Impact of relocation on Lynx play uncertain as season begins

This series will cover the WNBA’s 21st season with at least one story on the league weekly from the season’s May 13 opening to its closing on September 3 and through the 2017 playoffs.

The Minnesota Lynx begins its 2017 season Sunday. After a two-game “test drive” during last year’s playoffs, the Lynx this season will call the St. Paul hockey arena home.

Minnesota and Atlanta both will play their respective home games this season away from home — the Dream will play on the Georgia Tech campus, while the Lynx temporarily move their games across the river to downtown St. Paul. Both clubs had to move due to renovations at their corporate-named home arenas.

“We know it’s a hockey arena being transformed into a basketball building,” Timberwolves Chief Strategy and Development Officer Ted Johnson told the MSR last week. “We feel that this is probably the best relocation the WNBA has seen. I think we’re exceptionally blessed to be relocated out of our home arena and have a beautiful arena [in downtown Minneapolis] to play in [next season].”

Fans Kristal Hall and C.J. (Onika Nicole Craven/MSR News)

After Minnesota’s lone home preseason game last Friday, we got first-game impressions of the new Lynx home from several fans, including two out-of-town visitors, ironically from Atlanta.

Michael Blakey of Atlanta said he didn’t notice any difference watching basketball played on a converted hockey floor. His wife Lydia Blakey added, “I think the temporary setup is a good one. I had just as much fun here.”

“I love the venue. It’s O.K.,” said Cindy Jones of Burnsville.

“I love the [Lynx’s regular home] better,” admitted Kristal Hall of St. Louis Park. C.J. of St. Louis Park said that the two will go to see the local WNBA club play anywhere: “We are Lynx fans,” he said proudly.

However, this reporter’s impression of the Lynx’s temporary home is no different this year than it was last year: It’s still cavernous — the seats installed for hockey seem too far away from the installed basketball court. And the hockey boards are still present.

Unfortunately, the nonsense barking by the PA guy; the Let’s Make A Deal-like games; the endless audience prompts on when to cheer, clap or stand up; and the constant music playing during action didn’t stay behind in Minneapolis. Therefore, whether at First Avenue North or now at Kellogg Boulevard, the in-arena headaches still exist.

Original Lynx season ticket holder Debbie Montgomery isn’t totally happy with the setup either. “They are playing on a hockey rink,” she bemoaned, adding that how her seats were picked at the St. Paul arena bothered her as well.

Fans of Lydia and Michael Blakey (Onika Nicole Craven/MSR News)

“I went to the first open house” during the winter, Montgomery recalled. “I said if we move, when we go back to [downtown Minneapolis], can we get our seats back. We are right in the middle at the midcourt line. [Now] we are at the baseline. At first [team officials] said no. Then they said yes.”

Montgomery pointed out that the people who usually sit next to her at Lynx games also complained. But she found that in the hockey arena “The seats are comfortable. I am hoping that the seats they are putting [in the downtown arena]” will also be nice.

Said Johnson, “The City of St. Paul and [the hockey arena] have been so excited to have us over there. They’ve taken the approach of doing whatever it takes to make it happen and make it work, to make everyone feel really good.”

The Lynx in recent years have perhaps the W’s toughest home court for visiting teams to play in. But with the home fans not normally on top of the court, will that invincibility be lost this summer in St. Paul?

“We are going to miss our home,” admitted Johnson, “but we know we are going to be moving back in a year.”

 

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.