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The Hipp and Ralph Engelstad Arena provide the old and new Minnesota hockey venues

In the Land of 10,000 Lakes of Minnesota, ice hockey is king. Every young boy or girl grows up wanting to play the sport for their high school team, just as they might aspire to play basketball in Indiana or football in Texas.

It only makes sense, then, that Minnesota is also home to some of the greatest high school ice hockey facilities. Two such venues are the Hippodrome in Eveleth and Ralph Engelstad Arena in Thief River Falls.

They span both ends of the age spectrum as the Hippodrome, which is better known as the “Hipp,” harkens back to a bygone era with an opening date of 1922, while the Engelstad Center ushered in the New Millennium as it began operation in 2002.

Perhaps appropriately so, both are located in the northern part of the state, where hockey reigns supreme. Eveleth is situated in the Iron Range in the northeastern arrowhead, about midway between Duluth and the Canadian border. Meanwhile, Thief River Falls is northeast of Grand Forks, North Dakota, and about 60 miles from Canada.

The Hipp, which is said to be the nation’s first indoor ice arena, still hosts games in that part of the state. On the other hand, the Engelstad Center is probably the state’s most opulent ice arena.

The original 230’-by-150’ Hipp structure with seating for 3,000 spectators was built of wood by Mayor Essling in the 1920s at a cost of $50,000 for the Eveleth Reds hockey team of the United States Amateur Hockey Association.

The first game in the Hipp was played January 1, 1922 in front of a packed house where the Reds defeated the Duluth Hornets, 10-6. At that time, the building was referred to as the “Madison Square Garden of the Northland.” For many years, the Hipp was heated by a wood-burning stove.

In 1938, the facility was renovated with brick replacing all of the wood walls. Other capital improvements included the addition of a new lobby that still exists, new locker rooms in the basement and additional seating.

Until 1950, the Hipp relied on Mother Nature to help make good ice since the ice was “natural ice.” In 1950, refrigeration, concrete flooring and artificial ice made its way into the Hipp. In 2002, four new locker rooms were added, along with two new coaches rooms. The old “concrete boards” were replaced with modern-era boards that are commonly used today in National Hockey League rinks.

Over the years, many great Eveleth players have skated on the Hipp’s ice, and it has hosted numerous outstanding hockey and basketball games. Today, the Hipp is home to the Eveleth-Gilbert Golden Bears hockey team. Located at the corner of Douglas and Jackson streets, the building is filled with historical photos, banners, jerseys and other Eveleth memorabilia.

Among the many great Eveleth High School hockey players to grace the Hipp was John Mayasich, a 1986 inductee into the NFHS’ National High School Hall of Fame. As a prep, he set many individual records and helped his team achieve additional team records that still stand today. Among those records are the 46 total points he recorded at numerous state tournament games and helping his team win four consecutive state championships from 1948 to 1951.

Mayasich, who is credited with inventing the slap shot, went on to become the University of Minnesota’s all-time leading scorer with 144 goals and 154 assists in 111 games, and was a three-time All-American. He later was a member of the U.S. ice hockey team that won the silver medal at the 1956 Winter Olympics and the gold medal at the 1960 Winter Olympics.


On the other end of the technological and architectural spectrum is Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Engelstad was born in 1930 in Thief River Falls, where he attended Northrop and St. Bernard’s Elementary Schools. Growing up, his two main interests were work and ice hockey. As a freshman, he played goalie for the Thief River Falls High School team that played in the first sanctioned state high school ice hockey tournament in 1945. After graduating from Thief River Falls High School in 1948, Engelstad went on to play goalie for the University of North Dakota.

After marrying Betty Stocker of East Grand Forks in 1954, Engelstad became a millionaire during his six years as a contractor in Grand Forks. He sold virtually all of his property and other holdings and moved to Las Vegas. There, he became even more successful.

In 2001, he donated money toward the construction of the $110 million Ralph Engelstad Arena at the University of North Dakota, and an adjacent second facility, the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. Those two luxurious buildings are often affectionately referred to as “The Ralph” and “The Betty.”

The following year, Engelstad donated $13.5 million toward building a similar facility in Thief River Falls, often known as “The Mini Ralph.”

The facility features 2,800 theatre-style folding seats complemented by 281 bar stools along the perimeter of the bowl with a potential seating capacity of 4,500. It also has two concession areas, eight locker rooms, a hospitality room, a weight room, a Frappier Acceleration skating treadmill, training/first aid rooms, a lobby with hall of fame area, four offices and ticket windows, a press box with meeting space, and a 5,000-square-foot community room. Altogether, the facility’s gross square footage is 1,050,000.

The community room hosts receptions, trade shows, reunions, parties and other events. A basketball floor and arena decking were purchased in 2005 to enable the facility to host basketball games, wrestling matches and other events. Among its tenants are the Thief River Falls Lincoln High School Prowlers.

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