I had a chance to travel to Minnesota to see the Predators take on the Wild in the final game of the 2014 season.
Here are some scenes and thoughts from the road:
This is the Herb Brooks statue outside one of the entrances to the Xcel Energy Center, the home ice of the Wild.
The Xcel is a beautiful arena, attached to another civic venue that contains several auditoriums and meeting rooms. The building uses a mountain cabin motif on the inside, with the concession stands having exposed wooden beams on their facades. There are numerous concession stands and food options around the concourse.
Being in the Great White North, some of the offerings included a walleye fish basket and fried cheese curds along with several kinds of poutine.
Fans lined up at the main entrance just prior to opening the gates.
The Hobey Baker Award was on display on the main concourse. You can't see it in this picture, but pictures of the past winners were on display as well, including former Predator Blake Geoffrion.
Inside the Xcel Center before the fans started to arrive. The lower bowl area is huge, larger than in Bridgestone Arena. The capacity of the arena is 18,628 for hockey.
The arena quickly filled up, and this is just before puck drop. Met some really nice fans, but this was the quietest full arena that I have ever seen. Very little energy in the building. Listening to their public address announcer made me really appreciate Paul MCann, the PA for the Predators. Paul brings energy and enthusiasm, something the Wild's PA lacked. Game ops at the Xcel do nothing on the video boards of the jumbotron to engage the crowd, something the Predators crew does very well.
Ran into the best broadcasting tandem in the NHL prior to the game. We are fortunate to have these two guys in the booth.
This was the team hotel, the St. Paul, a few blocks from the arena. The St. Paul is a historic hotel in downtown and an exceptional facility.
Charles Schulz was born in Minneapolis, and this sculpture was across the street from the hotel. You may recognize Peanuts characters Marcie on the bench, Peppermint Patty in the background, and Woodstock perched on the bench by Marcie's shoulder. The Xcel Center had several peanuts characters around the concourse clad in Wild Sweaters. In the background is the Xcel Center.
I had a chance to visit with Wild owner Craig Leipold the day after the game. He had a lot of good things to say about Nashville and the growth of the game and the fan base in the city and was glad to see the success of the franchise. While his departure was not the best at that time for the franchise nor conducted in the best of circumstances, he is responsible for bringing and NHL franchise to Smashville.
The Wild do a good job of building on the success of high school and college hockey in the state, and they have tapped in to that energy from those fans.
This is a great venue to watch hockey with good fans, and it is a road trip that I would encourage Predator fans to make.