Last week I hit the road to visit 3 NHL arenas, as it’s been my goal to visit all the NHL arenas. Now that we are getting an NHL team, I’ve started to evaluate the arena experience differently. Here is my Trip Report for my Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Minnesota.
Edmonton – Friday, December 14th, 2018
Edmonton Oilers vs Philadelphia Flyers
Pre-Trip Thoughts: I’ve been looking forward to checking out a game at Rogers Place since it opened in 2016. It is one of the newest buildings in the league and I had yet to see Connor McDavid play IRL. Watching hockey games in Canada is unique. We’ve talked about it on the podcast a bit, but a broad generalized way to put it is that NHL games in Canada are more like watching golf, while games in the US are more like football games. The Canadian games are filled with anticipation and appreciation for good plays; while the US games tend to be a bit rowdier and louder. Both are enjoyable in their own right.
Travel Logistics: We took a relatively cheap flight on Alaska Airlines and stayed walking distance to the arena at the Coast Edmonton Plaza Hotel. We were going to be in Edmonton less than 24 hours and did not rent a car. We took an Uber from and to the airport.
Because I see NHL games in person so infrequently, I like to enter the building early to take it all in and watch warmups, so usually there are no challenges with lines/security checks getting in.
Arena Experience: Rogers Place is massive. It’s got a massive concourse and the bowl is huge. The concourse was filled with sponsorship activation. There were a couple cars and pick-up trucks on the concourse and tons of other fan engagement activities. It felt wide and easy to get around. By comparison, I felt Vegas was very tight without a lot of activity on the concourse.
We had nosebleed, but center ice-ish, seats. It felt like we were miles away from the ice. I’ve sat in plenty of upper deck seats and haven’t felt as far away as I did at that game. There was a noticeable lack of energy in the building. That could have been our seats or it could have been they nature of the matchup: Flyers-Oilers. Neither team seemed that energized on the ice and it seemed reflected in the crowd.
- The scoreboard was huge. Since we were upper deck the scoreboard was right in our immediate field of vision and sometimes distracted me from the game.
- It felt like everyone was wearing jerseys. I was at the game with 3 other friends and we weren’t wearing jerseys. We felt like outsiders…which we were.
- They had an in-house band that was kind of cool. Think like a small Blue Thunder and add in a brass section.
- We had a pre-game beverage at Mercer Tavern, which was packed with Oilers fans. Seemed like a cool place, but we didn’t research much. We should have done more investigating for some other options.
- The Oilers mascot is kind of scary IRL and wasn’t as engaged in the crowd as I would have preferred.
It was fun and I am glad I went, but was expecting a bit more from the view and vibe in the arena. Again, it could have been the matchup or the seats.
Winnipeg – Sunday, December 16th, 2018
Winnipeg Jets vs Tampa Bay Lightning
Pre-Trip Thoughts: Seeing a game in Winnipeg has been on top of my list for a while ever since I saw the excitement of the fans during the 2015 playoffs. The Jets play in the smallest capacity rink in the league, the Bell MTS Place with 15,321 attendance capacity. The electric atmosphere is impossible to ignore when watching a game on TV. I was also particularly excited about the matchup with 2 top teams facing off.
Travel Logistics: We flew into Winnipeg the day before the Jets game from Edmonton and stayed within a block of the arena at the Radission Blu downtown. The hotel was around a $100 USD a night, but if we would have waited a bit longer, the rate could have been $79 USD. Use that advice at your own risk. There is no Uber/Lyft in Winnipeg, so we took a 15-20 minute cab ride from the airport to the hotel. The hotel was perfectly located for us. We went to the Manitoba Moose game the night we got in which limited our exposure to the elements of winter in Winnipeg. The Manitoba Moose, AHL team of the Jets, were playing the Toronto Marlies, AHL team of the Maple Leafs.
Arena Experience: The arena concourse was very tight, but very lively. It reminded me a bit of Vancouver with the tight areas with some engagement activities for the fans. Compared to Edmonton there was a lot more energy and a lot more people taking in warmups.
Our seats were very similar to Edmonton. In fact, we were in the last row of the upper deck around center ice. The vibe was completely different. Lots more cheering. You could feel big breaths of anticipation during scoring opportunities and audible exhales when killing off a penalty. It was exactly the kind of atmosphere I was hoping for in Winnipeg. However, the game might have contributed to it. The game ended up in a 5-4 overtime victory for the home team and neither team got up by more than a goal at any time during the game. Winnipeg and Tampa Bay could be two of the most exciting teams to watch in the league and it might have been the most exciting regular season game I’ve ever seen live.
- I couldn’t help notice how much younger the fans seemed in Winnipeg than Edmonton. I don’t know if this is related to the fact that the Edmonton franchise has been around a lot longer than Winnipeg or reflective of the demographic of the city. Neither is good or bad; just an interesting observation.
- The Winnipeg fans gave it to the refs a bit. There was a marginal icing call that went against the Jets and they started a “refs you suck” chant…for an icing call. This speaks to the passion and keenly observant and educated fans.
- I loved that after a Jets goal, they would share the replay on the scoreboard as the fans cheered, then they would show the goal scorer on the screen and then the fans would pick it up a notch and yell even louder in appreciation.
- Mascot engagement was very high. Mick E Moose was everywhere and very active.
Winnipeg instantly jumps to one of my top 5 arenas in the league. I loved the more intimate experience compared to big arenas. I got lucky with the matchup and the quality of the game, so that might have played into it. But I am certainly planning on making a return trip to Winnipeg when the Seattle Whatevers visit the city.
Minnesota – Tuesday, December 18th, 2018
Minnesota Wild vs. San Jose Sharks
Pre-Trip Thoughts: I’d seen a game at Xcel Energy Center some years back and have mentioned it as one of my favorite arenas in the league. Since that trip to Xcel, I’ve probably been to 10 other arenas, so I was very eager to see if the memory of my experience stood up to the test of time.
Travel Logistics: We stayed downtown Minneapolis at another Radisson Blu. Minneapolis is about 10 miles away from St. Paul. That was a deliberate decision. IMHO there are more interesting food, music, and nightlife activities in Minneapolis. If you are only going to MSP for an NHL game, then staying in downtown St. Paul might be a better option. If you are staying in downtown Minneapolis, you can take the light rail from the airport to downtown relatively cheaply and easily. From the hotel we Ubered over to the Xcel Energy Center. There is a light rail from downtown Minneapolis to St. Paul, but there is still a decent walk from the light rail stop to the arena.
Arena Experience: The moment you step inside, you know you’re in Minnesota with a big sign that says “Welcome to the State of Hockey”. Also a nice touch are the Minnesota high school hockey jerseys displayed around the concourse. The concourse is spacious and lively, almost like a hybrid between Edmonton and Winnipeg. In a word, the concourse was perfect.
I walked around the upper deck to see how the view looked from up there and it felt much closer to the action than Edmonton. Our seats were club level (2nd deck) right behind the net which were outstanding. The crowd was lively and engaged, even though the game ended in a 4-0 Sharks win. The 4th goal was an empty netter, but the game felt closer than even a 3-0 game.
I rarely see Xcel Energy Center mentioned as a place hockey fans need to check out, but it should be on every hockey fan’s bucket list. The roots of hockey in Minnesota are well known, but the fact that the Wild are a relatively new franchise makes the team and the arena fly under the radar a bit.
- For pregame, we did Tom Reid’s Hockey City Pub and it was awesome. Can’t help to think about the hockey bars that will pop up in the Uptown Neighborhood when our franchise takes the ice in 2021.
- The experience at Xcel Energy Center is distinctly a Minnesota experience. The “This is our ice” and the “Let’s Play Hockey” branding are two examples of that local experience.
- In game video production entertainment was surprisingly engaging.
- The crowd has a lot of energy even though the game was 2-0 for the visiting team for a good portion of the game.
- Postgame we did Herbie’s, which is a very different experience than Tom Reid’s. Try them both, if anything, just to say you did.
My favorite arenas tend to be an extension of the communities that they serve. MSG, Nashville, and Tampa have a local appeal and are nothing alike which makes the experiences unique. Similarly, that’s what I love about Xcel Energy Center.
My Top 5 Arenas (not in prioritized order)
- Bell Centre (Montreal Canadiens)
- Bell MTS Center (Winnipeg Jets)
- Bridgestone Arena (Nashville Predators)
- TD Garden (Boston Bruins)
- Xcel Energy Center (Minnesota Wild)
Remaining on my list:
- American Airlines Center (Dallas Stars)
- Canadian Tire Centre (Ottawa Senators)
- Gila River Arena (Arizona Coyotes)
- Honda Center (Anaheim Ducks)
- KeyBank Center (Buffalo Sabres)
- Little Caesars Arena (Detroit Red Wings)
- Nationwide Arena (Columbus Blue Jackets)
- Pepsi Center (Colorado Avalanche)
- PNC Arena (Carolina Hurricanes)
- Scotiabank Arena (Toronto Maple Leafs)
- Staples Center (Los Angeles Kings)