Twenty years ago the “Taj Mahal” of college hockey opened on the University of Minnesota campus. The new Mariucci Arena was a palace fit for Gophers hockey.
The 200-feet by 100-feet Olympic-sized ice sheet at the center of the venue was pristine. The hockey that it would play host to over the next 20 years was even better.
It started with a 4-4 tie against St. Cloud State on Oct. 30, 1993, and the excitement hasn’t let up. In the last game there before this weekend’s Mariucci Classic, Seth Ambroz scored a goal with 26 seconds left to give the Gophers a sweep of Wisconsin in the first Big Ten hockey series ever.
The individual talent to skate in the arena has been special. At least half of the 2014 men’s Olympic roster has played at Mariucci, including three former Gophers.
“It’s almost crazy when you look at all the guys that came through here. There are 20 guys on the Olympic roster that played college hockey and about 16 probably played at Mariucci,” said Grant Potulny, former Gophers standout and current assistant coach. “Mariucci was the Taj Mahal when it was built.”
With every aging arena, upkeep is necessary. In 2001-2002, 18 luxury suites were added to allow an even 10,000 fans into each event. Last season, a new LED scoreboard and sound system were installed.
The thing fans continue to fill the seats for, though, is the outstanding hockey talent on the ice each night.
In honor of the venue’s 20th anniversary and this weekend’s Mariucci Classic, here’s a look at the top 10 moments and top 10 players to come through Mariucci Arena.
Note: The lists were determined by a survey of former Gophers coaches and players, media members and fans. The memories are in chronological order.
Upsetting No. 1
Though there were many, Mike Crowley’s most memorable goal arguably came on Feb. 9, 1996. His wrist shot past Colorado College’s goaltender gave the Gophers a 3-2 victory against the top-ranked Tigers in front a sellout crowd. It was the Gophers’ only victory against the Tigers that season. Current Gophers coach Don Lucia was on the opposing bench at the time.
A timely late hat trick
Ryan Kraft made sure the Gophers would hang another banner in Mariucci Arena with a third-period hat trick against Wisconsin in 1997. Kraft’s goals enabled the Gophers to pull away for a 7-3 victory and claim a share of the WCHA regular-season championship.
Keith Ballard won teammates John Pohl’s and Grant Potulny’s hearts with this sequence. The freshman closed out a playoff sweep against North Dakota in March of 2002 by pulling a defender’s jersey over his head and then rushing up the ice to score the game-winning goal.
Three for three
The November 2002 night the program hung its fourth NCAA championship banner at Mariucci Arena, Minnesota put on an offensive showcase. The Gophers pounded Alabama-Huntsville 12-1 behind a trio of hat tricks from Thomas Vanek, Jon Waibel and Troy Riddle.
Chance to defend title
The Gophers made it clear they wanted a chance to defend their national title by defeating Ferris State 7-4 on March 29, 2003, in the West Regional to return to the Frozen Four in back-to-back seasons. They scored 16 goals in the two regional games on home ice and went on to win another national championship.
Penalty shot roar
It’s not often fans see a penalty shot in regulation. Danny Irmen didn’t disappoint on Nov. 5, 2004. His backhand over the pads of Wisconsin’s goaltender was the eventual game-winner in a 3-2 victory. The goal helped extend the Gophers’ home winning streak to 14 games in a row at the time.
60 minutes not enough
It took a pair of overtime victories in the 2005 West Regional to earn a spot in the Frozen Four. Evan Kaufmann’s overtime goal Saturday night gave the Gophers a 1-0 victory over Maine. Barry Tallackson was the hero Sunday. The senior’s final goal at Mariucci gave the Gophers a 2-1 victory over Cornell and a spot in the Frozen Four.
Other Minnesota love
Minnesota Duluth’s rally against Princeton in the 2009 West Regional is hard to overlook. The Bulldogs trailed 4-2 with less than a minute to play, yet managed to force overtime. Minnesota Duluth scored two goals in the final 40 seconds, with the final goal coming with eight-tenths of a second left. The Bulldogs went on to win 5-4 and advance to the regional championship.
Until next time
The Gophers’ last sweep of WCHA rival North Dakota came on one of Kyle Rau’s first trips to his “office” in November 2011. The then-freshman finished a late two-goal rally with a goal near the right crease in the final minute. Their next scheduled series is in 2016.
As good as it gets
Only two months ago, the Gophers and Boston College treated fans at Mariucci Arena to a game that coaches Don Lucia and Mike Guentzel called “as good as it gets.” The two highly ranked teams played to a 3-3 tie, followed by an exhibition shootout. Though the Eagles won the shootout, the excitement of the previous 65 minutes won’t be forgotten soon by Gophers fans.