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 2017-18 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 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 2017-18 season:
#1 University of Minnesota-Duluth (Duluth, MN)
For the second consecutive year Duluth gets my nod for the #1 trip destination for the 2017-18 season. The reasons are obvious – ease of travel to the port city, overall impact on the pocketbook and the option to attend just one of the weekends contests if desired. 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. As a result I rank Duluth #1 on my list. This years schedule has the Huskies traveling to Duluth on January 26/27. That can be a negative as it could be damn cold and that’s been typical lately on our last three trips to Duluth. It can be a chilling experience if you’re not in the skywalk. But heck, we’re hardy Minnesotans aren’t we?
Favorite places to dine: Mine are 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, Valentini’s and Northern Waters Smokehaus. I’m just touching the surface as there are many more.
#2 University of Nebraska-Omaha (Omaha, NE)
Omaha earns my #2 ranking this year based on a number of factors including ease of getting to the destination, cost of lodging, weather, attractions, dining and outstanding hockey venue in Baxter Arena. Despite a drive time of just over 6 hours from St. Cloud it’s very manageable as it’s literally all freeway if taking 35W / I80. With a gas tab between $30-40 one way it’s fairly painless on the pocketbook. That goes for lodging as well as choices are plentiful including a number within walking distance of Baxter Arena in the newly developed Aksarben Village a retail/student housing/lodging area integrated with the UNO campus. Baxter Arena, completed in 2015 reminds one of Amsoil Arena in Duluth with great sight lines, plentiful concessions and wide concourses. The Omaha metropolitan area has a population of approximately 800,000 and along with that comes all the attractions of a larger city with numerous historical sites and a multitude of dining options. For example, it’s home to the Henry Doorly Zoo named by Trip Advisor as the best zoo in the world. Omaha boasts four Fortune 500 companies and is the home of Warren Buffett and his Berkshire Hathaway empire. And, how can you go wrong with a city that is home to Omaha Steaks and invented the reuben sandwich and raisin bran. The weather is typically fairly mild and with this years games on December 1 and 2 you can expect the temperatures to be near 40 degrees. With the Huskies 16-10-2 vs Omaha all-time, odds are you’ll see some road team success as well.
Favorite Places to dine: If you are staying in the Aksarben Village area (highly recommended) there are numerous choices. If it’s pizza you want I’d suggest Dudley’s Pizza just a short walk from Baxter Arena. If you don’t mind the drive, I’d strongly suggest heading to the Old Market Area. It’s about a 15 minute drive but is a great place to walk around, enjoy the surroundings with lots of shops and galleries and numerous restaurant choices. Some suggestions are M’s Pub, Jackson Street Tavern, Upstream Brewing Company and for breakfast Wheatfield’s.
#3 Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo, MI)
Once again this year and probably a surprise to many 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 Kalamazoo in 52 minutes (no tolls and little traffic). Hit a Biggby’s Coffee en route 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 February 16/17th so the weather could be dicey not from a temperature standpoint but from that of precipitation. Temperatures should be in the low 30’s on average but you can expect can figure there will be a 20% chance of precipitation in mid February due to the lake effect.
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 )
North Dakota maintains its #4 ranking for the 2017-18 season. After all, this is THE finest college hockey venue in the country and it should be at a price tag of $104 million but there are some negatives. 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. An alternative is to seek out one of several off-site parking locations located 2-3 blocks from the arena at a typical parking fee of $10. 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. Last seasons 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. 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. 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. We could get lucky this season as it’s the final regular season series on March 2/3. With a little luck the weather could be in the 30’s.
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. I also hear that these same folks are resurrecting Whitey’s a classic Grand Forks restaurant. 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 Minnesota State University – Mankato (Mankato, MN)
Last years weekend to Mankato caused me to re-evaluate Mankato as a road trip destination and it’s been upgraded to #5 this season. Admittedly, Mankato is a nice city and good college town and deserves a better review. A mere quick two-hour drive from St. Cloud it’s an easy drive for the single contest in Mankato on October 7th. 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 that many 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 (as the weather should be very favorable) 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. I’d also suggest a stop in Nicollete, MN either on the trip down or back to visit Schmidt’s Meat Market. This third generation market has been in business since 1947 and has 56 feet of service counters and 75 feet of self-service cases. You’ll leave smelling like smoked meat but that’s the price of admission. 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. Again, this years schedule has the Huskies in Mankato on October 7th. 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. Quick, easy and inexpensive place Mankato on your road trip destination list for 2017-18.
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.
#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 Saturday, January 7th. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground. SCSU fans either like or dislike traveling to Mariucci Arena.
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 November 10/11. With historical average highs near 60 degrees Denver can be a good reprieve from the snow and cold of Minnesota. This trip will hit your pocketbook a little harder but is easily manageable logistically. It should be ranked higher but just isn’t an exciting venue to watch hockey in my opinion. Otherwise, Denver is a great place to visit.
Favorite places to eat: I haven’t even scratched the surface on my trips to Denver. There is absolutely great dining in Denver and there is a restaurant or tavern that fits your style several times over in downtown Denver.
#8 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 9/10. 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.
#9 Princeton University (Princeton, NJ)
I’ve made the trip to Princeton on a SCSU road trip in the past. Personally, I enjoyed the trip but it’s not the easiest venue to get to. One has to fly to New York City or preferably Newark and then rent a car for the short 45 minute drive to Princeton. If you like quaint collegiate atmospheres this is the trip for you. And, if you’d like to combine it with a trip to New York City or Philadelphia you could make a very interesting trip out of it. For those historians, Hobey Baker Memorial Rink has a seating capacity of 2092 and was originally built in 1921. It’s had a few updates but is still the second oldest NCAA arena in use behind Mathews Arena at Northeastern University. You are not going to find an electric atmosphere at this rink and are just as likely to find a casual fan showing up just for something to do as you would a hard-core Tiger fan. The lack of a winning tradition has a lot to do with that. If you are on a mission to visit every NCAA Division I arena or have a strong desire to visit one of the top educational institutions in America it may make sense to road trip it to Princeton. It’ll also give you the opportunity to view Hobey Bakers skates in a display at the rink. Princeton is surprisingly rural being so close to Newark and I found that quite interesting. I’ll probably make the trip again and add in some side trips.
Favorite Places to Eat: Because it’s a college town, you’ll find some surprisingly good restaurants in Princeton including some very eclectic choices. My best advice is simply to walk the downtown area and view what the city has to offer.
I hope this is of help in planning your SCSU road trips for 2017-18.