Xcel Energy Center already holds a special place in Lindsay Whalen’s heart. Whenever the Lynx guard is home in March, she and her dad, Neil, go to the St. Paul arena to watch the first day of the state high school boys’ hockey tournament.
Wednesday, she will get the chance to create a different sort of memory. The Lynx will open the WNBA semifinals against Phoenix at Xcel, which will host the first two games of the best-of-five series.
With Cirque du Soleil performing at Target Center this week, the Lynx packed up their court and all of its immediate surroundings and trucked them down I-94 to the hockey arena.
That has made for a crowded schedule at Xcel. The Wild is in the midst of training camp and played a preseason game Tuesday, but the team allowed the Lynx to set up the court atop the ice for a test run Monday.
After the Lynx practiced, the basketball setup was disassembled and the ice prepared for Tuesday’s hockey game; shortly after it ended, a crew of 20 began turning the rink back into a basketball arena.
Xcel hasn’t hosted a basketball game since the boys’ state high school tournament in 2001. This week’s brief visit by the Lynx will function as a shakedown cruise for next season, when they play at Xcel while Target Center is being renovated.
“I love Xcel,” Whalen said. “We’re very lucky to have such a gorgeous arena so close. Everyone says, ‘Oh, it’s not your home court.’ But it’s something different, something we can embrace and enjoy. I’m looking forward to playing there.”
A forced move
Cirque du Soleil was supposed to perform during the WNBA’s Olympic break, but the dates had to be rescheduled to accommodate the installation of Target Center’s massive new scoreboard. Carley Knox, the Lynx’s director of business operations, said it isn’t unusual for WNBA teams to move playoff games to alternate sites because of scheduling conflicts.
Jack Larson, vice president and general manager of Xcel Energy Center, said it takes four to five hours to transform Xcel from a hockey venue into a basketball arena. In addition to the floor — composed of about 210 pieces — the Lynx brought their baskets, rotating courtside signs, scorer’s table, team seats and electronics such as the shot clock. Three semitrailer trucks hauled everything to St. Paul a week ago.
After removing the rinkside Plexiglas and installing the insulated decking and basketball court atop the ice, the crew will cover the dasher boards with a curtain. Floor-level seats — including two rows on the side opposite the benches — will be set up. Combined with the lower bowl and club seating, the Lynx will have a capacity of about 12,400 for the two playoff games.
Once the Lynx take possession Wednesday, the basketball setup will remain in place through Friday’s Game 2. The Wild’s training camp will shift to the Gophers’ Ridder Arena.
Lynx players gave the setup good reviews after Monday’s practice, though they noted it felt a little chilly to play on a surface built on top of ice.
“We’ve worked through every single tiny detail you can think of to make sure everything goes without a hitch, and we turn this into the same home-court advantage we have at Target Center,” Knox said. “We just want the team to feel comfortable.’’