By Shane Frederick
---- — MANKATO — The new ice system is in place, the concrete is curing and the new purple — yes, purple — seats are being installed.
By the time the Minnesota State men’s hockey season begins in early October, the Verizon Wireless Center rink and arena will have a very different look.
"It will look like home," Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said.
New, state-of-the-art dasher boards and glass will surround the ice sheet, which will be narrower than the one the Mavericks have skated on since 1995. The old, 100-foot-wide Olympic-sized rink will be replaced with one that's 90 feet wide, 5 feet wider than a standard National Hockey League size. But the seats will be the most-noticeable change with MSU-purple seats replacing the original red and blue ones.
"This is how it should have been from the beginning," said Burt Lyman, the building's executive director. "It's going to give you that Maverick feel."
Officials say that the arena's north wall also will get a much-needed freshening up.
"People should be pleasantly surprised with how it looks," Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges said.
If things go as planned, this year's remodeling project will be just the first phase of hockey improvements in the downtown building.
Plans are in the works to move both the men’s and women’s teams downtown permanently. The two teams currently practice at All Seasons Arena, which is also where the women play their games.
Hentges said he hopes the move could happen in time for the 2015-16 season, if not earlier. But the $30 million project, which also includes expansion of the civic center's event and convention space — is contingent on the availability of state bonding money, Hentges said. Several previous attempts to secure that funding for Mankato arena projects have failed, but officials remain optimistic.
"All signs are positive that our patience will be rewarded," Minnesota State Director of Athletics Kevin Buisman said.
Although final plans — Paulsen Architects is designing the project — and budgets for the hockey project won't be set until a Sept. 9 meeting, coaches have shown preliminary drawings to recruits. They are much more detailed than the rudimentary ones unveiled to a state senate bonding committee in the winter of 2012. Hentges said there will be another committee visit in early October.
"This is the furthest we've ever been along since I've been here," said Eric Means, who is beginning his fifth season as MSU's women's hockey coach after serving 14 years as a men's assistant. "All the people who have an interest are at the table. Everyone wants to see it happen."
The plan includes men's and women's locker rooms, coaches offices and a weight room for the Mavericks, along with training, equipment, dining and lounge areas. Those would be constructed under the stands on the west side where MSU currently has its locker room. New visiting-team locker rooms and dressing rooms for youth and high school teams and concert performers would be installed on the east side of the building.
"Ever since Day 1, I said there is a significant difference between wants and needs," said Hastings, who is about to begin his second season with the Mavericks. "These are needs. When you're comparing to what else we're seeing in college hockey, they're needs."
Hentges recently toured the 3-year-old Sanford Center in Bemidji, a civic arena that houses Bemidji State men's and women's hockey. He compared the Verizon Wireless Centers' plans he's seen to that building, which has received rave reviews for its hockey facilities. Hentges said he thinks Mankato "will be far and away classier."
"It's got everything and is probably a far-superior layout to what I saw in Bemidji," he said. "I think we're on the right path."
Minnesota State's coaches and other officials have had an input in both the current project and future plans. In the years since the Verizon Wirless Center opened they have witnessed a facility arms race in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and throughout the country.
"Fifteen years ago, (Mankato's) civic center was state-of-the-art and ahead of the pack," Buisman said. "It's probably what inspired other schools to make improvements. But it's fallen farther and farther behind as others have built new facilities."
The ante was upped with the construction of new arenas for North Dakota, Denver, Bemidji State and Minnesota Duluth, among others, and major renovation projects of buildings at Minnesota, St. Cloud State and Michigan Tech, to name a few.
The new rink and purple seats are a start.
"We're excited about where we're at," Hastings said. "It's been really exciting from our staff's side and the university's side to walk into that building and see progress."