Reusse: Stars finally show Minnesota some love

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 5, 2012 - 11:43 AM

In a stunning switch, Minnesota lands a pair of big-time players who had seemingly better options but preferred playing here.

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Ryan Suter

Photo: Chuck Myers, Mct

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The Twins spent a festive first season in Target Field in 2010, and then were again whipped by the New York Yankees in a first-round playoff series. The three-game sweep was completed Oct. 9.

There was a gap of 634 days in competitive excitement for the Twin Cities' major sports entities -- unless you choose to put the Lynx and short-season basketball in that category.

On July 4, 2012, on a steamy day to celebrate our nation's 236th birthday, the thoughts of Minnesota's sports fans were turned to winter nights and frozen surfaces and well-placed passes of a hockey puck.

The Wild pulled off the shocking exacta of signing the NHL's premier free agents, forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter, on Wednesday, and our long sports nightmare was instantly transformed into runaway giddiness.

Even those Minnesotans who can take hockey or leave it were blown away by the idea that two athletes with options to play in New York or Chicago, or to play with established stars in Pittsburgh or Detroit, decided they wanted to be here.

Wanted to play in the Twin Cities.

Maybe it was a heat-induced hallucination, but I could swear there was a woman that looked like a young Sally Field running down University Avenue shouting, "They like us. They really like us."

Craig Leipold was the person responsible for this outbreak of mass happiness. He took over on April 10, 2008, as the Wild's majority owner. And he did what all new owners do on such an occasion:

Told us how committed he was to winning and vowed to bring a championship (in this case, the Stanley Cup) to his team's wonderful fan base.

There was no evidence of this commitment in Leipold's first four seasons, as the Wild performed the difficult feat of avoiding the NHL playoffs for four years in a row.

The lasting memory of the 2011-12 season was a team that huffed and puffed to average two regulation goals per game.

The Wild entered this offseason trying to sell the idea of a deep supply of prospects, starting with Finnish forward Mikael Granlund. We were going to see Granlund scoring that goal with the puck balanced on his stick blade a thousand times in TV pleas to potential ticket buyers.

And then came Wednesday: Leipold had told General Manager Chuck Fletcher to be relentless in the pursuit of Parise and Suter, and the owner's commitment of a touch under $200 million was enough to nab the pair.

When you consider the NHL's TV revenues, signing on for $200 million in contracts is the equivalent of two, three or four times that in the NFL, NBA or baseball.

This is an unprecedented leap by a Minnesota owner to compete for a championship. Vikings owner Zygi Wilf had his moments with Steve Hutchinson, Jared Allen and Brett Favre, but his team turned futile as all energy was expended on strong-arming our football-loving public into a new stadium.

Nothing this dramatic has happened here in competitive bidding for outside talent since the Minneapolis Lakers met George Mikan's asking price of $12,000 to outbid the Chicago Stags for the legendary center in the fall of 1947.

The price for a commitment to winning has gone up a touch in the sports arena over the past 65 years, as Craig Leipold demonstrated on Wednesday.

Dang. Parise and Suter. They like us. They really like us.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. • preusse@startribune.com

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