On Sunday, I had the opportunity to attend my first ever NHL game, as the Minnesota Wild took on the Dallas Stars at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. With the lockout-shortened season starting during the Martin Luther King Day weekend, it was the perfect opportunity, and it didn’t disappoint.
Let’s just say my bar for hockey arenas is set very high because of the grand palace of hockey up in Grand Forks, the Ralph Engelstad Arena. University of North Dakota freshman and Florida Panthers draft pick Rocco Grimaldi once told me that the Ralph is better than most NHL arenas.
I had heard and read great things about the Xcel Energy Center. I knew that it is consistently ranked as one of the best arenas in all sports. I now understand why.
Whenever I go to a sports venue for the first time, I enjoy wandering around. At the “X,” the concourses are wide, making it easy to walk around freely. There is plenty to see while walking around, from sweaters of every Minnesota high school hockey team and every WCHA team to the Hobey Baker trophy to memorabilia from some Wild firsts. And then there are the four statues of Peanuts characters dressed in Minnesota Wild gear and hockey equipment. (Charles Schulz was born and raised in St. Paul.) I might be 21 years old, but I’m not ashamed to admit that I enjoyed having my photo taken with the characters.
Sadly, as it is with most professional sports teams, Wild tickets are expensive. After all the fees Ticketmaster tacks on, two tickets for the second row from the top of the arena at the ends cost $77.54. I wanted to sit closer, but let’s be real: I’m a college student who doesn’t want to drop a whole lot of money.
I was hoping again for an experience like I’ve had at the Ralph, where no matter how far away you sit, you’ve got a great view. And again, the X did not disappoint. Even from my nosebleed sits, the view was great. In fact, I’d argue that sitting in the upper level is better than the lower level because you can see everything on the ice, and you can better see plays develop.
Minnesota is the State of Hockey, and it’s clear that fan backlash over the third lockout in the 19 years under Commissioner Gary Bettman’s leadership is largely nonexistent here. A capacity crowd of 18,296 passionate Wild fans filled the arena.
And if you think that maybe those fans just couldn’t avoid dropping money on tickets to their favorite sport but they could avoid spending money on merchandise, you’re wrong. The Hockey Lodge was packed like sardines, and the checkout line stretched from the checkout counter to near the entrance of the store.
The game itself wasn’t the most exciting hockey game I’ve ever seen. The Wild won 1-0 in a tight, grinding game.
That said, I enjoyed the game, especially because of what transpired to get to that score. The lone goal came off the stick of my favorite player Zach Parise, his first goal as a member of the Wild.
And I always love seeing my team’s goalie get a shutout, but this one was especially special. Second-string goalie Josh Harding was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis during the offseason, but he’s determined to fight the disease and make his way into the starting job. Harding played great, making 24 saves in the game.
I can’t wait for my next Wild game.