Last February, when the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) held its All-Star Game at TRIA Rink, Dani Rylan looked around and envisioned the future. The league commissioner already thought Minnesota would be a good market for expansion, and the Wild’s new practice facility in downtown St. Paul turned out to be a loud, lively venue.
Rylan hoped the NWHL might return to TRIA Rink after it acquired the Minnesota Whitecaps in May. The league will announce Wednesday that she got her wish, striking a deal for the Whitecaps to play their eight home games there during the 2018-19 season. The 16-game schedule will begin Oct. 6-7 with a two-game home series against the Metropolitan Riveters, the defending league champions.
Each of the NWHL’s four original teams — Boston, Buffalo, Connecticut and the Riveters — will visit Minnesota for a two-game weekend series. While Rylan said the deal with TRIA Rink is only for the upcoming season, she views the venue, which can hold 1,200 fans, as a long-term home for the Whitecaps.
“It’s an amazing, state-of-the-art facility,” Rylan said. “It’s right in downtown St. Paul, and we think the affiliation to the rink with the Wild and TRIA is incredibly important for the growth of the Whitecaps.
“We sold out the All-Star Game, and it was amazing to feel that energy. This is a perfect arena for an NWHL team. It will get loud and passionate, and it’s going to be a hard place for the opposing teams to play.”
TRIA Rink has 1,100 seats and can accommodate another 100 spectators in standing-room areas. For Whitecaps games, it will be general admission except for a small section at center ice, which will be reserved for premier season-ticket holders.
Season tickets ($150 regular/$250 premier) will go on sale Wednesday via the NWHL website.
Securing TRIA Rink as a home venue gives the NWHL a connection to the Wild, one Rylan hopes to expand. Jamie Spencer, the Wild’s executive vice president of business development, said the franchise has partnered with the Whitecaps in the past. With participation in girls’ hockey continuing to rise, Spencer said, working with the Whitecaps and the NWHL fits the Wild’s mission of growing the game.
“The Wild has always been a big advocate of women’s hockey,” Spencer said. “Now, with an NWHL franchise here to help guide the movement along, we couldn’t be more excited. We’re happy to have them here and get started this fall.”
Spencer said “time will tell” whether the Wild and Whitecaps will widen their association beyond TRIA Rink. Two other NWHL franchises have substantial ties to NHL teams. The Buffalo Beauts are owned by the same group that owns the Sabres, and the New Jersey Devils have a partnership with the Riveters that lends assistance with ticket sales, sponsorships and marketing.
Spencer said TRIA Rink will remain the home of Hamline’s men’s and women’s hockey teams, as well as be the site of many youth and high school games and tournaments. It has not been determined whether the Whitecaps will practice there.