A new practice facility for the Minnesota Wild has long been sought as a way for the team to find an everyday home.
While the Xcel Energy Center is still regarded as one of the top arenas in the NHL, it's also one of the top facilities in the United States for concerts, events and gatherings. Along with the St. Paul RiverCentre and Roy Wilkins Auditorium, the facility is in use almost 365 days per year.
That made finding a permanent home for the Wild on days when the arena is full a major point of emphasis.
"This has been a high priority within our organization for many years," Wild vice president of new business development Jamie Spencer said Thursday after the team announced it has signed a lease for a new facility at Wabasha Center in downtown St. Paul. "If we're going to fulfill our goal of building a Stanley Cup-winning team, practice is obviously a vital part of success, and this facility not only allows us to to do that but also fulfills our mission as an organization to create a Greater State of Hockey, which is why we'll be hosting youth hockey tournaments, ice skating and other events in the new facility. We're excited to be a partner of an exciting project that will change downtown St. Paul forever."
Over the years, when the Xcel Energy Center ice is not available, the Wild has moved practice to several other locations around the Twin Cities, including the University of Minnesota's Ridder Arena, Braemar Arena in Edina and St. Thomas Ice Arena in Mendota Heights.
While those sites have opened their doors and been gracious hosts, packing up an entire NHL team's worth of medical gear, training tables, locker stalls and video equipment as well as providing the necessary space needed for an NHL operation has its challenges.
That will be a problem no longer, as the Wild expects its new space to provide the club with everything it needs moving forward. The rink will comprise 40,000 square feet of the former Macy's building's top level, giving the enclosed ice space a roof-top feel. The Wild coaches and training staff will have offices below ground level, along with training and nutritional facilities.
Now, along with a world-class arena, the Wild will have a state-of-the-art place to practice as well.
"We'll have all the latest and greatest amenities that the NHL's best practice facilites have, and they'll be accessible on a daily basis, which is something our players currently don't have access to," Spencer said. "They'll rival the current amenities at Xcel Energy Center and even surpass some of what we have there now.
"This will be a place where players want to be."
From a front office perspective, the addition of a world-class practice facility has the potential to be a game-changer for the Wild.
While games will remain across town at the big rink, players will have an area they can call home any time of the year, whether in season or out of season.
Trainers will have the best medical space to make sure players are healing and getting back on the ice. Strength coaches will have plenty of space to make sure players are reaching their peak physical form. Video coaches will have the resources and space to keep the team on the cutting edge.
"It will be a great benefit for our players and I think it will help us recruit players," said Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher. "I think it will help our coaches have better practices."
The Wild will be just the latest team within the Twin Cities pro sports market to complete its own practice facility. The Timberwolves' Mayo Clinic Square in downtown Minneapolis is regarded by most as the best facility in the NBA.
The Vikings recently broke ground on their own facility in Eagan that is expected to rival any in the NFL.
While most NHL teams have already secured a practice facility of their own, Minnesota will be the beneficiary in that it can take the best ideas from around the country and implement them into its own area in St. Paul.
"A lot of people have put a lot of time and effort into this process, and it's going to be a tremendous facility for our players and coaches," Fletcher said. "We're very excited being able to secure one, especially to have it in St. Paul."
With all of the benefits of having a permanent home facility, Fletcher said he believes it's something that can have a benefit for the on-ice product as well.
"It will allow our support staff to help our players be the best they can be," Fletcher said. "I can't understate the significance of this. It's going to be great to finally have a home."