Memorabilia Memories, with Rick Ackerman
No, the visiting Minnesota Wild were not part of the great NHL expansion of 1967 in which the league doubled in size from six to 12. The Minnesota North Stars were part of that expansion almost fifty years ago and played at a rink (the Metropolitan Sports Center) in western Minneapolis. The green-clad North Stars became the Dallas Stars when the franchise was relocated there in 1993.
The Minnesota Wild hockey club was founded in June, 1997, when the NHL announced Minnesota had been awarded an expansion franchise to begin play in the 2000-01 season. After a contest to name the team, "Wild" was chosen in January, 1988, from a list that included Northern Lights, Voyageurs, White Bears, Freeze and Blue Ox. Later that year in April, the state of Minnesota approved legislation to loan the city of St. Paul $65 million to fund roughly half of the projected $130 million for the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The city also issued an additional $65 million in bonds, with around 90% of the debt on the bonds and repayment of the state loan coming from scheduled rent and payment in lieu of taxes from the actual hockey club. It is certainly a shame the Blues could not get a sweetheart deal like that from the state or city when the new rink was built downtown, eh?
Doug Risebrough of Montreal Canadiens and Calgary Flames fame was named executive vice president/general manager of the Wild in September, 1999 and Minnesota named Jacques Lemaire as the first coach. Marian Gaborik was selected third overall in the first round of the 2000 NHL Amateur Draft. At the Expansion Draft, the Wild's first choice was goaltender Jamie McLennan from the Blues. They also selected goaltender Mike Vernon, defensemen Sean O'Donnell, Curtis Leschyshyn and Filip Kuba, and forwards Scott Pellerin (from the Blues), Jim Dowd, Jeff Odgers, Joe Juneau and Minnesota native Darby Hendrickson, who scored the first goal in the Xcel Energy Center. It was no surprise they finished second to last (Anaheim was the worst team) in the Western Conference. Pellerin was the scoring leader that inaugural season with only 39 points.
The following season Minnesota chose center Mikko Koivu in the Entry Draft with the sixth overall pick. Koivu made his NHL debut with the Wild in 2005 and is still with the club, now the captain in his tenth season, currently fourth on the team in scoring with ten goals and 39 points in 67 games (not including last night's game versus Anaheim). Other notable amateur draftees include center Mikael Granlund (2010), defensemen Marco Scandella (2008), Jonas Brodin (2011) and Mathew Dumba (2012). Former Blues on the Wild include defenseman Nate Prosser and recently acquired defenseman Jordan Leopold and winger Chris Stewart.
The only championship the Wild have won in their 14 year history is a divisional title in the 2007-08 season finishing first in the Northwest Division, three points ahead of Colorado. That was a strange season in the Western Conference; Chicago, St. Louis and Los Angeles all failed to qualify for the playoffs. And the Wild lost to the Avs in the first round in six games that postseason. The Wild have qualified for the playoffs five times, yet only made it to the Conference Finals once, swept in four games by Anaheim in 2003.
After a dismal start to this season, the Wild has clawed it's way back into the playoff race winning 19 of the last 25 games (with 2 OT losses). Minnesota currently holds the first wild card slot, largely due to the play of goaltender Devan Dubnyk, acquired from Arizona earlier this year on January 14 for a third round draft choice in the 2015 Entry Draft. Dubnyk has won 19 of his 25 games with a sparkling 1.67 goals against average and .937 save percentage. His first victory as a Wild was on January 15, a 7-0 shellacking of the Buffalo Sabres.
I have absolutely no Minnesota Wild memorabilia, with the exception of a hooded sweatshirt I purchased at the 2004 NHL All-Star game at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. That turned out to be a pretty memorable trip as I happened to arrive at the airport at the same time as many of the players and media people, including our own Bernie Federko. I had just purchased the Blues' Note by Note and had it with me in my carry-on, so when I saw Bernie at the luggage pick-up, he was the first to sign that treasured coffee-table book.
I also ran into Ken Hitchcock (then coach of the Flyers), Keith Tkachuk, Chris Pronger, Bill Guerin and Pavel Datsyuk, although I did not have Datysyuk sign the book. He is a Red Wing, after all.
No, I just could not bear to purchase a Wild jersey on that trip since I consider it a monstrosity, arguably the ugliest jersey in the entire NHL. The Iron Range Red and Forest Green just doesn't work for me, and the logo is way too busy with the animal head containing a sublimated forest, a river for the mouth and a blazing north star (a tribute to the old Minnesota North Stars) for an eye. The overall effect is just too, well, Wild. If the newer all green alternate jersey had been available at the time, perhaps I would have purchased it, yet, alas, it was not introduced until 2009.
Yes, expect a Wild game tonight as the Blues continue to battle for the President's Trophy and Minnesota continues to fight for a playoff berth in the Wild and wacky Western Conference.