The Xcel Energy Center has been the home of the Minnesota Wild since the team brought the NHL back to the Twin Cities in 2000. The arena was named as the #2 venue in the NHL by Stadium Journey Magazine for 2011, and the 7th best stadium on the overall Top 100.
Besides being the home of the Wild, you can also see the NLL Minnesota Swarm play here from January through May (if they are in the playoffs). Overall, it is a fantastic facility and still is one of the best, more than a decade after opening.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
If you’re heading to the X, you’re not going to be lacking for food. With multiple dining options all over the arena, the Xcel is a cornucopia of gastronomic delights, ranging from your typical stadium food of hot dogs, nachos, pizza and so on to more specialized food, such as the delightful Philly cheese steak nachos which are exactly what they sound like and can be found on the lower level between gates two and three.
If you’re in the mood for more than just the typical stadium fare – a sit-down meal, perhaps – the Xcel has that for you too. If you’re up on the Club Level, you can sit down at the Headwaters Bar & Grill which features a regionally-inspired menu, as well as a signature chef’s table that features food like chef-carved beef, parmesan leek potatoes, maple glazed roasted pork with apricot chutney and a red-wine demi-glaze. In other words, not your standard stadium food, but some pretty good options. If you’re going, you can also go online to check out the menu for the game you’re going to.
In addition to Headwaters, you can also find yourself at the Iron Range Bar & Grill, a sports bar on the lower level that includes 40 televisions and memorabilia from the State of Hockey, or the Phillips Old Time Hockey Lounge, where you can find specialty spirits and cocktails.
Speaking of cocktails, you can find mixed drinks at a number of stations around the arena and they have your typical domestic beers at concession stands, or local or craft beers at stands around the arena, but you can expect to pay north of $5 for any of the above. The servers at the drink stations are always amiable and, the more you get to know them, the nicer their drink pouring techniques tend to be.
The game that I attended most recently was especially raucous because of the visiting Winnipeggers to see the Wild and the Jets face off, lending to a rivalry-type atmosphere, where one might not otherwise exist. Thankfully, being a hockey buff, I find myself at multiple Wild games every year and the atmosphere, while not nearly as exciting as it was with the visiting fans from Winnipeg, is always good.
The fans know the game and appreciate the little things, such as clearing the puck on the penalty kill, or a good defensive play to prevent a scoring chance. That is what gives the Xcel a truly special atmosphere and, even though the initial luster of having the NHL back in Minnesota has worn off, there is still a buzz around the building – especially now, with the new management and the trajectory the team seems to be on for the future.
You can’t find yourself in a much better neighborhood than downtown St. Paul. If you’re looking for a bar to go to before or after the game, there are quite a few surrounding. Tom Reid’s is an especially popular hangout, especially after the game if you’re hoping to rub shoulders with players. You can find modestly priced bar food such as sandwiches and burgers, as well as a terrific array of wine and beer there.
If you’re looking for food, there’s Cossetta’s, which is a local favorite Italian eatery that has an Italian deli attached to it and is very modestly priced for the quality of food that you get. Pazzaluna is another terrific Italian restaurant, though not quite as modestly priced as Cossetta’s. If burgers are more your thing, you can also hit up the Great Waters Brewing Company or Wild Tymes. All of these are terrific options and all within walking distance of the X.
As far as the neighborhood itself goes, you couldn’t ask for a better area in a big city for an arena to be built. Across the street from the Science Museum, just down the street from the Children’s Museum and just a couple blocks away from the Children’s Hospital, the Xcel is truly in a family friendly neighborhood that is as safe as you can get in a city environment. You still want to take all of the obvious urban precautions, but you can also feel safe walking from the ramp or restaurant to the arena at night.
As I mentioned earlier, the fans are unbelievably knowledgeable about the game and also, for the most part, very friendly. "Minnesota Nice" is certainly in full effect here, as you can typically enjoy the experience whether you’re a Wild fan or a visiting fan – that is, as long as you’re not being antagonizing yourself. There is, of course, the typical ribbing of visiting fans from time to time, but I have never experienced the horror stories that you hear from visiting fans in other arenas.
The downside, though, to the fans is also what makes them great. Many of them are very knowledgeable about the game and many have an opinion that they’re more than willing to share with anyone who will listen. Oftentimes, you’ll find yourself next to the amiable fan who has an opinion, but doesn’t let the way that the team is playing on the ice or the way that the refs are officiating the game ruin their night. You can, however, stumble upon fans that are exactly the opposite more often than one might like and, while it won’t ruin your experience, it can put a damper on the mood from time to time.
With numerous parking ramps and lots within a couple blocks of the Xcel Energy Center, as well as a terrific bus system that has 14 stops within a one-block radius of the arena, you can’t really get much easier to get to than the X. In addition to the bus routes and the ramps, you can also find buses running from local bars in the city that bring you right up to the front door of the X and pick you up there after the game to take you back to their bar.
Tickets for the Wild have become easier to come by with the team’s recent struggles but, depending on the game, you’ll still find yourself relegated to the pickings of what is available. Those pickings, however, are still terrific as there isn’t a bad seat in the house and the prices range from the gaudy (anywhere from $230-$304 when you’re on the glass) to more reasonable.
Club level will run you anywhere between $80-$102 depending on the location and the game, lower level will run between $66-$103 again, and upper level will run between $22-$55. You can also find standing room only down on the lower level between $48-$57.
The best part about the Xcel, though, is that it doesn’t matter what you pay for your ticket – you’ll still have a terrific view of the ice and you’ll still have a terrific experience.
For a hockey fan, the extras around the Xcel are pretty special. From jerseys of every local high school team running around the concourse to displays of the jerseys of the WCHA and MIAC college divisions, the rich heritage of hockey in Minnesota is all around the arena. If you’re looking for a souvenir, you’ll find numerous booths around the arena, but the best is the Hockey Lodge that can be found by Gate One that has everything from pucks to shirts to game-used memorabilia.
Around the arena, there are plenty of things to do before and after the game, from bars to museums and libraries, it’s difficult to not find what you’re looking for.
All things considered, the Xcel Energy Center might not be the Twin Cities’ top arena anymore with Target Field in town, but there’s no doubt that it is a very close second. You’re not going to get the glitz and glamour of other cities, but the atmosphere of St. Paul allows for the possibility of running into a player or two before or after the game. Even if that’s not your thing and you’re just a hockey fan or a sports fan, you can’t do much better than heading out to the Xcel Energy Center to catch a game. The Wild may not always win, but it will be an experience that will leave lasting memories.
Photos by Ben Erickson.
St. Paul, Minnesota's Xcel Energy Center is home to the NHL's Minnesota Wild and the NLL's Minnesota Swarm. It was built in 2000 as the home for the Wild and is part of the Saint Paul RiverCentre, which also houses the Legendary Roy Wilkins Auditorium.
Great location, close lodging and an abundance of restaurants/bars. A truly all in one spot for everything. And no fooling on the ability to see and meet players outside the arean. Met Rob Blake and Anze Kopitar at the Herb Brooks statue, several players at The Liffey post game through the years. Awesome experience
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