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October 2000 marked the return of NHL hockey to Minnesota and the beginning of the new NHL Minnesota Wild team.
The Wild also opened their state-of-the-art arena, the Xcel Center ("The X") to rave reviews from fans, players, and media alike.
John Maher joined the Wild in July 2000 after working for over a decade in the Minnesota sports scene. He joins us to talk about the new building, the Wild's game operations package, and throwing dummies off the catwalk in the AFL.
Gameops.com: The Xcel Arena holds four unique corner lofted stages. Maher explains the uses and the functionality that the stages provide.
John Maher: We have 4 stages, one in each corner of the building. One is our lighthouse that lights up and blows fog when we score a goal and when we intro the team. The lighthouse also has a large horn above it, pretty standard hockey fare. The other corners have different functions. One houses our organ player who sits at the Zamborgan (Zamboni/Organ). Then we have two that are open. One we use for our house band (The Hip-Checks) and then we use the other for more fan interactive contests.
We have four founding partners and each has a dedicated tower, so it is also a significant part of their partnership package. It also ensures that we need to significantly highlight each tower in the game.
They are pretty big stages. On the one we have a 4-piece band that sets up, so they can hold quite a bit. We use our cyber lights to cast some extra light on the stages and direct peoples' attention to the stages.
On the stage we are standing on, the Wild host a trivia game with our host and a contestant. We also have a celebrity that comes out just prior to the puck drop who says "Let's Play Hockey," which was a spin off of what the old North Stars PA announcer used to do. We established that as a tradition here in our building. Eventually we hope that it becomes a feature of our game, much like how the 7th inning stretch is at Wrigley when a celebrity comes out and signs.
"Let's Play Hockey!": National sports broadcaster Michelle Tafoya does the honors.
Gameops.com: Who are some of the people you have had so far?
John Maher: Mostly we have had a lot of former North Stars, and some local media celebrities. Opening night we had Bob Utech (sp?) who was the North Star announcer who originated the call. We have also talked about doing some of the intros on video. For example, getting the Monday Night Football crew to do the intro on video board, or a David Letterman. We are still developing it.
For us, the early part of the season has been spent getting to know the building and exploring the tools like the signage that we have. Once we get better at that, we will be able to find some new and better ways to do things.
What it allows us to do, especially in hockey where you can't just walk onto the court like in basketball, the stages let us get people out without having to kill seats for a staging area or have them tucked into a tunnel where people cant see it.
Gameops.com: Tell us about the scoreboard and the video displays.
John Maher: Daktronics did all the displays for us, including the video display. All using LED technology. The difference in the boards is the tightness of the boards. The video board has a 12 mm center and the larger boards have 34 mm centers. Ours is 36 feet across at the top. We had some people in looking at our boards from Dallas. Sounds like they are proposing a 55-foot center scoreboard with 8 video displays.
Gameops.com: How about lighting? What special lighting did you add to the arena?
John Maher: We have a set of eight cyber lights over the ice in the high-catwalks,
and we have plans to add 4 inside the scoreboard. They are not actually there yet. We also use the cyber lights to add light to our 4 stages. Because of where they are positioned in the arena most of the light is designed to throw onto the ice. We also use the cyber lights for concerts and shows that use the arena.
Gameops.com: The Zamborgan, is that something that you use during the whole game?
John Maher: Actually the keyboard player from our band gets out of the band stage and moves to the Zamborgan stage and plays the cheerleading and bumpers during the game, so he is a pretty busy guy.
Gameops.com: Do you use the organ as a supplement to house music or do you go mostly old-school with the organ?
John Maher: We wanted to have the traditional hockey element of the live organ. It's primarily recorded music, but the "charges" and cheerleading stuff is done with our organ. We thought the Zamborgan was a way to present it in a fun way and tie it in with hockey.
Gameops.com: How many NHL teams still use live organ players?
John Maher: Good question. In the NHL, I would guess that at least 20 of the 30 still use them. I heard at the tail end of last year New Jersey went to a more keyboard driven in-game. They went a way from the recorded music back to a more traditional sound. I was also watching the Rangers game last night and they were using a lot of keyboard there as well, although I am not sure it was live or recorded. I would find it hard to do a game with out those elements. There are really only so many rock tunes out there that get the crowd reacting in a certain way.
Gameops.com: You had a unique challenge here were you had to balance the old North Stars style of entertainment, bring it up to date and make it your own. How much of that were you aware of and how much did you focus on the past hockey presentations here in Minnesota?
John Maher: When I came on board here in July the team already had established what kind of tone they wanted to have at the game, which was skewed towards focusing on the game and staying away from the NBA style of entertainment. We wanted to say that the game is the thing and we can supplement it without
overwhelming it. That philosophy was already established, and I agree with it. That being said we do have a lot of fire power here with the signage technology and the lighting.
It is a balance between traditional hockey and technology. Its hard to say that when you have cyber lights and a lighthouse that lights up and blows smoke that you are just doing traditional hockey. I guess we just try to make the elements tie in closely to hockey of Minnesota and stay with that brand.
You can almost say they don't go together, but that's what we are shooting for.
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