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PWHL sets new attendance record in Minnesota

ST. PAUL, MN - JANUARY 06: Minnesota forward Taylor Heise (27) and Minnesota defender Abby Cook (9) congratulate Minnesota goalie Maddie Rooney (35) on her shutout after a PWHL game between Minnesota and Montreal on January 2, 2024, at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN. (Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

PWHL Minnesota made history on Saturday, as a record-breaking crowd of 13,361 fans turned out to watch their team beat Montreal 3-0 at Xcel Energy Center. The crowd shattered the attendance record of 8,318 that had previously been set by Ottawa in their debut a mere three days earlier.

Grace Zumwinkle led Minnesota with the league’s first hat trick.

“It was obviously super exciting. I think what was more exciting was just the atmosphere at the Xcel,” Zumwinkle told MPR News. “And I think breaking the attendance record of having roughly 14,000 fans was just as special as the hat trick in and of itself. It’s just huge that the league is getting to this point. And obviously super exciting for our team, especially with a lot of players from Minnesota.”

“Living in the State of Hockey, I knew our fans would show up for us, but today they have taken it to a whole new level,” said Natalie Darwitz, PWHL Minnesota General Manager. “I feel tremendously proud and inspired by our fan support.”

The only team in the league to play on NHL ice, they proved that they belonged on Saturday both with fan attendance and performance on the ice.

It helped that Team Minnesota houses a number of hometown players, from Lee Stecklein and Kelly Pannek, to No. 1 overall pick Taylor Heise. And then there’s Zumwinkle, an Excelsior native who scored the game’s only goals.

Zumwinkle told MPR News that playing at home in front of a Minnesota crowd was “surreal.”

“I think, especially playing for the Gophers, I got a taste of it, but nothing quite like having maybe 10,000 more fans than I was used to,” she said. “But I think it’s just the first word that comes to my mind is ‘pride.’ And I think that was evident in the fans that showed up.”