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NHL, Players Talk About Return-to-Play: Neutral Site Games in ND

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NHL return Ralph Engelstad Arena
The Ralph Engelstad Arena. Photo from Icon Architectural Group

According to Sportsnet reporter Elliotte Friedman, there are discussions to resume the 2019-20 NHL season this summer at a neutral site. Friedman said one possible location is the Ralph Engelstad Arena on the North Dakota University campus in Grand Forks, ND.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic forced a near-nationwide shutdown of sports and business on March 11.

The “bubble city” idea in which the league quarantined teams at a neutral site to resume their season was first floated by the Chinese Basketball League two weeks ago. Reportedly, the NBA is watching closely.

We’re not taking credit, but Pittsburgh Hockey Now immediately followed with a suggestion the NHL do the same. And we suggested the NHL season resume so at the very same location the NHL is now considering. Again, we’re not taking credit, but if a player or someone in the league liked the idea and location, feel free to drop us a line.

According to Friedman’s report, read the full story here, the NHL and NHLPA are “spitballing” ideas for a return-to-play scenario.

This writer can tell you first hand, the arena known as “The Ralph” or the “Palace on the Prarie” is an extraordinary hockey arena. It had comfy leather seats and marble floors long before new arenas copied the opulence. The facilities from the built-in broadcast centers to the locker rooms are first rate.

The Engelstad Arena was the site for the 2006 World Junior Championships, which was the NHL lockout year, so Team Canada led by Sidney Crosby and Patrice Bergeron beat Team Russia led by Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin.

The building is the home arena for the North Dakota hockey team, which had the Fighting Sioux nickname until NCAA rules forced the University to abandon the Native American homage in 2011 unless all local tribes agreed to keep it. The school was simply known as North Dakota for a few years following their inability to convince one of the two local tribes to grant permission.

Engelstad was a North Dakota alumnus who built the arena on the condition they school never change its nickname.

Hotel availability is a concern, and this writer will also tell you, so is transportation. Grand Forks, ND is a small town with a school and military base. Public transportation is not that of a major metropolitan area.

The arena is a strong choice. The coronavirus pandemic has not besieged the midwest. Grand Forks, ND is only two-and-a-half hours from Winnipeg, and there are other suitable arenas nearby, including International Falls, MN, where additional games were played in the 2006 World Junior Championships.

Friedman also reported the league and players will discuss additional sites this week.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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