A few weeks ago, First Round Bust contributor Tim Karsjens wrote a two-part blog (read here and here) about his experience touring the Al Shaver Press Box at the Xcel Energy Center during a game. I really enjoyed the posts, as did others, and because of that I thought it would be nice to write about my own press box experience.
Changing The Ice After The Final Five Back For The Wild (Photos by Nathan Wells)
Two weekends ago I also had the experience in my other-other-other job (or maybe it's my other-other-other-other job) of writing for the Minnesota Gophers hockey team on SB Nation Minnesota (hint: click on link and read me there too - the Frozen Four is this week) and attending the WCHA Final Five as a member of the press (despite the Gophers missing the F5 for the second consecutive year). For those who don't know what the Final Five is, it's the annual conference tournament for the WCHA held in St. Paul. With nine of the twelve teams within driving distance of the Xcel Energy Center, the weekend is a gathering of fans from all teams and tickets are tough to come by. There aren't many college hockey events which sell out NHL arenas, but this is one of them. So because of that and fond memories of attending in the past, I was excited to cover it.
Overall the weekend was both humbling and a success. While I have a college degree in journalism, it's for PR/Advertising and has never been used for a newspaper or any reporting of any sort other than blogging my thoughts and opinions as a hockey fan. It's not my real job and although I've been in the press box before, it is still a new experience to be an objective spectator. Just being surrounded by many names I read on a regular basis after taking the media elevator up to the Press Box level on its own is pretty surreal and humbling.
Once I was there and found my seat (or seats given I kept getting moved throughout the weekend), it was almost show time. Ahead was food, including the infamous "Scratched Players Popcorn" that is an ongoing Wild fan joke, and various media packets which contain line combinations and every known fact the schools' PR team can come up with. Those are great treasure troves of information and extremely nice to have on hand rather than trying to remember things off the top of my head (which as a PR guy means that they've done their job).
My seat itself had a great view of the ice (like every seat in the Xcel - look left) and unlike Mariucci a TV was hanging above it. Personally that was helpful as FS North operates on a delay and looking up after a play helped confirm what I thought happened.
Unfortunately there aren't too many good stories during the game due to spending most of the time working. I've heard stories of bloggers using their credentials as an excuse to wander around and mingle (and there were people who did that throughout the weekend, albeit not all were journalists) but since I'm still new at this whole thing I'd rather work first and mingle second.
However, I was still able to wander the Press level, look through the various TV and radio rooms and talk to a couple people I've always wanted to. The most important one was former Gophers coach Doug Woog because as a kid I grew up wanting to wear the "M." So when I almost accidentally ran him over after turning around, I had to say hi (and sorry) and talk with him for a little bit. The other person was Wild beat writer Michael Russo, who was nice enough to come over Saturday night and say hi and talk some college hockey during the overtime intermission. He's a busy man and didn't have to do that so that was nice to actually talk with a guy Dan and I persistently tweet questions like we're Bud Fox and probably is sick of it. There were a few more "bigwigs" walking around but since work came first I left them to their own devices.
Finally the best was left for last and did not even take place in the press box. After the game, I was able to head downstairs to ice level and take part in the press conference after the game. Every fan, observer and spectator always has questions that they would love to ask and I had the opportunity to do so. It was a little difficult to come up with questions that don't sound too fanboyish or that didn't make me stand out as an unprofessional person (I already received that feeling from a few media types who shall remain nameless) but in the end I was able to ask a couple good questions and listen and learn.
In the end, my first of hopefully many press box experiences at the Xcel Energy Center was a success. Writing about hockey is something I really enjoy doing as it's therapeutic and doesn't even feel like work; even when I get out of the X at 12:30 AM on a Saturday night/Sunday morning. My thanks to everyone to helped me out (there are too many to personally name, but you know who you are) and I hope you enjoyed this little deviation from the usual Wild blogs.