A total of 13,316 fans piled into the XCEL Energy Center to watch Minnesota and Montreal of the Professional Women’s Hockey League, breaking the world record set four days earlier. LPH PHOTO BY MIKE THILL

World record crowd watches Minnesota beat Montreal in historic game

Sorry Canada, the State of Hockey does it better.

Leading up to the much-anticipated home opener for the Minnesota team of the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL), the hope was that enough tickets would be sold to fill the lower bowl at the XCEL Energy Center.

The magic number everyone seemed to be shooting for was 10,000.

Just four days prior the world record for attendance at a women’s hockey game was set in Ottawa between Ottawa and Montreal of the PWHL with 8,318 fans piling into The Arena at TD Place.

On Saturday, Minnesota didn’t just set the record, they smashed it with an official attendance of 13,316, almost 5,000 more than the previous record.

“I feel tremendously proud and inspired by our fan support. On behalf of our team and our league, I want to thank the fans and everyone who has made this day possible,” Minnesota General Manager Natalie Darwtiz said.  “I’ve enjoyed numerous amazing hockey experiences in Minnesota over my career, and experiencing today and the record crowd was emotional and ranks near the top of the list.”

The atmosphere in the building was electric as fans young and old filed into the XCEL Energy Center to watch this new brand of women’s professional hockey featuring six franchises located in six hockey hotbeds in the U.S. and Canada: Minnesota, Boston, New York, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal.

At the 17:31 mark Grace Zumwinkle, a product of Minnesota’s rich female hockey tradition, a former Ms. Hockey Winner (2017) and  University of Minnesota star, fittingly scored the first goal on home ice.

Grace Zumwinkle, a former Ms. Hockey winner and star at the University of Minnesota, celebrates after scoring the first goal in Minnesota franchise history on home ice. She ended up with a hat trick. LPH PHOTO BY MIKE THILL

The teams skated to a scoreless second period as Minnesota goalie and former University of Minnesota-Duluth star Maddie Rooney stopped 12 shots to keep Minnesota in the lead.

In the third period Zumwinkle scored her second of the game and third on the short season for a 2-0 lead. She also scored the game-winning goal in the team’s season-opening win over Boston.

Rooney and the defense did their job the rest of the way and Zumwinkle completed an improbable hat trick with an empty net goal at the 17:13 mark of the final period for the 3-0 win. Rooney finished with 24 saves to complete the shutout in a game that will go down in history not just for the Minnesota franchise, but the PWHL and women’s hockey.

Maddie Rooney, also a product of Minnesota, earned the franchise’s first shutout with a 24-save effort, including 12 in the second period as Minnesota clung to a 1-0 lead. LPH PHOTO BY MIKE THILL

In the end, fans were treated to high level hockey being played by the very best players in the world. The players were treated to some of the best hockey fans in the world – and there were a lot of them.

“In a state of 10,000 lakes, over 13,000 fans provided an unforgettably wonderful moment today for everyone connected with the PWHL,” said Stan Kasten, PWHL Advisory Board member. “Minnesota’s full-throttle welcome for our athletes and our league brought even more hockey voltage to Xcel Energy Center. We are profoundly appreciative of the support and will strive, every day, to give our fans all the great feelings you gave us today.”

The Xcel Energy Center was full of young female hockey players, who now dream of one day playing professional hockey in front of a large crowd. LPH PHOTO BY MIKE THILL

Before the PWHL season, the championship game of the 2021-22 Svenska Damhockeyligan (SDHL) season between Brynäs and Luleå held the worldwide professional women’s ice hockey record with a crowd of 7,765. The previous North American record for a regular-season professional women’s hockey game was 5,938, established December 10, 2016, in the CWHL when Les Canadiennes de Montréal hosted the Calgary Inferno at Bell Centre. The 2017 CWHL All-Star Game in Toronto attracted a crowd of 8,122 fans at what then was called Air Canada Centre.

But now there is a new number etched in stone. A number that gives credence to the quality of women’s hockey being played in 2024, and also validates that Minnesota hockey fans really love their new hockey team.