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VR at Xcel Energy Center Puts Fans in the Crease

New game allows users to spend a few minutes in Devan Dubnyk's skates

by Devin Lowe /

Dubnyk, Leipold try out VR

Dubnyk, Leipold try out goaltending VR

Wild owner Craig Leipold and goalie Devin Dubnyk test out the new Hiway Federal Credit Union virtual reality attraction at Xcel Energy Center

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Picture this: You're standing in the crease in an NHL-grade ice arena. Below you are your skates and blue paint; in front of you, a skater cradles the puck. Suddenly, he takes a shot, and it's up to you to slap it away.

This is all normal for someone like Devan Dubnyk, who's used to being the Minnesota Wild's backstop. But stopping shots as an NHL goaltender isn't exactly something Wild fans do on a regular basis.

That's why Hiway Federal Credit Union and Visual, a virtual reality company, teamed up to create the Hiway VR Goalie Experience. The interactive setup is available inside Xcel Energy Center at select Wild home games this season.

"We pitched a couple VR ideas but we were all most excited about developing a game," said Chuck Olsen, the co-founder and CEO of Visual. "They were brave and gave us the green light."

Within a timeline of just two months, Visual's game developers crafted the game's 3D animations using Wild game footage they found on YouTube. The game went through a few iterations, including one where Wild-branded robots shot pucks at the user.

The final result includes two physical components: the VR goggles and the goalie stick. A Wild fan puts on the goggles, takes hold of the stick and is brought into the position of an NHL goaltender. Users can use only the stick to bat away shots -- no glove, blocker or pads -- and the animated in-arena scoreboard will tell them when the game is over and how many pucks they stopped.

"We wanted to see lots of smiles at the Hiway booth and people lined up to try it," Olsen said. "Goal achieved."

Dubnyk, along with Wild owner Craig Leipold, had the chance to try the Hiway VR Goalie Experience after a Wild practice at Xcel Energy Center. After three attempts, Leipold stopped 12 out of 20 shots on his last try. On his first attempt, perhaps out of instinct, Dubnyk tried to make a kick save on the first puck he faced. Once he mastered the VR stick, he was able to catch 14 on his second run-through.

"If you follow [the puck] with your eyes right down to the stick, the rebounds off the stick were pretty genuine," Dubnyk said. "You get right into it and forget where you are. By the end of it you feel like you're on the ice."

Olsen and his team have plenty of ideas for taking the game to the next level, and they also hope to use virtual reality to bring fans into the game on a national level. But Leipold was sold on the game's worthiness and entertainment value after one try.

"The first thing that went through my mind was that this is exactly how a goaltender feels," Leipold said. "Number two: how much is it? I want to buy one. It was very, very cool."

The Hiway VR Goalie Experience is available during Minnesota's home contests Dec. 11, Dec. 20, Jan. 17, Feb. 12, March 7, March 18 and April 4.

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