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Myers: Thank you, Bob

Naegele's vision to bring pro hockey back to the state has given an entire generation of Minnesotans a chance to fall in love with the game

by Dan Myers @MNWildScribe / Wild.com

I didn't know Bob Naegele, Jr. very well. 

I met him once, last March, when the Wild named him the recipient of the State of Hockey Legacy Award. I had a chance to interview him about the award and what it meant to him.

You could tell he was thrilled by the honor, and he recited the previous honorees without hesitation, talking about how privileged he was to have his name mentioned with some of the other great pioneers of the sport in Minnesota.

But you could also see how uneasy he was talking about himself. 

Bob (he told me not to call him Mr. Naegele) was never about himself. And it's so often written after the passing of a giant like he was, but when talking about him, it's absolutely true. 

The night I spoke to him, before I had a chance to interview him, he asked what I did with the team, he asked how it was going, and where I was from and if I was married and what my wife's name was. 


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I never worked for Bob, but I worked for "his" Wild, so in a sense, I was sort of an extended family member. 

One peek around social media tells me I wasn't alone. Ask any player that played for him, any trainer than worked for him, any concession stand worker, or arena cleaner, or ticket office employee who came in contact with him, and they'll tell you the same thing.

He cared about the details. He cared about a handshake or a hand-written note. He cared about the hellos and the goodbyes and what was going on in your world. And he didn't care if you were a player or a coach or the last person out of the box office after a game. 

And although I myself never had the privilege to work for him, I and so many fans of the sport in Minnesota owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude. 

The North Stars left the state when I was eight years old, so I don't have the same attachment to Minnesota's previous NHL team as someone a little older than me. The Wild didn't start playing until I was 16, so for those oh-so-important development years, where young boys who like sports fall in love with a favorite team or a favorite player, I didn't have a local pro hockey team to call my own.

I never played the game as a kid. But I've grown to love the sport in a different way, living and dying with games as a child, and now writing and reporting about it as an adult. 

I've never played a second of competitive hockey in my life, but the game has still given me so much, so in many ways, I feel like I'm no different than those that have bled the sport their whole lives.

That was Bob.

He grew up playing hockey on frozen lakes and ponds as a boy, played at Minnetonka High School and then skated for the freshman team at Dartmouth College. 

After school, he came home and worked for his father's advertising company. He made Rollerblade a household name during the 1980s and 90s and sold that, sharing the profits with his employees. 

When the NHL left town, he, like so many others, was torn up about professional hockey's departure. From that point on, Bob dedicated himself to one day trying to bring it back. And he did, when he famously ripped open an edition of "Let's Play Hockey" Magazine and proclaimed, "Hockey's Back!"

"When the North Stars left, I realized what a hole it left in the heart of everyone in Minnesota, whether you're a hockey fan or not," Naegele told me back in March. "I had the opportunity -- I was in the rare place and time -- to change history. That became a primary motivator for me to take a swing at the puck. And now I see that fulfilled with the great success it's been."

Naegele's swing at the puck has allowed an entire generation of fans in Minnesota to follow a professional hockey team of their own. 

It's helped bring the city of St. Paul back from the precipice, turning what once was a city on the brink of anonymity -- or worse -- into a pro sports town.

"There's no question that the Wild have had a transformative impact on the city," former St. Paul mayor and United States Senator Norm Coleman told me last summer. "It would be profoundly different [without the Wild]. It would have been a different place today without that, much to the negative."

But on a more individual level, the return of pro hockey gave tens of thousands of kids in Minnesota a chance to truly fall in love with the game. It gave them something to cheer for, and live for, and breathe for. 

For that, I know I will always be grateful. 

Video: Reaction to the passing of Bob Naegele, Jr.

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