Last Monday’s rollout of “3M Arena at Mariucci” replacing just “Mariucci Arena” as the name of the home of the Gophers men’s hockey team was predictable and relatively smooth.
Administrators hailed it as a sensible way to raise money, with 3M kicking in $11.2 million over 14 years. Athletic director Mark Coyle said, “I feel like we’re enhancing our program,” adding that it was “a great opportunity.” (Photo is a rendering of what the signage could look like for the renamed building).
When the subject turned to the possibility of renaming Williams Arena in a similar deal, top fundraiser Lou Nanne said, “That’s what we’re working on. That’s very important to us and we want to do the same type of thing.”
One of the main talking points — a fair one, to be sure — was that other buildings like Xcel Energy Center and U.S. Bank Stadium have corporate names and nobody thinks twice about it.
Men’s hockey coach Don Lucia said he hadn’t talked to many alums or former players about the decision because the school didn’t want word to leak out before it was final, but he said the ones he had talked to “understand that in 2017 you’re going to have naming rights to venues and it really doesn’t change all that much.”
That said, aside from fans — a feisty handful of whom were among the 150-plus comments on the Star Tribune’s main story on the change last week, leaving screeds such as “Disgusting. Never going to 3M arena for hockey again” — former players seem to be the group with the most at stake in this. If anyone is going to have reverence for a building’s name, it is those players.
The original story offered this quote from Gary Gambucci, an All-American center who played under the arena’s namesake, John Mariucci, in 1968: “I’m not crazy about [the change], quite frankly. John was so instrumental to Minnesota hockey. The younger generation has no idea what he meant. … “[The new name is] not as good as it could be, but let’s face it, it’s a sign of the times. I knew it was just a matter of time. What are you going to do? It’s an arms’ race.”
I’ve accumulated some evidence in the last week that Gambucci is not alone in having that point of view.
Casey Hankinson, who joined the Gophers in 1994 (the year after the new Mariucci opened), replied with this when I asked him via e-mail if players care about such things as building names: “We do care. We’d prefer it to still be Mariucci Arena but it is the sign of the times. I do like that they still kept Mariucci in the name and for most it will still be called that.”
Justin Kloos, who played his final game for the Gophers just a few months ago and is now a Wild prospect, said he’s “not thrilled” about the change and declined to elaborate more other than to reply when asked if players care about such things, “Ah, yeah, guys care.”
As for men’s basketball players and the potential for change to Williams Arena, former Gopher Lawrence McKenzie, who played in the mid-to-late-2000s, said: “In my opinion, renaming it just takes away a lot of the history behind the building. It’s like once you rename it, it becomes something totally different. The players know it as Williams, and in my eyes that’s always what it will be regardless of the name if they decide to change it.”
All three of those former Gophers starred in high school in the metro area and have deep local connections, perhaps enhancing their reverence for traditional building names.
Even if they are willing to accept that it’s a sign of the times, they are also left to wonder what might be next.
“What I do and will care about is advertising on the jersey,” Hankinson wrote. “The jersey has honor. That is why it is never allowed to touch the floor in a hockey dressing room. If they were to sell out, like some pro teams have, that would be incredibly disappointing.”
Such a thing is against NCAA rules as of now and was not mentioned at all by U officials last week.
But down the road? Maybe such a thing will just be another sign of the times.