Scoggins: Game nights are all business for Wild owner/fan

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 4, 2011 - 12:12 PM

Craig Leipold is a serious fan.

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Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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The Wild game was minutes from faceoff and Craig Leipold had settled into his normal spot inside the owners suite at Xcel Energy Center. Settled being a relative term, because Leipold fidgets like a 5-year-old when his team hits the ice.

Leipold realized something was amiss and asked a team employee to hand him a copy of the roster. He didn't need help with the names; he needed his security blanket.

Leipold rolled up the sheet of paper into a tube shape and began whacking it on his left palm, which has become his signature way of clapping. The Wild owner is nothing if not a creature of habit.

"I stick with my routine," he said.

Leipold allowed me to witness that routine during a preseason game, and I left with one overriding thought: The man is a superfan, minus the foam No. 1 finger.

In addition to bankrolling the operation, Leipold has earned a reputation around the organization as a fervent fan, his mood at the whims of how his team performs. That's no different than most sports owners. But Leipold lives and dies with each shift, not literally of course but pretty close.

He hoots and hollers, cheers and agonizes. And that's just during one power play in a preseason game. If the Wild ever gets back to the playoffs under Leipold's watch, he might require sedation or perhaps be confined like Hannibal Lecter getting off the plane.

"I watch the game as a fan, I don't watch as a business person," he said. "I hate losing more than anything else."

His game routine is rooted in superstition and unbending rules. He always sits in the same seat in his center-ice suite -- second row, second chair from the right.

Nobody is allowed to sit in the three chairs in front of him or on either side of him. Or talk to him during the game. He eats dinner during the first intermission, has a glass of wine during the second. He keeps his rolled up paper in his hands at all times during the game.

Leipold's family and circle of friends are well-versed in the rules, but they can't help but have a little fun at his expense sometimes. Leipold has five sons, and occasionally one will hide all the paper in his suite so he doesn't have anything to hold. That always tests his nerves.

Once a new business acquaintance was invited to watch a game in the suite. He asked Leipold's long-time friend Joe Sweeney if there was anything he should know. Sweeney informed the man he couldn't sit by Leipold or talk to him. The guy laughed and later grabbed the seat next to Leipold and started chatting him up.

"Craig looked at him and looked at me kind of like, 'Joe, didn't you tell him what the rules are?'" Sweeney said.

This is serious business to Leipold, who literally sits on the edge of his seat the entire game, except when he's exasperated and slumps back. He has a TV monitor within arm's reach so he can review plays. He trades high-fives with fans in adjacent suites after goals. He grumbles when the other team does anything positive or if someone ices the puck.

"I do hate icings," he said, half-joking.

At one point, a young boy in the crowd noticed Leipold and waved enthusiastically. Leipold waved back.

"They didn't do that in the Montreal game," Leipold said sarcastically, referring to the Wild's 8-1 home loss to the Canadiens last season.

Leipold has come a long way in his hockey knowledge. The Wisconsin native never played hockey. He attended a few Blackhawks games each season but otherwise didn't know too much about the sport. He got a video explaining the rules of the game from former Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer before plunking down $80 million for the Nashville Predators.

"I fell in love with hockey when I owned a team," he said.

He's totally hooked now. He rifles off e-mails to General Manager Chuck Fletcher after games with his thoughts on what went right, wrong or needs improvement.

"When I'm here, I'm thinking about the game," he said. "When I'm driving home, I'm thinking about the game. The next day I'll think about [business]."

Sometimes business trumps personal. Leipold owned the Predators when they made the first playoff appearance in team history against Detroit in 2004. Sweeney's mother got re-married the same weekend. Leipold needed his best friend with him, too, so Sweeney compromised.

He went to the wedding but skipped the reception to catch a flight.

"Hey, do you know how nervous Craig was?" Sweeney said. "He needed a wingman."

Just as long as the wingman didn't sit by him or talk to him during the game.

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com

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