This is the second in a three part series celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Xcel Energy Center Opening.
Despite being a venue built primarily for hockey, the Xcel Energy Center has been the premier destination for events in the Twin Cities since the doors opened in 2000. Each calendar year, the arena hosts 150 events on average which bring in 1.7 million fans to the venue.
Even though the Wild being the primary tenants of the arena, other sporting events and concerts come to the arena on an annual basis.
In those 20 years, there have been several notable events in the arena. Here are the finest ones in the arena’s 20-year history:
Naturally, the Wild having several memorable moments in 20 years is expected. So we asked a few people to chime in and give us their personal favorite Wild memory.
Vice President and General Manager of Xcel Energy Center Jack Larson said his favorite memory was the playoff run in 2003, which still stands as the farthest in team history the team has advanced in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Brian Cutter, who has been a Wild season ticket holder since 2001, said his favorite memory was a game against the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 where Minnesota erased a 5-1 deficit to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions and came back to win 6-5 in a shootout.
There are plenty of other moments worth mentioning, but that’s another series for another day. Although that will not be too far off, since we are celebrating 20 seasons of the Wild too.
2004 NHL All-Star Weekend
The Wild and Xcel Energy Center were chosen to host the 2004 NHL All-Star Game, and it turned into a grand event in downtown St. Paul. In the end, the Western Conference prevailed over the Eastern Conference 6-4, and Wild nemesis Joe Sakic was named the game’s MVP.
2011 NHL Draft
With the Wild in the midst of a semi-rebuild of their roster, they hosted the 2011 NHL Draft at Xcel Energy Center. Minnesota selected defenseman Jonas Brodin with the 10th overall pick, and later made a draft day trade which sent Brent Burns to the San Jose Sharks. Edmonton held the first overall pick in this draft and selected Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
NCAA Frozen Fours (2002, 2011, 2018)
Larson said another personal favorite event has been the NCAA Frozen Four, with a particular emphasis on the 2002 event where the University of Minnesota won their first National Championship since 1979. The Championship game turned into one of the more memorable games in school history: The Gophers defeated the University of Maine, 4-3, in overtime.
The event came back to St. Paul in 2011 and 2018, where both times the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs won the event, which was their first and second NCAA titles in team history. Like the Gophers in 2002, the Bulldogs had to win the title in 2011 in overtime, defeating the University of Michigan, 3-2.
WCHA Final Five
A popular annual event in the early years of the arena history was the WCHA Final Five, which the venue hosted from 2001 through the conference’s disbanding in 2013. For three days in March, college hockey fans from the Midwest would descend upon St. Paul and cheer on their favorite team in this highly competitive conference tournament.
Besides the Wild, the most popular event on the arena calendar is the Minnesota State High School League Boys Hockey tournament, which the arena has hosted since 2001. “It is amazing what that boys hockey tournament in March does,” Larson said. “Its four straight days of two sessions each day of basically sold-out hockey for high school players. It’s also broadcast on TV, it goes throughout the region, so it’s a spectacular event.
“It’s an amazing event that we can sell out the arena for the boys hockey tournament. People keep coming back year after year. People have had all-session tickets in their family for 50-60 years now. It’s a great event that everyone loves to have in downtown St. Paul.”
The arena record for attendance was set during the 2015 boys tournament, as the Friday night AA semifinal session attracted a crowd of 21,609 fans.
Beginning in 2011, the girls’ tournament moved into the arena as well and has been there ever since. The tournament runs every February typically on the second to last weekend of the month.
For a brief period of time while Minneapolis’ Target Center was getting renovated, the X played host to the Minnesota Lynx, who was far and away the best pro sports team in the Twin Cities during the 2010 decade. The Lynx played in St. Paul for the 2016 playoffs and the 2017 season
Other MSHSL tournaments
The arena annually hosts other MSHSL state tournaments such as volleyball and wrestling. The volleyball tournament takes place in November while the wrestling tournament takes place in March, in the weekend directly preceding the Boys hockey tournament.
Minnesota Swarm Lacrosse
From the team’s inception in 2005 until their departure for Georgia until 2015, the National Lacrosse League’s Minnesota Swarm called the X home. The team made the playoffs in seven out of their 11 seasons in St. Paul.
2008 and 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championships
For a week in January, the arena has played host twice to the United States Figure Skating Championships. There were four different events over the course of the week, men’s singles, women’s singles, pair skating, and ice dancing.
2006 USA Gymnastics Championships
From August 16-19 in 2006, the United States Gymnastics Championships were held in St. Paul. Future Olympic gold medal winner Nastia Liukin would go on to win the women’s portion of the event, while 2008 bronze medalist Alexander Artemev won the men’s portion.
2018 Super Bowl Opening Night
When Minneapolis was chosen to host Super Bowl 52 in February of 2018, the arena in St. Paul was eventually chosen to host Super Bowl Opening Night, which is now Super Bowl Media Night. The event featured both teams being interviewed by all the media that travelled into town for the Super Bowl, and was shown on television across the United States.
Over the various years, the Xcel Energy Center has hosted myriad concerts. The following are some notable names that have performed in St. Paul over the 20 years the arena has been open: Adele, Madonna, Bob Dylan, Elton John, The Police, Rolling Stones, Barbra Streisand, Paul McCartney, Luciano Pavarotti, Billy Joel, Lady Gaga, Rod Stewart, Tim McGraw & Faith Hill, Kenny Chesney, Neil Diamond, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Bon Jovi, Simon & Garfunkel, as well as three consecutive sold-out shows by both hometown favorite Prince and Taylor Swift.
2008 Republican National Convention
Perhaps the most notable non-sports related event that the arena has hosted over the past 20 years was the 2008 Republican National Convention. Larson said that to prepare for the four-day event from September 1-4, the building was taken over in mid-July to begin the set-up process, and was handed back over to arena management in mid-late September. Larson said it is the biggest event the arena has ever done to date.
“The suite level was turned into mini-TV production areas and studio sets, as well as the main concourse that looked into the arena,” he said to give some insight as to what went on. “It was a made-for-TV event, so everything around the whole facility had the lights and cameras and production pieces needed that made it look like they had their own TV sets there. As well as the production itself, which was the main stage was on the north side of the building. It was an entertainment spectacular, as I call it.”
Arizona senator John McCain received the presidential nomination during the convention.