Four Views From A Wild Game
Sunday, 11.28.2010 / 10:55 PM / Features
By Todd Smith - Special to Wild.com
We dispatched local writer (and inglorious rink rat) Todd Smith to last week’s Wild game against the New York Rangers to experience different vantage points from pregame warmups through the final buzzer. During his humorous dissection of his night, Smith watched the action from three separate seats and his journey carried him from the bowels of the arena all the way to top deck. The pucktastic odyssey included a jinxing of the Al Shaver Press Box, free beer, the world’s largest Walleye, a dude named Ted Cheesebrough and a whole lot of mustaches. Here is his story:
Warm-ups: Zamboni Tunnel
I reach the glass behind the Wild’s goal to watch warm-ups. Cal Clutterbuck stands in front of the net practicing snappers. He inadvertently shoots a puck at my face. The pop of the puck against the glass scares the bejeebers out of me, and I duck out of the way like a complete wuss. Then, all of the Wild players skate in two lines towards the goal. Most of the team has grown mustaches in support of Movember, a charity event to raise awareness for cancer research in the month of November. I look up, and eighteen men with moustaches are all storming directly at me.
It is a bonanza of staches in every shape and form: Andrew Brunette’s 'stache is just plain wrong. Clutterbuck and Brett Burns have got a whole Rawhide thing going-on with their handle bar staches. Greg Zanon’s mustache is so robust I think Webster’s Dictionary will soon change the word “moustache” to “Zanonache.”
Pucks ting off the crossbar with such violence that I continue to flinch. Being on the glass is both terrifying and exhilarating (note: to see Burns’ size and fluidity up close is dumbfounding, while seeing Derek Boogaard of the Rangers bent over at the waist and still be taller than his teammate, Todd White is hilarious). As I exit the Zamboni tunnel, I am nearly trampled by a pageant of 15 Wild hockey wives/girlfriends all guised up for the Saturday night game. The fasionistas strut arm-in-arm across the length of the corridor and dare any man to get in their way. No one does, but I wouldn’t have minded it.
First Period: The Top Deck - 200 Level
The upper deck of any sporting event is always reported to contain “the real fans,” a collection of salt-of-the-earth folks who spend their hard earned money to cheer (and boo) their beloved hometown team. The upper deck of Xcel Energy Center is defiantly “keeping it real.” There are scores of burly bearded bro-hams decked out in Wild jerseys and Mardi Gras beads. There are ladies in green hard hats. One feller sports serious Def Leopard heavy metal hair and a purple cowboy hat.
I sit in a row of diehards: Three men and their families that have been season ticket holders since day one of the Wild inception. To my right, a thick dude named Ed uses his booming voice to “encourage” the Wild to shoot or fight. Ed works the overnight third shift at the St. Paul Pioneer Press and watches the games before he heads off to the factory. To my left, a gentile and highly knowledgeable Canadian named Lorne quietly observes the minutiae of the game, applauding a crisp breakout pass. Next to Lorne sits Ted Cheesebrough. He is the patriarch of Minnesota’s ultimate Wild family. Literally. Because of his unwavering support of the team and a well written essay, Ted and his kids were nominated last year by the organization as the “Ultimate Wild Family.”
Late in the period, cheers and groans fill the top entire section as Brunette sits in his office behind the net and threads a sweet pass to Marek Zidlicky who tries to power in a point blank slapper, but is denied with a nice toe save. Every time Marian Gaborik of the Rangers steps on the ice, he is greeted with a hailstorm of boos from the section. But the boos quickly turn to cheers the second Gaborik gets hit. The period ends tied at 0-0. Watching the game from this high of a level in a sports stadium is usually a bummer. But this arena’s sight lines are phenomenal; the crisp view of the play gives me the impression that I am watching a giant bubble hockey game.
Second Period: The Al Shaver Press Box
The golden rule of the Al Shaver Press Box is that there is to be no cheering in the press box. Even though there is a raucous sporting event happening directly below me, the press box is a stately venue in which to watch a game and conduct your business. All the writers sit in one long row, stare straight ahead and peek at their computers. It is like watching the game in a really nice library. Each writer has his own station to work which includes a comfy chair, a phone and a place to hang their jacket.
The only people really talking are the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers television play-by-play announcers whose booths are open aired and sit side by side. This close proximity creates a boisterous duel of the childhood game “Repeat.” Each announcer yells virtually the same thing for the whole period.
“Clutterbuck!” Dan Terhaar blurts out from the Fox Sports North side. “Clutter…buck!” Joe Micheletti repeats two feet away for the MSG Network side.
The Rangers erupt for three goals in the period. An instant after the third one goes in,Wild.com Managing Editor Glen Andresen, a superstitious bloke, immediately turns to me and tells me I’m no longer welcome. I think he was joking.
“You jinxed the Al Shaver Press box,” Andresen tells me, as I nonchalantly shovel a fistful of popcorn in my mouth. “You come here, and the Rangers score three times. How much longer are you going to stay here before you realize what you’re doing?”
“Can I take my popcorn?” I jokingly ask, as I take one last look down press row before I am banished. Everyone is punching away at his or her computer.
Third Period: The Fishing Lodge
I found the party, and it’s in the Fishing Lodge. The VIP Club nestled underneath the stands behind the goal on the west side of the arena has the feel of an all out kegger. Access to the club grants you free beer and over a hundred Wild fans indulge themselves mightily. While the peeps in the upper deck devoted a majority of their time to actually watching the game, and the press box had an aura of professionalism, the Fishing Lodge is solely for a back slapping good time. There is a fireplace, a pool table, a long bar, an antler chandelier and comfy leather chairs. The entire two-story room is covered with knotty pine and is adorned with mounted fish and animals, a motorboat and framed professional fishing jerseys.
Kevin Falness does his live radio broadcast in a glass radio booth in the middle of the room as patrons drink, chat and get their grub on.
In the middle of this Saturday night brouhaha, a Fishing Lodge attendant starts yelling out the time, “Two minutes. Two minutes!” he yells.
People start guzzling their drinks and grabbing one more free beer before they head back to their seats for the start of the third period. When the Fishing Lodge attendant warns the crowd that there is one minute left, the entire room empties like a flushed toilet. The attendant shuts two glass doors, pulls a black curtain and cuts off access to the arena via that door. A few groups decide they’re a little too comfortable to head back to their seats, opting to catch the final stanza on one of the flat screens in the Lodge.
A Wild fan stands next to me and holds a free beer in each hand. He inspects a World Record Walleye (a 22-pound lunker) on the wall and says to his annoyed girlfriend, “No way I’d eat that. It’s too old.”
There is a hockey game going on outside the room, but considering the Wild is down four, sometimes you just need to stare at a walleye. I’m not sure you’d get that experience in any other sporting venue.