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Migrating East: Gophers lacrosse team practices in Woodbury and Cottage Grove

Gophers junior Jun Hashizume sprints past senior Benjamin Nash in a recent practice at Cottage Grove Ice Arena. (Bulletin photo by Jace Frederick)

Walk through the dark concourse of Cottage Grove Ice Arena in the waning hours of the night and you’ll hear an usual sound coming from the West Rink.

Not the sound of pucks ringing off of pipes or the stopping and starting of skates on the ice, but the sound of a ball bouncing off of the boards.

For about two hours a night, three to four times a week, the Minnesota Gophers men’s club lacrosse team migrates east to Bielenberg Sports Center in Woodbury or the ice arena in Cottage Grove to practice.

“They’re really, really nice facilities here,” Cottage Grove native and Gophers freshman Ryan Gillard said. “Bielenberg is incredible and this is really awesome, too (pointing out at the West Rink). The new turf and everything, it’s cool to be able to play in this.”

The Gophers made the move east for practice time because time was something in short supply on the University of Minnesota campus. The Gophers were only getting two practices a week at the sports dome on campus.

“So then we just started looking for alternatives to get more hours, because the teams we play against, they practice five nights a week,” Gophers head coach Rich Limpert said. “We couldn’t get it done with two nights a week at the ‘U’, so wanted to get some more time elsewhere, so we started to look around.”

The east metro was an obvious place to look for a couple of reasons. The Gophers coaching staff has connections to this area. Limpert coached the Woodbury High School varsity boys lacrosse team from its inception in 2004 and manned that post for nine seasons.

Minnesota assistant Aime Caines is currently East Ridge’s boys head coach, and 2014 East Ridge grad Kilian Wilson joined the Gophers team as a freshman this season.

Limpert called the facilities at both Bielenberg and the Cottage Grove Ice Arena “state of the art.” Gillard remembered playing at Bielenberg growing up, when it wasn’t much more than a bubble.

“Bielenberg is way upgraded since the last time I played there,” he said.

Because Bielenberg received a $22 million renovation, featuring a 90,000-square-foot field house the Gophers utilize for practices, and even games, this season. Minnesota is 2-0 at Bielenberg this season, with three more games set to be played there this season March 27, April 11 and April 12.

Cottage Grove’s West Rink is fairly new as well. The West Rink was constructed in 2008, and artificial turf was just installed for the first time earlier this month.

“The guys are willing to drive 25 minutes to practice here,” Limpert said.

And practice late at night. The Gophers practices times are all somewhere between 9 p.m. and midnight.

“It’s not horrible,” Gillard said. “We’re college students, so we’re used to staying up later anyways. So it’s not a big deal.”

Those late practice slots are designed to use the facilities outside of “prime” hours for cheaper rates at Bielenberg. The Gophers pay $275 per hour for the full field rental at Bielenberg and $90 per hour for the rink rental at the Ice Arena.

“Both are reasonable,” Limpert said.

And they have to be. As a club team, it’s the players who pay the costs to play.

“We’re on a shoestring budget,” Limpert said.

The Gophers have practiced in other facilities around the Twin Cities in past years, but seem to have found a nice fit in Cottage Grove and Woodbury. The relationship is beneficial for Bielenberg and the Ice Arena, as well, as they have a constant late night tenant for a couple months.

But the future for this relationship is far from certain after this season. A lot of that depends on what the Gophers can get for practice time from the University on campus. That’s to be determined in future years, particularly as the school’s bevy of additions and renovations to its “athletic facilities village” start to take shape.

“We’ll see what we can do as far as field times at the ‘U’,” Limpert said. “We’re appreciative of everything we do get at the ‘U’, but we need more. So we have to go out and pay for it, and these are awesome options.”