Friday, December 4, 2015

Toronto Maple Leafs 0 at Minnesota Wild 1 - December 3, 2015


I'm back in the US after a couple of weeks in Canada, and to commemorate the occasion, I went to the Xcel Energy Center to continue my quest to see the Toronto Maple Leafs in every NHL road rink. In an interesting coincidence, I had seen a game here exactly five years earlier as part of my Minnesota Sports Craptacular weekend.



Since then, the city has opened a new light rail line that takes you from downtown Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul in 40 minutes, so there was no need to rent a car on this trip. The arena is about five minutes from the penultimate Central stop. Walk along 4th Street to the RiverCentre complex (a statue of Herb Brooks marks the entrance) and go through to the other side, where the main entrance to the arena lies. You actually enter the arena at club level, so notice the high school hockey jerseys ringing the concourse (you can see them top right below).



I sat in the upper deck the last time I was here, but this time, I picked up a lower bowl seat on StubHub and spent the pregame touring the lower concourse. It is very spacious, quite unusual for a venue in a downtown area. There are many great touches all around, such as boards detailing the history of hockey in Minnesota, including the North Stars 1980-81 run to the Cup final.



Minnesota high school hockey is also huge here and state champions are highlighted in several locations. Check out the newspapers on the poles next to the seating bowls which celebrate state champions from back in the 1950s and 1960s.



One sad addition is another memorial plaque, this one in honour of Derek Boogaard, a former Wild player who died in 2011. His death was important in exposing the trauma that enforcers endure as it was shown that his brain had advanced CTE. Fighting continues in the league, but it will eventually be eliminated as administrators, players, and fans realize that it really isn't worth it.



Overall, this is still one of the NHL's nicest rinks, with the friendliest staff around. There is a lot to see here, so if you are making just one visit, get here early and tour both concourses, but if possible, get a lower bowl seat as the upper deck is just a bit far away.



Another change in the last five years is that the Wild are a pretty good hockey team now. Sadly, the same cannot be said of the Leafs, whose brief appearance in the playoffs is still a source of suffering for fans. The Wild somehow turned Devan Dubnyk (below) from Oiler castoff to top goalie and he showed it against the Leafs.



Toronto was coming off a 6-1 drubbing from the Jets, but they were better defensively on this night, and James Reimer was solid when the Wild got their chances. Unfortunately, Minnesota was just slightly better, as they frustrated the Leafs who generated few chances despite outplaying the Wild for much of the latter half of the game. Minnesota's Matt Dumba scored midway through the second with 9 seconds left on a power play and that proved to be the difference. Toronto did put the puck in the net with 4 minutes left, but it was overturned as the play was obviously offside. I was sitting by the blue line and when the puck crossed after the player and the linesman did not call offside, I thought "Leafs will score here and it will be overturned". Yep. They had a goal disallowed the night before in Winnipeg due to goaltender interference (a bad call), so in the two games on this trip, they have had more overturned goals than actual goals. Ah, the fun of being a Leaf fan.



That's Tyler Bozak losing a face-off to Mikku Koivu. There were only 58 face-offs on the evening (each team taking 29), with the Bozak-Koivu battle counting for 10 of them, Koivu winning 7. How's that for a useless stat? Another one? Dubnyk now leads the league with four shutouts.



Is it better to lose 6-1 or be shutout 1-0? I really don't know.

Notes

This was road rink #26 to see the Leafs. Their record is 10-13-3. I still have St. Louis, Chicago, Carolina, and Phoenix, as well as new venues in Brooklyn, Buffalo, Vancouver, and Edmonton from next season.

Next Up

I'm heading to Minnesota Golden Gopher hockey tonight as they take on Ohio State. Then off to St. Louis for the weekend as the Leafs visit the Blues and the Arizona Cardinals take on the soon-to-be-somewhere-other-than St. Louis Rams. Check back daily for updates.

Best,

Sean

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