Reusse: Owner Leipold hopes Wild keeps battling like beloved dog

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 8, 2014 - 7:14 AM
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Craig Leipold’s chocolate Lab, Stanley, who lost a leg to cancer.

Wild owner Craig Leipold and his wife, Helen Johnson-Leipold, have five dogs that have the run of the place at their home in Racine, Wis. There are two Chihuahuas, one of which is mellow (think Mikael Granlund) and the other is annoying (think Matt Cooke).

The other dogs include Stanley, a chocolate Lab.

“He’s our favorite, I have to admit,’’ Leipold said. “Stanley had his right front leg amputated because of cancer, but you can’t keep him down. He’s out there in the yard running around, chasing the other dogs, jumping over bushes.’’

Leipold laughed and said: “That dog’s amazing.’’

A year ago, the Wild and its television partner, Fox Sports North, broke out the worn “Fight to the End’’ as a theme for the playoffs. The Wild went away meekly in five games vs. Chicago in the first round.

The Wild made it through the first round this time in seven games vs. Colorado by offering the generic, “It’s Playoff Season.’’ Even with Tuesday night’s impressive 4-0 victory, I’m not sure that humdrum slogan can get it done for the Wild in this rematch with the defending champions from Chicago.

It’s decision time for the Wild on Friday night — win and be in this series for the long haul, or lose and be gone again in five — and I say FSN and local hockey zealots should break out a fresh hashtag: #battlelikestanley.

“I think our players already are doing that,’’ Leipold said. “That first-round series, coming back from being down 2-0 and then 3-2 in games, was nothing short of stunning. The euphoria of winning a playoff series … you can’t beat it.’’

Leipold had more reason to feel that way than the most hard-core of Wild fans. He bought his way into the NHL in 1997 as the owner of the Nashville Predators. The price tag was $80 million, and Leipold previously suggested the team lost $70 million in the decade that followed.

Leipold’s Preds had consecutive playoff appearances in 2004, ’06 and ’07, and went out in the first round. He sold the Predators in December 2007 and made a deal to buy the Wild a few weeks later, with partner Phil Falcone.

The NHL approved the new ownership as the Wild was getting ready to lose a first-round playoff series vs. Colorado in 2008. The Wild missed the playoffs over the next four seasons. The St. Paul gents then returned for the quick exit last spring.

This gave Leipold a total of 14 seasons as an NHL owner, with an 0-5 record in playoff series. If you put the Nashville investment at $150 million and add it to the $220 million paid for the Wild, you can understand the Leipold euphoria that came with the Game 7 victory in Denver.

The franchise purchases weren’t Leipold’s boldest financial moves in the NHL. That came on July 4, 2012, when he committed $196 million to sign the prized free agents of that summer, left winger Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter.

Often, we’ve seen it written or said that the main motivation for this was Leipold’s extreme desire to win. That desire exists, to be sure, but I saw this dual signing as something else: an astute business decision.

“Absolutely, it was a business decision, and it has turned into an incredible decision for us,’’ Leipold said. “It has completely reversed all the trends. Ticket sales, sponsorships, merchandise … everything was trending in the wrong direction, and it had been for a number of years.

“To say signing Zach and Ryan was a shot in the arm understates the situation. Those signings immediately turned our franchise around.

“And it wasn’t just the community seeing our commitment. It was players all around the league looking at Minnesota and saying, ‘That franchise wants to win,’ and maybe wanting to be part of it some day.’’

The reaction of fans and corporations came so quickly that Leipold said, “At first, we were overwhelmed. We certainly thought it would be a positive for us, but we never envisioned the pop that occurred right away. It was fantastic.’’

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