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After calling the Wild's practice rink home, the Minnesota Whitecaps move to Richfield to 'be treated like professional athletes'

The Minnesota Whitecaps are leaving St. Paul for Richfield and hope their new facilities will be a step forward and up for the team.
Credit: AP
Minnesota Whitecaps goalie Amanda Leveille (29) begins the celebration after posting a shutout in a win over the Connecticut Whale during a semifinal in the NWHL Isobel Cup hockey tournament Friday, March 26, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

MINNEAPOLIS — After years of playing on the Minnesota Wild's practice ice at TRIA Rink in St. Paul, Minnesota's top professional women's hockey team packed their bags for a new home. 

In late July, the City of Richfield voted to approve a new lease for the Minnesota Whitecaps to become the main tenant at the Richfield Ice Arena. 

The Whitecaps, which is one of seven teams in the Premier Hockey Federation, played at TRIA Rink for several years, according to Bobby Long, the director of hockey operations for the Whitecaps' ownership group, NLTT Hockey Venture.

When Richfield announced the Whitecaps' move, the city said, mincing no words, the team "has been looking for home ice where they could have a private locker room and be treated like professional athletes."

Long told KARE 11 that the Richfield Ice Arena will provide the Whitecaps with two key things: permanent locker rooms for the players, so they no longer have to carry their gear in and out for every practice and game, and the sole advertising rights to the rink.  

"Now granted, TRIA was a great partner, the Wild was a great partner," Long said. "It's just business is business and we're sad to move but we're all so excited for the new opportunities that have come up."

Long said the number one thing players mentioned about the move was the facilities.

"They're excited to have their own locker room," he said, "and that's pretty much up and down when you talk to them. That's what they're all saying, is this is the next step to becoming to next [level] – that next level is to have their own locker room and a facility that they call their own."

Whitecaps goalie Amanda Leveille told KARE 11 that she think's everyone is excited about the move to the Richfield Ice Arena and that it will be "a really good move for our program."

"We have a lot of new players on our team which is going to present new opportunities for them, and for them stepping into just having their own rink I think is really cool," she said.

Leveille also said having their own space will be huge for the team. She added that while TRIA Rink was a great venue to play in, especially with one side of the rink being an open window to the St. Paul skyline, it lacked dedicated facilities for the team. At the Wild's practice rink, the Whitecaps had to carry their gear and equipment in and out for games and practices.

"Now at Richfield, there's an opportunity for us to have our own locker room which I think is going to create a lot for [us], we're gonna be able to be closer with our teammates, we're gonna have a space that we can call our own, where we can go to the rink and we can just relax. We don't have to lug our bags in and out and that's a luxury that we haven't had. So I'm super excited to be able to move to Richfield and I know a lot of the other players that played on the team last year are as well."

By having sole advertising rights to the ice, sideboards and even the Zamboni, the team is also set to bring in more advertising revenue this season. At TRIA Rink, the venue and the Minnesota Wild had control over on-ice advertising.

The Whitecaps' ownership is making investments in Richfield Ice Arena to make it a long-term home for the team. Long couldn't put a ballpark price tag on how much the team has or will put into their new space, as they're still waiting for quotes for the estimated cost for some of the renovations. However, he said the ownership was spending some "nice money." He did add the cost to just redo the carpet in the locker rooms was about $6,000.

The arena will also install a new sheet of ice that will feature the team's logo on center ice and will have space for advertisers elsewhere. Long said the team is working with a company that is currently in the design phase of the center ice logo.

"We also have a new light show that'll be coming out," Long said. "I've just ordered the lights for the Whitecaps' logo and so they'll be able to light up each face-off circle for the games and that live light show will be going on between prior to the game, intermissions, and we can also put sponsors' logos in the light show as well for different aspects during the game."

For Leveille, having true home ice with the team's logo at the center will be unique in the Premier Hockey Federation, the team's league, as no other team in the PHF has their logo or branding on the ice itself.

"To have a rink that's your home rink and it's gonna have your team logo on the ice and your colors is something that's truly special and we're really excited for that opportunity," the PHF's all-time wins leader told KARE 11.

Long added that the team is working with a new vendor for merchandise and there will be a team store for the Whitecaps inside the ice arena so fans can get their gear throughout the week.

TRIA Rink has a seating capacity of fewer than 850 people but has standing space for another 150 people. About a dozen miles away and across the Mississippi River, Richfield Ice Arena's main rink has a seating capacity of 1,300 and standing room for 500 people.

The bowl seating at the rink in Richfield will put fans all around the ice, which Leveille said will be really cool for the players as TRIA Rink and many others in the PHF only have seating along one side of the rink.

According to the City of Richfield, the first rink at the ice arena was built in 1971 and the second rink, which only has room for a few hundred people, was completed in 1999. The city's lease with the Whitecaps runs through 2038 with three-year intervals to the agreement. The lease covers 15 home games between Oct. 1 and May 1 and will cost the team about $4,200 a month.

With the relocation of the Minnesota Magicians, a tier II junior hockey team that played at Richfield Ice Arena, the Whitecaps' move gives the city a new long-term tenant at the ice arena. In 2013, Richfield spent $600,000 on a custom 2,000-square-foot locker room attached to the arena. Now, the Whitecaps will be able to take advantage of the 25-locker facility, which also includes offices for coaches and staff, laundry, skate sharpening space, a restroom and an athletic training room, according to the team.

“Facilities are critical to the growth of the PHF, and the Whitecaps and their players will surely benefit from the enhanced professional experience that comes from development opportunities and competition at a single venue they can call home,” Reagan Carey, the new commissioner of the PHF, said in a press release.

The Whitecaps and the PHF are set to start the 2022-2023 regular season in November and will play into March. 

The regular-season schedule has yet to be released by the league but is expected to be announced in the next week or so, Long said. He added the team is working on a new ticket platform and hopes to have tickets go on sale on Sept. 1.

"I think the fans will enjoy opening weekend on our opponent and it should be exciting times to watch the new players that have come in for the Whitecaps this season," Long said. "A lot of local talent coming in, and we're looking for good things to come for the City of Richfield and for the Minnesota Whitecaps."

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