When There’s No Fan Advantage on Home Ice

Student sections in college hockey are a treat. Plenty of passion from the student-body, representing their school and doing all they can to hype them up for the game going on below them. On Saturday at The Ralph, that was very much on display…by the visiting fan base’s student section. And the picture from the Michigan Tech Twitter tells it all. Tech fans up and yelling, while University of North Dakota fans were sitting there taking it.

Even when the North Dakota student body and other fans in the building tried to drown them out, it was only for a fleeting moment before they got worn out and the Michigan Tech’s Mitch’s Misfits took over the building with their chanting and support. Big props to them for not only travelling all that way to come into North Dakota, but for also supporting as loudly as they did and for as long as they did. That’s dedication.

But it also shows a big problem I’ve seen with The Ralph when it comes to crowd noise– which is that there’s very little of it for very long periods of time. Aside from the Minnesota game a few years ago, the atmosphere hasn’t been anything too special for home game at The Ralph, there’s nothing that makes it special for North Dakota. Sure, the arena is one of the biggest, sure it sells a lot of tickets and gets the attendance numbers, but there’s times that a library would be considered louder than during game play at a Fighting Hawks game. It’s even more noticeable when the students are on a semester or holiday break and they aren’t at the games– things are even more sterile in terms of cheering outside of momentary occurrences of goals, hits, or saves.

It didn’t used to be that way, as the old Winter Sports Center was a rucousy place for UND fans. Like many old college arenas, it had it’s own special feel to it with the fans right on top of the action…hanging over the boards, even. That seemed to change with the more corporate feel that The Ralph has. Not to say it isn’t a lovely building and all that, but it seems like it’s too clean for college sports. The student-athletes get plenty out of it with the facilities being akin (or in some cases better) to professional venues, but the other atmosphere seems to be lacking with this arena despite the North Dakota paraphernalia around the concourse and up in the rafters.

Now, this isn’t a knock on the student section per se– they can only do so much with what they’re allowed to do in the environment and according to NCAA bylaws and such; but it seems they don’t carry on as much as they could or should be able to. There are some outside of the student section that tries to get some people going, but it’s few and far between. People are content on just watching the game rather than trying to feel like they’re a part of it. The games seem more like a place to be seen than a place to be hear among the masses. It’s a shame, especially in a building as big as The Ralph, you’d think that the sound would be even bigger; really making it hard for opposing schools who may already be caught off-guard by the size of the arena to begin with. Without a distinct noise-level or other distractions– once they get over the size of the arena, they settle in and don’t get as rattled as they could get.

One of the biggest thing is the fact that while The Ralph has a big attendance number for tickets sold, there’s noticeable empty seats through the arena as of late. While the team has had a few off years and many in the area can’t deal with not being one of the top-dogs every year (which is noble, but also a bit headstrong), that’s no reason to not show up after you’ve bought the tickets for the game. It’s bad optics for an event and bad for an atmosphere that’s already lacking in vocal support for the team.

Maybe these heel tactics– while true in some cases– will actually get people’s attention to the lack of home-ice advantage in the stands in Grand Forks. It really showed this weekend when Mitch’s Misfits were far-and-away the loudest bunch in the rink and the North Dakota faithful couldn’t drown them out or even keep up with them.

Prove me wrong, UND faithful– prove me wrong.

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