.
When you enter the arena, you get the same feeling you get when you enter the X - hockey utopia. They have the same big round scoreboard and fancy graphics around the various seating levels, but there are a couple of noticeable differences as well. #1: the huge imported organ - it is gorgeous and puts that little zamboni piano at the X to shame. #2 no surface is unfinished - there are no concrete floors or pillars here, everything is brick or carpet or tile (most marble), including amazing mosaics bearing the Sioux Indian Head logo (don't care where you stand on the Indian logo issue, the mosaics are remarkable) #3 Italian soda machines, yes the Coke machines are imported from Italy - no joke.
I have never seen the Xcel Energy Center locker rooms (except on TV) or the workout facilities, but I was in complete awe of the REA facilities. Top of the line workout equipment and spas as well as a raised shock absorbent flooring system to help prevent injuries. Even the elevator was beautiful! And the huge hockey history murals reminded me of the deep sense of tradition and pride you feel when you enter Mariucci Arena. It cost $104 million to build, but it shows in every aspect.
Want a road trip recommendation hockey fans? Ralph Engelstad Arena, Grand Forks, North Dakota (but be careful wearing your Gopher gear!)