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'Relentless' Wild owner secured Stadium Series date

by Dan Myers

MINNEAPOLIS -- For years, Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold has pestered NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman for a chance to host an outdoor game in Minnesota.

Leipold became so insistent, Bettman joked Wednesday that he had to change his cell phone number.

"He was utterly relentless for an outdoor game for his team and this community," Bettman said.

Bettman, Leipold and several Wild players and front office personnel were at TCF Bank Stadium Wednesday to unveil the logo for the Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game to be played here between the Wild and Chicago Blackhawks on Feb. 21, 2016.

While the Blackhawks will be participating in their fourth outdoor game since 2009, the Wild will be playing their first.

It's been an exhausting effort for Leipold since he purchased the Wild in 2008; an outdoor game is something he's dreamed about bringing to the "State of Hockey."

"This is an unbelievable day for us," Leipold said. "Today is a culmination of a lot of really hard work from our organization and from the NHL to put this all together. We've been looking forward to this for so long in our market, and our fans have talked about it and talked about it.

"In the last three, four, five years, I'd read about the different markets where the games were going to be played and I'd read about the event like this where they would announce the outdoor game, and I kept wishing, 'We're going to have that day some time,' and we're having it today. It's going to really culminate in an unbelievable event in February."

When the NHL first gave Minnesota an indication last fall it was in line to host a Stadium Series game, the Wild worked with the League to find an opponent for the game that would create plenty of buzz.

Enter the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks, who have eliminated the Wild from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of the past three seasons. The burgeoning rivalry with Wild, not to mention Chicago's long history against the Minnesota North Stars, made them a natural fit.

Leipold credited Matt Majka, the Wild's chief operating officer, along with Blackhawks chairman and owner Rocky Wirtz and team president John McDonough for getting it done.

"They really wanted to play here and play against us," Leipold said. "They've had a number of outdoor games they've been to, but I think this one is going to be very special for them."

McDonough, who attended college two hours south of the Twin Cities at St. Mary's University in Winona, Minn., said he is looking forward to being a part of an outdoor game in perhaps the United States' most passionate hockey community.

"It's almost spiritual to be standing here talking about an outdoor game in the 'State of Hockey' here in Minnesota," McDonough said. "The great Wild fans will soon realize that they are about to experience something very special."


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The NHL also announced an alumni game that will feature past players from the Blackhawks playing against a team comprised of Wild and North Stars alumni. That game will be played the day before the Wild and Blackhawks highlight a tripleheader of hockey on NBC and NBCSN as part of "Hockey Weekend Across America."

"On a weekend that pays special attention to hockey in the United States, two U.S.-based teams featuring such outstanding U.S.-born players, such as Zach Parise and Patrick Kane, gives us all the opportunity to reflect on and appreciate how much our game has grown, and how much potential still lies ahead," Bettman said.

Parise, a Minneapolis native, will play in his first outdoor game and said he's looking forward to the opportunity to do something several former teammates have talked so positively about.

"Some of the guys have been talking about it for quite a while now," Parise said. "We're excited to be in it. It'll be pretty fun for us. Pretty ideal place to do it here in Minnesota."

One of Parise's teammates, Thomas Vanek, has participated in two outdoor games: the first Winter Classic, in Buffalo, in 2008 and a Stadium Series game at Yankee Stadium with the New York Islanders in 2014.

"Hopefully, it's going to be really cold and snowing," Vanek said. "The first one I played in, in Buffalo, it was cold and snowing and I had a blast. It brought a lot of memories back as a kid skating on the pond. Having an atmosphere like that made it really special."

Vanek said it will be extra special for him this time around, as the game will be played in the campus of the University of Minnesota, where he spent two seasons from 2002-04, winning a national championship along the way.

"I had a ton of fun here at school and had some success," Vanek said. "It's gonna be awesome."

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