I’ve been a St. Cloud State University hockey road warrior since 1986 and have 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 2019-20 season. Keeping in mind that fans have different travel budgets and tastes my list won’t be suited to every fan. The 2018-19 season would have required the road tripper to dig into the piggy bank as the schedule was loaded with flying trips to such locales as Boston, Pittsburgh and Colorado. The 2019-20 schedule might not dig into the travel budget as much but will require you to load up some miles on your vehicle. There are nine road trips this season and six of them can be done by vehicle. That leaves Denver, Colorado College and Miami the only trips requiring an airline ticket. So with that said, let’s dig into this years top road trip destinations:
#1 University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (Duluth, MN) | March 6/7, 2020
The defending National Champion UMD Bulldogs climb back into the top spot on road trip destinations after a #2 ranking last 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 University of Minnesota-Duluth 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 consistently rank Duluth highly on my list. This years schedule has the Huskies traveling to Duluth on March 6/7. This is the last regular season conference series and there could be some serious consequences on the line. As an added bonus, we could actually get some decent weather as well. Wouldn’t that be great.
Tickets: University of Minnesota-Duluth
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, At Sarah’sTable, Pickwick , Northern Waters Smokehaus and OMC Smokehouse which is only one block from Bent Paddle Brewing. I’m just touching the surface as there are many more.
This season’s meeting will once again pit the defending NCHC Penrose Cup Champion SCSU Huskies vs the defending National Champion UMD Bulldogs. This is a can’t miss weekend of hockey.
#2 Northern Michigan University Wildcats (Marquette, MI) | November 8/9, 2019
It’s been a few years, fourteen to be exact, since the Huskies traveled to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to face the Northern Michigan Wildcats. A return trip is well over due and this is another can’t miss weekend for a number of reasons. First, it’s a beautifully scenic drive to the UP and since it’s an early November series, you should be able to escape the snow which is inescapable later on in the season. Marquette is ranked as the third snowiest locations in the USA with 150 inches annually. Normal temperatures in early November should be in the 40’s – perfect hockey weather. This is a tradition rich hockey school with accommodating fans and a nice venue in the Berry Events Center that opened in 1999. There is an abundance of reasonable lodging and some fun stops such as Da Yooper Museum and Rock Shop in Ishpeming that bills itself as a “Tourist Trap”. Without further description – just stop and browse, it’s well worth it. If it’s lunch time on the drive you have to stop at one of the many pasty shops along the way. You’ll start seeing them as soon as you cross the state line into Michigan. Marquette reminds me of Duluth, only on a much smaller scale and rightfully so as both have a history linked to the shipping of iron ore. Other sites of interest while in Marquette are the Marquette Maritime Museum, Presque Isle Park and the St. Peter Cathedral which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Believe it or not, on the last trip to Marquette in October there were folks in wet suits surfing and wind-surfing in Lake Superior off Presque Isle Park. Marquette was also listed among the 10 best places to retire in the USA by CBS Money Watch. Finally, show up early and tailgate with the locals prior to the game. We found the NMU fans to be highly accommodating.
Tickets: Northern Michigan University
Favorite Places to dine: Marquette is the most populated city in the Upper Peninsula and there are lots of dining options. I highly recommend Casa Callabria for pizza and Italian food. For breakfast, the consensus is Donckers, the oldest restaurant in Marquette. The pancakes are highly rated. Other notables include Jean Kay’s Pasties and Subs, Portside Inn, Vierling Brewpub and the Villa Capri. If you are looking for a sports bar try 906 Sports Bar and Grill. If you are looking for a brewpub here’s a listing. If all else fails buy some snacks and tailgate with the locals at the Berry Events Center.
There are lots of reasonably priced hotels. You can start by checking out a list of lodging here.
This is sure to be some good hockey with a great environment and a reasonable weekend on the pocketbook. It ranks very high on this years list of road trips.
#3 Colorado College Tigers (Colorado, Springs, CO) | February 7/8, 2020
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.
Tickets: Colorado College
SCSU travels to Colorado Springs on February 7/8. It’s not my choice of a month to travel to Colorado Springs. However, if lucky, you could catch some temperatures in the mid 40’s to 50.
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.
On the ice, the Tigers have once again become relevant and it’s a fun experience to catch a game at the Broadmoor World Arena. This also ranks as one of my top road trips and have made it too many times to remember the number.
#4 Mariucci Classic Tournament (Mpls, MN) | December 28/29, 2019 (University of MN, Minnesota State University – Mankato, Bemidji State University, St. Cloud State University)
I know, I know – many of you dislike the Gophers and don’t like to step foot in Mariucci Arena. However, the bottom line is this should be a pretty solid weekend of hockey with in-state rivals, UMN, MSU and BSU. It’s the resuscitation of the North Star Cup last played in 2017. Look at it this way – you can get a whole lot of hockey entertainment with the lowest cost of any hockey trip this season. Obviously, you have two choices – drive back and forth or open the pocketbook and make a weekend of it. Keep in mind this is a Saturday/Sunday tourney so you won’t even have to fight Friday traffic. If you decide to make a weekend of it I’d simply go to Hotwire.com and snag a hotel in downtown Minneapolis. Guaranteed you’ll get a four-star hotel for under $100.
Tickets: University of Minnesota
Favorite Places to Dine: The sky is the limit in Minneapolis. I can offer a few suggestions. Keegan’s Irish Pub at 16 University Avenue NE is close enough to be a short drive to Mariucci Arena but far enough that it’s unlikely you’d be encountering many fans in maroon and gold. They are very accommodating folks and have always been good to the SCSU faithful. This place is about as Irish as it gets in Minneapolis right down to Irish folk music on Sunday’s. And, oh by the way, some of the more exotic bloody marys around. Brazilian Steakhouse Fogo de Chao located in the Hennepin Theatre District serves great food and lots of it. They have a brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 11:30 AM to 2:00 PM and dinner is served starting at 5:00 PM. However, be forewarned, you may be sleeping by the second intermission after your feast. Two of my other favorites are Murray’s Restaurant and Manny’s Steakhouse in downtown Minneapolis. Murray’s has been around since 1946 and is there isn’t a better steak in Minneapolis than the famous “Silver Butter Knife” steak. Manny’s is another with great steaks and seafood. Their breakfast menu is outstanding and they start serving at 6:30 AM. Whether its breakfast, lunch or dinner it’s all good. A couple of other breakfast spots to check out are the very unique and popular Hell’s Kitchen and the Newsroom both in downtown Minneapolis. If you want to spend the day touring craft breweries in Minneapolis check out this list.
It has not been announced but I have a suspicion it’ll be the Gophers vs Beavers and Huskies vs Mavericks on Day 1. In any case, It should be an outstanding weekend of hockey.
#5 Bemidji State University Beavers (Bemidji, MN) | October 11/12, 2019
Another affordable road trip on this seasons schedule is a non-conference series with in-state rival Bemidji. What makes this weekend series attractive is the ability to travel back and forth each day, go to either the Friday or Saturday game or stay for the entire weekend – your choice. It’s always good to have options. Additionally, it’s early October and the fall colors should be hitting their peak. Check out the fall driving guide here. If you are an outdoor enthusiast, Bemidji is the place for you. Here’s a list of attractions from Trip Advisor. The Sanford Center, home of the Beavers is a nice facility with the added feature of lodging attached to the center. Check out the list of lodging locations here. If you get there early enough on Friday, you might want to check out their hockey luncheon. Former SCSU coach Tom Serratore is always entertaining to listen to and it would be worth your time.
Tickets: Bemidji State University
Favorite Places to Dine: Dining is limited but there are a number of places I can suggest. It’s a little rustic but a lot of the hockey locals hang out at Slim’s Bar and Grill. They’ve got a nice selection of burgers, great chili and pizzas. You’ve gotta like a place that still touts having former SCSU player Joe Motzko bring the Stanley Cup by Slim’s after the 2007 season. Bar 209 has a wide selection of tavern food including poutine, cheese curds, walleye tacos, wings, burgers and pizza. If it’s just pizza you’re looking for Dave’s Pizza (seems like every city has a Dave’s Pizza) is the place for you. It’s been around since 1958 and still going strong. There are 170 Breweries in Minnesota and in Bemidji it’s Bemidji Brewing. Like most Brew Pubs they have a limited menu but with beers like Mexican Chocolate Porter, Flanders Sour Red, Jalapeno Blonde and Oud Bruin Kriek does it really matter? Finally, if it’s breakfast in a unique style you may want to try the Red Stu Breakfast Bar . They are located in downtown Bemidji and specialize in breakfast (only open until 3 PM). There’s others but this will get you started.
It’s two in-state rivals and considering the Huskies swept them in ST. Cloud to start the 2018-19 season, expect the Beavers to do their best to get some payback.
#6 University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks (Grand Forks, ND) | November 22/23, 2019
North Dakota settles in at #6 for the 2019-20 season. Granted, 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. Obviously, 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. 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 on a hockey trip to Grand Forks. However, this seasons contests are in late November and there is a chance the weather can be decent.
Tickets: University of North Dakota
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. The Speedway 805 Grill and Bar 805 North 42nd Street is a can’t miss. Outstanding french fries (probably the best I’ve ever had), parmesan crusted walleye is delicious as is the shrimp basket. They also serve exotic burgers and ribs. There is also a bar area for pre or post-game libations. 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.
North Dakota continues to be one of SCSU’s top league rivals and it is a reasonably priced weekend for the fan if you do your planning early. The games are always highly entertaining and worth the price of admission. Availability of key seating locations, the weather, city attractions and the general lack of parking are drawbacks to making this one of the top-ranked road trips for Husky fans. That’s unfortunate as it is an unbelievable venue. On the other hand, if it’s your intention to have a party weekend, it certainly fits the bill both at the “Ralph” and off site locations.
#7 Denver University Pioneers (Denver, CO) | January 10/11, 2020
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.com 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. 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 January 10/11. With historical average highs near the mid 40’s it’ll still 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.
Tickets: Denver University
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. A comprehensive list of restaurants in Denver is here.
The SCSU vs Denver games are always highly competitive. If you haven’t been to Denver for a series I’d recommend it. However, being that it’s right after the holidays this season the timing just isn’t good.
#8 Western Michigan University Broncos (Kalamazoo, MI) | January 24/25, 2019
I typically rank the trip to Kalamazoo quite high. However, this seasons games are in late January, probably not the best time to be traveling to a venue that can get a fair amount of snow. January is the coldest and windiest month of the year and in late January it is not unusual to get a day with 4-5 inches of snow. 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 including well-known Bell’s Brewery. 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. However, again, since the series is in January many will be closed. 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.
Tickets: Western Michigan University
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 Zaziosat 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.
Tickets: Western Michigan University
Lawson Arena is usually a lively atmosphere with friendly fans and a genuine college atmosphere. The Huskies and Broncos have developed a healthy rivalry and the games are usually quite entertaining. Personally, I’ll make this trip as often as I can. It’s always enjoyable.
#9 Miami University RedHawks (Oxford, OH) | December 6/7, 2019
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 option would be to check fares to either Dayton, OH or Indianapolis, IN. It’s about a two-hour drive from Indy and about an hour from Dayton. Another issue can be 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 Deember 6 and 7. The historical average is historically close to 50 degrees so weather is usually not an issue for this road trip.
Tickets: Miami University
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. If you enjoy German food, the Steinkeller is worth a try.
It’s always a tough battle for the Huskies in Oxford and you’re sure to see two competitive contests. Unfortunately, the logistics will never make this a top-ranked road trip for SCSU fans.