Since opening in 1966, the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center has hosted 860 UMD men's hockey games. Over 4 million fans have attended the games, of which UMD has won 56 percent (458 wins and 51 ties to 351 losses).
Saturday night, the DECC will have its lights on for UMD for the last time.
The No. 1 Bulldogs host Denver this weekend for the final games at the DECC after 45 years of hockey. Considering UMD is 30-12-3 there since the start of the 2008-2009 season, it's not going to be an easy building to replace, but Amsoil Arena will try its best starting Dec. 30.
Before we get there, we have what should be a special weekend.
On the ice, UMD and Denver are a great pair of teams to have play games of this magnitude. The Bulldogs match up well with DU, and they have produced some quality hockey over the years. This won't be slow-down, clutch-and-grab hockey like we've seen from many of UMD's first few opponents this season. Instead, Denver will force UMD to play a high-tempo, skating game, something the Bulldogs are very good at.
Denver has some top young players, including forwards Drew Shore and Jason Zucker, defensemen Matt Donovan and David Makowski, and freshman goalie Sam "Great" Brittain.
With guys like Donovan and Makowski in front of Brittain, the goalie has found a way to look very sharp. While it doesn't sound like a really hard job with quality play in front of him, Brittain still looks like a very good young goalie who has stepped in and earned more playing time than virtually anyone could have expected.
Steering the ship is longtime coach George Gwozdecky, one of the best in the business. Indeed, it's a formidable and superb opponent for UMD to deal with in their final games of their time at the DECC.
Denver will be a stiff test for UMD's improving defense. Sophomore Dylan Olsen and freshman Justin Faulk are having all-WCHA seasons, and sophomore Wade Bergman is one of the team's more consistent players. The Pioneers will also test UMD's work ethic, and their forwards will have to play a solid two-way game. Failure to do so will lead to odd-man rushes and general ugliness.
The DECC has been a great building for UMD hockey. The Bulldogs have in excess of 100 more wins than losses in the building, and a sweep this weekend would take them to 460 wins total in the arena. More than that, the facility has played host to some of the all-time greats of UMD sports.
Guys like Huffer Christiansen, Derek Plante, Chris Marinucci, Tom Kurvers, Walt Ledingham, Rick Kosti, Curt Giles, Junior Lessard, Beau Geisler, MacGregor Sharp, Dan Lempe, Jeff Scissons, Dale Jago, Brett Hull, and many more called the DECC home. Many of them will be back this weekend, and no matter who takes the ice before the fans, the feelings will be very special.
Nearly 11,000 fans will take a seat or a standing spot for the games, and many of them will have their own special story to tell about a game at the DECC.
It might be one of Bill Watson's big nights, one of Hull's hat tricks, or the night Junior Lessard scored a hat trick in the WCHA playoffs. Maybe it was the game where Thomas Vanek missed an empty net, allowing Jon Francisco to score the game-tying goal with 11 seconds left, then the overtime goal that beat Minnesota.
You might remember a high school game, like David Brown's four goal
While these great athletes have taken to the ice, they've had the fortune of so many high-class, superbly-talented broadcasters and writers keeping close tabs. The DECC has hosted so many great names in media ... guys like Marsh Nelson, Bruce Bennett, Tom Hansen, Mark Fleischer, Kerry Rodd, Rik Jordan, Kevin Pates, and Steve Jezierski, and more.
The DECC is done hosting UMD and high school hockey, but the facility isn't going away just yet. It's not getting the wrecking ball treatment. It won't be imploded. It will still be used, in fact, for some youth hockey.
Of course, that doesn't limit or curtail the great memories that will be talked about this weekend. Even if there were no hockey games scheduled, the opportunity to see and talk to so many Northland hockey legends makes it worth the trip.
It just turns out that UMD and Denver are so good that they won't get lost in the crowd or the hype surrounding the weekend. They're only going to make it more enjoyable.