Three construction workers clad in hard hats and neon yellow vests sat in the last row of TRIA Rink at Treasure Island Center, watching the Wild skate for the first time Wednesday at its new practice facility.
Those guys were on a break — or maybe they sneaked away for a peek? — from finishing building so the Wild can officially move its non-game-day operations over from Xcel Energy Center.
"It's really cool," defenseman Matt Dumba said. "It's nice to have our own place. Obviously, it's not completely done yet. It's got everything we need."
The rink initially was set for a November move-in, the opening has been steadily pushed back ever since. The six-floor Treasure Island Center on the site of the former Macy's building in downtown St. Paul sports the rink on the fifth floor, a wall of windows on one side hypothetically letting in the sunshine if it weren't so darn cloudy.
The Wild also will occupy the basement, which will boast a new locker room and players' lounge, offices for the coaching staff, a fancy weight room, even a private parking lot for the team. And a high-speed elevator will rocket the players up to the rink, so no awkward, stop-at-every-floor rides here.
But all that is still but a dream at this point. The players dressed at Xcel and took a bus the few blocks to the new digs Wednesday. They walked in past the already-opened Walgreens on the first floor, and a plywood wall barricading off more construction work greeted them.
"We didn't get to see the room or any of that, but the rink itself looks great," winger Jason Zucker said. "I thought the ice was great. I thought it was smooth. It was fast. I thought that was all good. I think in general, just the building just looks nice. I think they did a nice job."
Having a dedicated practice facility is pretty much standard in the NHL these days. Without one, the Wild has needed to find alternate practice facilities, such as St. Thomas Ice Arena in Mendota Heights and Braemar Arena in Edina, when conflicts arose at Xcel. But those days of bus rides and small locker rooms meant for high schoolers are rapidly ending. A team spokesman said the team is planning to move in for real in February, with the exact date to be determined.
Center Matt Cullen enjoyed a separate practice facility with his former team, Pittsburgh, which is host to the Wild on Thursday night. He said busing to different locations makes a difference at the end of an 82-game season.
"It'll be nice to be settled in here," Cullen said. "When the facility is done, we'll be able to hit the gym, get training done and do some other work. The things you'll be able to get done as opposed to hopping on a bus, driving over to practice and driving back. We don't get to do all the treatment and training and all of that. So that adds up in a season. So to me, that's the biggest thing you get with having this facility. You have consistency and can get everything you need to get done, done."
TRIA Rink officially opened in early January when it played host to a high school hockey game. The Wild's first experience, though, drew unanimous good reviews.
"It's really bright out there," center Eric Staal said. "It's got a good vibe. It's going to be pretty awesome once we get into the locker room and get to see all that. As far as the place where we do the work, it's really, really nice. I'm sure it'll help us."
Coach Bruce Boudreau has benefited from practice facilities at other stops in his coaching career but is withholding comparison until he sees the completed project. He said the rink itself was pretty comparable, but the extra "bells and whistles" will be the exciting part.
"We're pretty anxious to see what the whole bottom end of it is like. The first impressions are pretty good," Boudreau said. "This is going to be great for our team. I think the players are going to love it. They look like they have left no stone unturned.
"Hopefully, we get to see it soon."
And there was one other rather surprising quality that pleased Boudreau, at least.
"It's not cold."