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Continued: Sid Hartman: New Wild owner is drawing praise

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Last update: April 12, 2008 - 10:21 PM

Jeremy Jacobs is the owner of Delaware North Companies Sportservice, the organization that has been awarded the concession rights to the new Twins stadium.

Jacobs also is the owner of the Boston Bruins and chairman of the NHL Board of Governors and the senior owner in the league.

Here last week to announce the eight-year concessionaire contract with the Twins, Jacobs sang the praises of new Wild owner Craig Leipold and talked about how happy he was to have Leipold back in the NHL after Leipold sold the Nashville Predators last year. The sale of the team from Bob Naegele to Leipold was completed Thursday.

"I am on a number of committees with Craig, and you won't find a more dedicated owner than him," Jacobs said.

Commissioner Gary Bettman, here for the Wild-Avalanche playoff game Friday, echoed Jacobs' words.

"I think Craig Leipold is the right owner for this franchise. Bob Naegele and his partners couldn't be handing this franchise to better owners than Craig Leipold and Phil Falcone," Bettman said. "Craig is passionate about the game, he's a terrific owner. He's great when it comes to league issues, and he is absolutely committed to this franchise."

Falcone will own 40 percent of the team. "Falcone is from Minnesota and is equally passionate about hockey, played the game at the collegiate level, and I think he played a little pro hockey as well, in Europe," Bettman said.

Bettman called it a smooth transition. "I am delighted that this franchise is in such good hands," he said. "Having said that, I would be remiss if I didn't thank Bob Naegele for the wonderful things he did to re-establish NHL hockey in Minnesota."

Bettman said there isn't a better-run franchise in the league.

"There were some skeptics, you included, who didn't think hockey could make it back," Bettman said. "Who would have ever imagined that this team would do so well? Not just in terms of fan support. They've made the playoffs three out of their first seven years.

"... This is a terrific franchise. They did all the right things, particularly with how well this franchise has related to the community and become a part of the community. That's not surprising because, after all, Minnesota is the state of hockey. This building, this wonderful Xcel Energy Center, perhaps the finest arena in North America, is an important ingredient in making it all work."

Working with colleges

There were a lot of hockey people upset when the New York Islanders signed Kyle Okposo off the Gophers in the middle of the season.

"We've been in discussions with the commissioners of the collegiate hockey conferences, and it's a complicated issue, but it's one we're sensitive to," Bettman said. "And we're going to be working with the colleges and the players association to see what we can do to maybe make a little more sense out of this whole process."

Brock Trotter also departed a WCHA team for the NHL before the college season was over, leaving Denver for the Montreal Canadiens organization in March.

"'Oh, obviously nobody likes to see that, but it's the player's choice," Bettman said. "It's something we have to talk to all the constituent groups about, taking into account the players as well."

Bettman said he thought the most recent collective bargaining agreement would encourage players to remain in college for four years.

"If you stay in for your four years, you can become a free agent very quickly, but instead of encouraging players to stay in college, it may have had the opposite effect of encouraging teams to get the players out as quickly as possible," he said.

He said the NHL has never been more successful.

"We've set an all-time attendance record for the third year in a row; we're averaging over 17,000 fans a game in the regular season," he said. "We had more than 21 million during the season. It will be record revenues. The league is on very strong footing."

While a lack of television revenue and exposure is regarded as a major issue by many, Bettman disagreed, saying: "No problem. We have excellent relationships in the United States with Versus and NBC. Versus continues to grow. They treat us as their most important property, and TV is still a work in progress. It's heading in the right direction. Ratings are up double digits for the second year in a row."

No doubt the NHL needed a great commissioner, and it was able to lure Bettman away from the NBA as David Stern's righthand man in 1993. The NHL got the right guy.

Jottings

Wild President Doug Risebrough came flying out of his executive box Friday night looking for league officials, after a questionable penalty called on Kim Johnsson for hooking Ryan Smyth with 1 minute, 9 seconds left in regulation gave the Avalanche a chance to tie the score and send the game into overtime. Risebrough was upset that a call like that could happen at such a critical point of the game. The referee who called the penalty was Eric Furlatt, whom Risebrough said he didn't know at all.

Any time an athlete has multiple concussions, there are questions about how quickly they should return so as not to risk further injury. Wild forward Mark Parrish suffered his second concussion of the year in Game 1 Wednesday and sat out Game 2. Talk about fate; Parrish had been in and out of the lineup of late, and then when coach Jacques Lemaire gave him an opportunity to play in the playoffs, he suffered a serious injury right away.

The largest contributors to the construction of the new Gophers football stadium are being given the first opportunity to purchase the building's executive boxes. The No. 1 buyer is Dick Ames, the construction company owner and certainly one of the top boosters of University of Minnesota athletics.

There are three Tow-Arnett brothers from Redwood Falls on the Gophers football team this spring. Nick, a tight end, was awarded a scholarship in December while Jeff, a guard, was rewarded with one in January. A third brother -- Nathan, 25 -- just walked on this spring.

April is a big recruiting month for college basketball, and Tubby Smith and his staff will be on the road most of the time trying to sign one or two players for this season. ... Eastern Washington likely will appear on the Gophers schedule next season.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on his Podcast twice a week at www.startribune.com/sidcast. shartman@startribune.com.

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