Sunday, 24 January 2010

A Wild Time

Saturday night saw me take in a National Hockey League game while on my weekend vacation. I don't usually try to go out of my way for sports tickets while away, but I've heard such good things about the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota that I decided I should try and see the Minnesota Wild play live. Detroit had been in town on Thursday and had won in a shootout, so there was still a good buzz amongst the hockey fans about how the Wild had played. With the Columbus Blue Jackets in town for Hockey Day in Minnesota, there was hope that the 12th-place Wild could grab two points off the 14th-place Jackets. The Jackets took to the ice in their visitor's white uniforms while the Wild skated in their alternate uniforms. More on this below.

One of the Wild's biggest problems this season seems to be their inability to score early. That wasn't the case tonight when it appeared that Mikko Koivu poked a puck under Steve Mason, but referee Mike Leggo had blown the whistle. With little delay, we were off to the video review just 3:41 into the game after the Wild made their case!

I've never been through a video review in the NHL, but it seems like any momentum gained by the goal is lost through the delay. The review on Koivu's goal only lasted for about a minute or two, but it seemed much longer. However, when Leggo skated out towards center ice, his announcement that Koivu had indeed scored sent the crowd into a frenzy. The Wild led 1-0, and the crowd was buzzing.

Can I just say that the Wild have one of the best goal songs in any sport? Joe Satriani's Crowd Chant is one of the best themes in all of sports, and the Wild use it after every goal to keep the fans jacked up. Does it work? From an eye witness perspective, it most certainly does!

Cal Clutterbuck was literally risking health and body with every shift as he resembled a human ping pong ball as he threw massive hit after massive hit. If there are any youngsters out there looking for a player to emulate in terms of throwing clean hits, Clutterbuck's approach to the game with his relentless energy would be a good player to model your game after. He was everywhere in this game.

Despite there being a bunch of big hits, there was no other scoring, so the 1-0 score midway through the period held through to the first intermission. By the way, that was an impressive scoreboard.

During the intermission, we got to see some future Wild players take to the ice. No, the AHL's Houston Aeros weren't in town. Instead, Minnesota minor hockey has their players take part in a fun game on the Xcel Energy Center ice - something these kids will remember forever. The white team eventually came out on top with a 2-1 win.

Mikko Koivu gave his team another boost just 1:26 into the second period. Koivu wired a shot past Mason as Mason was screened, and the Wild jumped out in front by a 2-0 margin. While the crowd was rocking, they barely had time to get settled as Eric Belanger lit the lamp three minutes later. Belanger picked up a loose puck and fired a quick shot as he turned around, and the puck found its way through Mason's five-hole for a 3-0 lead. Could the rout be on?

The biggest cheers on the night came when fan favorite and Wild enforcer Derek Boogaard and Columbus' Jared Boll decided to drop the gloves. The tale of the tape would indicate that Boll would be at a serious disadvantage.

Boll runs 6'3" and 210 lbs.

Boogaard stands in at 6'8" and 257 lbs. He's a big boy.

Boogaard literally gave Boll nothing to work with, and landed a number of heavyweight punches. I have to give credit to Boll for hanging in there, but Boogaard's height and reach were simply no match for the undersized Boll. Decision goes to Boogaard after the linesmen jumped in between the combatants.

This is a direct message to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman: don't touch fighting. I guarantee you that the people in Minnesota will be calling for your head. The section I was sitting in could have been mistaken for a UFC or boxing crowd when Boogaard dropped the gloves. As much as the NHL is trying to increase the entertainment value of the game by increasing the skill, there is no denying that a good bout of fisticuffs energizes a crowd as much or more than a good goal. The fans in Minnesota are living, breathing proof of this.

If there was one thing that plagued the Blue Jackets tonight, it was their knack for taking dumb penalties. Double-minors and additional minor penalties added during scrums killed any sort of momentum that they were trying to build, and the 3-0 Minnesota lead through two periods was evidence of this.

The third period appeared to have the Wild protect the lead and the Jackets simply play out the game. Robbie Earl netted his fifth goal of the season with just 68 seconds to play for the Wild, but the game was far from over. Rick Nash and Antoine Vermette scored for the Blue Jackets in the last 40 seconds of the game, but the comeback was too little, too late as the final horn sounded. The Wild earned a 4-2 victory in the game, and really looked good for 59 minutes.

Hockey Day in Minnesota saw the Wild win, and, as a gesture to the 18,173 fans who attended the game, the team gave the fans a "stick salute" of thanks at center ice to the Team of 18,000. A classy way to end the day after a fun game.

The Xcel Energy Center is a gorgeous facility as well. I didn't get a chance to take any photos of the arena thanks to the "no cameras allowed" policy, but it definitely has a very Minnesota feel to it. There's lots of wood and many hockey exhibits around the concourse, giving it a feeling an old hockey lodge. The sight lines are fantastic from every corner of the arena, and there are a number of excellent concession options available. While a little pricey, they certainly will quench the hunger if it strikes.

Above the scoreboard, the Wild had banners of all 30 NHL teams arranged in alphabetical order in divisions. I'm not sure why they were placed in their respective divisional organizations, but the effect was still pretty cool.

Overall, the Minnesota Wild experience gets a 9.0 out of a possible 10 from me. There are enough little bars and hang-outs around the arena for eats and drinks before and after the game, and Tom Reid's Hockey City Pub is literally a museum of hockey history. I highly recommend stopping by there before or after the game. You won't be disappointed.

More coming on Monday, but it might be a little shorter than usual. Monday is a travel day, and I'm hoping that the blizzard the US Weather Center is calling for will hold off just long enough for me to get home. We'll see, I suppose.

Until then, keep your sticks on the ice!


mtjaws said...

Sounds like a fun time. I'd love to go to a game at different places.

And seriously, what kind of sporting venue doesn't allow cameras? I would understand it for concerts and shows, but not a game. Very strange.

k of c said...

Commenting a bit late here, but I wanted to say I enjoyed the story. I'm in Chicago and trying to visit whatever arenas I can; it's on my list for this year (if I can get a cheap bus ticket there and a cheap seat through TicketExchange).

I'm puzzled by the camera thing--I assume it means large/DSLR cameras, but even those are allowed most at the arenas/ballparks I've visited. I always take a lot of photos with a point and shoot...

Cash gifting programs said...

Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota...never been there. Glad to have read about Joe Satriani after a very long time. Its quite sometime since I gave up listening to guitar music.