I’ve been a St. Cloud State University hockey road warrior since 1986 and have literally been to nearly every hockey venue the team has visited since. As such, it probably gives me a bit of credibility to compile a list of the top destinations for SCSU hockey fans to attend during the 2016-17 season. Keeping in mind that fans have different travel budgets and tastes my list won’t be suited to every fan. However, logistically, this years schedule allows most fans to travel by vehicle to five of the destinations (excluding the Arizona trip) out of nine this season. And, with a little planning, all five of these road trips can be done reasonably without a lot of pain to your budget. So, with that said here’s my list of the top road trip destinations (with comments) for SCSU hockey fans for the 2016-17 season:
#1 University of Minnesota-Duluth (Duluth, MN)
What’s not to like about a college hockey road trip to Duluth. This is a beautiful city two and a half hours from St. Cloud with ample lodging and numerous restaurant options. With a little pre-planning, hotel rates are reasonable and the availability of a refurbished skywalk allows you to walk to the game from several downtown hotels with a light pullover. If you’re into craft beer there’s no less than ten on the Duluth Craft Beer Trail to visit. If you are a skier, at the right time you can take in an afternoon of skiing at Spirit Mountain. If you’re into shopping, Canal Park has numerous unique shops and restaurants to kill several hours before game time. An excursion along the north shore of Lake Superior is a beautiful experience in the fall or during the winter months. The UMD campus is in a beautiful setting and worth the visit. You simply can’t go wrong with a trip to Duluth. As for the hockey, the SCSU / UMD rivalry continues to heat up and the games almost always have you on the edge of your seat. Amsoil Arena is one of the top hockey venues in college hockey with good sight lines and good concessions. I rank Duluth #1 on my list.
This years schedule has the Huskies traveling to Duluth on January 13/14. As such, it could be damn cold and that’s about the only negative about the Duluth experience. That’s been the case on my last two road trips to Duluth and it’s a chilling experience if you’re not in the skywalk.
Favorite places to dine: Mine are at at opposite ends of the dining spectrum. The Cantonese House at 24 W 1st Street has been in business since 1972 serving americanized asian cuisine. Let’s just say it’s a little rustic but the owners are very accommodating and the family servings are sizable and reasonably priced. It also gets a four-star ranking from Trip Advisor. This is a post game dining location as there’s nothing better than food like this after an evening of beverages. For pre-game dining, Bellisio’s at 405 Lake Avenue South in Canal Park is a can’t miss. It’s primarily Italian fare and they have the best wine list in Duluth. The service is excellent, the quality of the food is good and it’s a short walk post meal to the Amsoil Center. Other suggestions are Va Benne Caffe, Tavern on the Hill and Northern Waters Smokehaus. I’m just touching the surface as there are many more.
#2 Colorado College (Colorado Springs, CO)
For those of us in Minnesota, traveling to a location with 247 days of at least partial sunshine is just what the doctor ordered. That’s just one of the reasons why hockey trips to Colorado Springs are always at the top of my list. But, it doesn’t stop there. With a flight time of less than two hours to Denver or Colorado Springs one can hardly get settled in before you are at your destination. And, with flights to Denver typically one of the best bargains around it doesn’t bleed the pocket-book to get there. After that It’s a car rental and an hour and twenty-minute drive to Colorado Springs. For those that wish to pay a little more, you can fly directly into Colorado Springs and shuttle to any of a number of hotels near the Broadmoor World Arena without the need of a car rental. However, that wouldn’t be advised as there is a whole lot of sight-seeing to do once you get there. Some of the best attractions include Garden of the Gods, Pikes Peak, US Air Force Academy, Olympic Training Center and Old Colorado City Historic District which are all very short drives. For the adventurous ones, a one hour and fifteen minute drive to see the Royal Gorge Suspension Bridge, the worlds second highest is a spectacular 955 feet above the Arkansas River. Or, if you are into wine, a trip to Canon City and the Winery at Holy Cross Abbey is an interesting side trip.
Hotels within walking distance of the Broadmoor World Arena are abundant and reasonably priced. Or, if you’re into a more luxurious experience spend some of that hard-working money on a weekend at the Broadmoor Hotel, one of the top luxury hotels in the country including a world-class golf course. Although there are interruptions for snow, generally speaking, the Broadmoor golf course is a year round facility. The Sunday brunch at the Broadmoor has to be experienced to understand how over the deep end it is. Food is set up in a huge ballroom with nearly anything you can imagine for breakfast. Reservations suggested of course. Hands down, the World Arena has the best concessions of any college hockey venue in the country. Whether it’s BBQ, asian stir fry, Italian, pizza, subs, grass-fed Colorado beef burgers or a whole host of desserts you really don’t need a pre-game meal. Beer stands including local craft beers are also conveniently available in the concourse. The World Arena sets the standard for concessions in my opinion.
SCSU travels to Colorado Springs on November 11/12 providing a good opportunity to catch weather in the mid 50’s to 60 degrees with a lot of sun.
Favorite places to dine: Once again, they are too numerous to mention. But suggestions are Phantom Canyon Brewing Company 2 E Pikes Peak Road, Golden Bee 1 Lake Avenue, Paninos 1721 S 8th Street (coincidentally they have a location in North Oaks, MN) and Fratelli Ristorante Italiani 124 N Nevada Avenue. I can’t say enough good things about Famous Steak House 31 N Tejon Street. Excellent wine and beer selections,outstanding steaks and great “Chicago Steakhouse” type atmosphere. If you are into crepes you’ve got to visit the Paris Crepe Euro Cafe 218 N Tejon Street. Finally, the Broadmoor Hotel for Sunday brunch is an experience in itself. Reservations required.
#3 Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo, MI)
This may come as a surprise but I rank Kalamazoo as my #3 road trip. I always loved the road trip to Houghton MI to play the Huskies when SCSU was in the WCHA and this has been a good replacement. I’ve made the trip three times – once by vehicle, once via flight to Chicago and the balance of the trip by rental car and once via non-stop flight to Grand Rapids International (GRR). Driving may be at the end of being tolerable at nine hours and inevitably during the winter months you’ll hit some snow as Kalamazoo is located on the Eastern side of Lake Michigan. Other options include flying to Chicago a few days early to catch one of Minnesota’s professional sports teams on the road or to do some dining, shopping or hit some broadway shows. For the adventurous, you can also catch an Amtrak train from St. Cloud and it’ll take you within two blocks of the Radisson Hotel in downtown Kalamazoo – a good central location to stay. Another option is to fly to Grand Rapids, MI and drive from there. That is my suggested choice if you can get an agreeable airfare. You can catch a non-stop 47 minute flight from MSP, rent a car at the terminal for $50 and make an incredibly easy freeway drive to Kalamzoo in 52 minutes (no tolls and little traffic). Hit a Biggby’s Coffee enroute or Tim Horton’s as you hit Kalamazoo to start your weekend. Kalamazoo is a great college town and once you get there there’s a ton of things to do before catching games at Lawson Arena. Once again, if you are into craft beer, the Kalamazoo Craft Beer Trail has 12 breweries on it’s list. Possibly lesser known by most folks, Southeast Michigan is dotted with numerous vineyards and wineries. The Lake Michigan Circle Tour is a huge attraction for those traveling to the area. You can easily kill an entire day visiting tasting rooms at some surprisingly gorgeous wineries. Granted, the wine is not going to rival that of California, Oregon or New York but the tasting rooms are well-run and the owners very accommodating. If you like older rinks, Lawson Arena is great. The Lawson Lunatics are some of the loudest and most boisterous fans in all of college sports and hockey is their favorite sport. The rink brings you back to a simpler time in sports arenas and the fans are welcoming and pleased to have opposing visitors at their games.
The Huskies travel to Kalamazoo for games on December 2nd and 3rd so the weather could be dicey not from a temperature standpoint but from that of precipitation. You can figure there will be a 63% chance of precipitation in early December but the temperatures are tolerable with a range from 25 to 45 degrees for highs during that time of year.
Favorite places to dine: I’m still a neophyte on dining in Kalamazoo after only three trips to the city. However, for breakfast Sophia’s House of Pancakes 4700 Stadium Drive is a classic place to go to start the day. For fine dining Zazios at 100 W Michigan Avenue and Rustica at 236 S Kalamazoo Drive are good choices. The Olde Peninsula Brew Pub and Restaurant is another safe bet. Specialty locations such as Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken (2 locations) and Sweetwaters Donut Mill (2 locations) are worth checking out.However, I need to explore more places to be of more help.
#4 University of North Dakota ( Grand Forks, ND )
It might surprise some that I have North Dakota ranked at #4. And, I might downright offend some North Dakota fans that read this. After all, this is THE finest college hockey venue in the country and it should be at a price tag of $104 million. Granted, it’s a reasonable three hour and forty five minute drive up the freeway to Grand Forks which is attractive to SCSU hockey fans. The North Dakota fans are probably the most fanatical and loyal followers in college hockey. As a result, tickets at times are hard to get and lodging becomes a problem if you do not plan ahead. And, despite the $104 million price tag, no general admission parking is available for visiting fans at the Arena. That means you take a public off-site shuttle or pay a nominal fee to take a bus from one of many restaurants, taverns or hotels. However, it comes with the price tag of rushing to get out of the arena at the conclusion of the game to find your designated bus and then many times prying yourself into an obviously over-capacity bus filled with throngs of well-lubricated fans that may or may not appreciate the presence of a fan dressed in cardinal and black. Add to this the fact that it is usually brutally cold and windy and well … you get the picture. At the rink, the visiting fans are usually sequestered into an upper level area with some of the steepest grade seats I’ve ever seen. I’m always amazed that I’ve never heard of someone taking a tumble-down the seats. There are two club lounges in the arena and they are typically a four-hour party and again, packed to capacity. I’m willing to bet they sell more alcohol per square foot than any other venue in college athletics. Don’t get me wrong, if you haven’t been to the “Ralph” you owe it to yourself to go. The big attraction is the games themselves. The North Dakota | St. Cloud State rivalry continues to grow and the games are always entertaining and highly competitive. Some of the most entertaining collegiate games I’ve been to have been at Ralph Engelstad Arena vs UND.
Probably the most unusual aspect of the UND vs SCSU rivalry is the fact that the fan bases do get along and host each other in a Saturday pre-game event. This years event in St. Cloud was held at Brothers Bar and there was no less than 200 in attendance. Where else does that happen in college hockey? The “Challenge Cup” is the annual trophy passed back and forth between the fan base and recognizes the winner of the annual series between the two teams. Please see the article here on the Challenge Cup. This annual event is an ideal way to spend some time with our opponents fans and is a convenient way to catch transportation to the Arena for a nominal fee following the event. I can’t encourage you enough to take the time to attend this pre-game event put on by Dave Berger and crew of SiouxSports.com. This years event is on February 4th.
As far as tourist attractions go, they are somewhat limited. Travel Advisors two top attractions are the Ralph Engelstad Arena and the University of North Dakota. And again, I have a hard time recalling any balmy weather days on a hockey trip to Grand Forks. The Huskies travel to Grand Forks on February 2nd and 3rd so once again we could see temperatures in the single digits to 20 degrees.
Favorite places to eat: The Toasted Frog at 124 N 3rd Avenue is an interesting and eclectic place. The Blue Moose is a popular restaurant located at 507 2nd street NW. Giuseppes on 414 Demers Avenue is a quaint Italian Restaurant. Unfortunately, old school classics like the bronze boot have closed leaving a void in some of the legacy steakhouses in the city. Otherwise, there are a lot of chain restaurants in Grand Forks.
#5 Arizona State University (Prescott Valley, AZ)
I’ve booked my trip to Prescott Valley to watch the Huskies participate in the Desert Classic Hockey Tournament with Arizona State (host), University of Connecticut and Brown University. So, why is this tournament in Prescott Valley which is located 200 miles from Tuscon and 90 miles from Phoenix? Apparently, ASU has a good following of alumni in the area and due to success with prior events have made the decision to have the contests at the 5,100 seat Prescott Valley Event Center – previous home to the Arizona Sun Dogs of the Central Hockey League.
This tournament takes place on December 30th and 31st. A great time to vacate the cold of Minnesota for sunny Arizona right? Not so fast. The temperatures last year were 44 degrees and 49 degrees on December 30/31. The average highs are 51 degrees and about 15 degrees cooler than what it will be in Phoenix. Still I’m not going to complain if it’s in the single digits in Minnesota.
The Prescott Valley Event Center looks like a nice facility and indications are the tourney will be well attended. However, due to the location and competition, it doesn’t rank higher than #5 on my list despite being in Arizona in the winter.
#6 University of Minnesota (Minneapolis, MN)
There was a time when legions of St, Cloud State hockey fans made the short drive to Minneapolis to watch the in-state “rivalry” between the upstart Huskies and tradition rich Golden Gophers. The number of SCSU fans making the trip continues to dwindle. Maybe it’s because the two schools are no longer in the same conference or because there is less on the line when the two squads play. There also seems to be less Gopher fans making the trip to St. Cloud and the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. As a general statement, the two fan bases have never enjoyed each others company with SCSU fans stereotyping Gopher fans as being egotistical, robotic and having a disdain for the opposing fan base making an appearance at “their” rink. Gopher fans on the other hand tend to see the Husky fan base as unsophisticated in hockey knowledge with a tendency to overstate the accomplishments of their program. Regardless, this is a trip I continue to make each time SCSU plays there mainly due to the proximity and the generally good sight lines at Mariucci Arena. Despite $10 to park at Mariucci Arena it is one of the most reasonable trips in terms of cost for the SCSU fan to make. For me, I’m perfectly satisfied with a standing room only ticket and arrive just in time for puck drop. From the players standpoint, it is a “rivalry” game pitting players that have grown up together, competed as rivals in youth, high school or junior hockey. Bragging rights in Minnesota are on the line and there tends to be a fair amount of emotion and the games are usually quite entertaining.
SCSU travels to Mariucci Arena on Friday, October 21.
Favorite places to eat: I rarely arrive in time for a pre-game meal or stay around long enough for a post game meal. However, if I were to arrive early my place f choice is Keegan’s Pub 16 University Avenue NE. The place has always been accommodating to SCSU fans and in the past we’ve had busloads of fans there for pre-game libations.
#7 Denver University (Denver, CO)
Denver is a great travel destination. Flights to Denver can be downright dirt cheap with proper planning and once you arrive at the airport you can let public transportation take over. Denver has perhaps the finest public transportation system in the country. You can take the light rail for $9 from the Denver Airport to downtown Denver and once there you can take the RTD to Magness Arena, home of the Pioneers. There are enough hotels in downtown Denver to fit every preference and using a travel site like Hotwire can normally get you a pretty decent rate. Once downtown Denver the options for dining and entertainment are numerous and commuters and visitors can hop on the free 16th Street Mall Shuttle. Running the length of the 16th Street Mall, the shuttle runs at frequent intervals offering convenient connections to all parts of Downtown, from Union Station and LoDo to the Denver Pavilions and Civic Center. The shuttle also connects to the two major transit stations in Downtown: Union Station and Civic Center Station, as well as all rail lines. There’s a ton of tourist attractions in Denver including catching a football game at Mile High Stadium or a professional hockey game at Pepsi Arena.
So, why not a higher road trip attraction? Primarily because of the venue itself. After all, the primary purpose of my trip is to catch two Husky hockey games at Magness Arena.The arena is a nice facility with decent concessions. Parking is a little bit of a hassle is you’re driving. It’s a short walk from the drop off point if taking the light rail. Once at the game, the visitors are usually seated high at one end of the rink with a large net facing you and thus, not great sight lines. And, despite the fact that the rink is rarely sold out for Husky games, forget about moving to a better seat. The rink staff is overly diligent in my experience about allowing any movement to a vacant seat even if there are 200 of them in a section. I once purchased what I thought was a preferred seat online that didn’t turn out to be the case. I tried to exchange for another seat at the box office and my request was refused. I guess my point is it’s about the least fan friendly rink I’ve ever been to for a college hockey game. As far as atmosphere, it can be a rather sterile atmosphere and if the Avalanche are in town the same night, the building is empty. As such, it’s probably my least preferred rink in college hockey
The Huskies face Denver February 24 and 25. Average daily temps can between 41 and 51 degrees but even warmer if your lucky. Denver can be a good reprieve from the snow and cold of Minnesota.
Favorite places to eat: I haven’t even scratched the surface on my trips to Denver. There is absolutely great dining in Denver and you may want to start here. There is a restaurant or tavern that fits your style several times over in downtown Denver.
#8 Minnesota State University – Mankato (Mankato, MN)
Call me stubborn. Many years ago I had my vehicle towed during an SCSU vs MSU game from a parking ramp and placed in an impound lot. It took me several hours post game to find out where it was and then once I did, had to empty my wallet to retrieve the vehicle. As such, although I’ve made many trips to Mankato since, I’ve rarely done an overnight making the two-hour drive back to St. Cloud. Admittedly, Mankato is a nice city and good college town and deserves a better review. The Verizon Center was updated in the summer of 2013 with new seating, new boards and glass system, along with a new ice plant which modified the ice surface lay-out from 200 X 100 to 200 by 87. SCSU fans simply have not had games to attend in Mankato for several years so it’s been an “out of sight – out of mind” road trip. Should you decide to overnight, there are numerous choices for hotels including several near the Verizon Center. One attraction I’d strongly suggest is to take the 30 minute drive to New Ulm to visit the Schell’s Brewery, one of the oldest continuously operating breweries in the USA. Historically, the Mavericks and Huskies had one of the more heated hockey rivalries in Minnesota college athletics. Again, as is the case with Minnesota, there is less on the line due to the fact that they no longer compete in the same conference. However, as both are members of the Minnesota State Colleges and University System the schools continue to compete in many other sports which continues to stoke the rivalry. Nevertheless, I still don’t consider it one of the top rivalries on my list.
This years schedule has the Huskies in Mankato on October 14th and 15th. This is certainly a good time for a non-conference road trip. A suggestion is to drive highway 15 and take in the fall colors.
Favorite places to eat: Olives Restaurant located in the Hilton Garden Inn adjacent to the Verizon Wireless Center is very good. They have a diverse menu, very good service and good wine list. Pagliai’s is a neighborhood type pizza joint located on Front Street Front Street with very good pizza. There are a number of other pubs and restaurants on Front Street worth trying.
#9 Miami University (Oxford, OH)
Miami’s ranking as a road trip destination for SCSU fans suffers due to its location. The 11 hour drive to Oxford pretty much makes this an airline destination. Even so, one has to fly to Cincinnati, not known for competitive airfares from Minneapolis. From there, one has to rent a vehicle and make the hour drive to Oxford. Another issue can the availability of lodging in Oxford. With a population of about 24,000 there are a limited number of hotels. When there are other major events going on in Oxford or on the Miami campus the availability of lodging becomes scarce. Thus, planning in advance is a must if planning a road trip to Oxford. However, Oxford, OH is a wonderful college town with a beautiful campus and top-notch athletic facilities including the Goggin Ice Center where the Steve Cady Arena is housed. The rink seats 2500 and is generally full to capacity making it a very lively atmosphere. Because this is a recent league competitor, the rivalry has not risen to the level that this is a “must” road trip for SCSU fans. The price tag for the weekend exceeds that of most other locations in the league.
SCSU faces Miami on February 10th and 11th. The historical average is in the mid 40’s for temperature so weather is usually not an issue for this road trip.
Favorite places to eat: Paesanos Pasta House for good Italian food located near the campus at 808 S Campus Avenue. The Quarter Barrel Brewery and Pub 107 East Church Street and since Cincinnati is known for Chili try Skyline Chili located at 1 East High Street.
I hope this is of help with your planning of road trips for the 2016-17 season.