Wild notes: Winter Classic won't be in Minnesota next season

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 21, 2013 - 8:26 AM

 

The NHL will announce Saturday morning that the 2015 Winter Classic will be hosted by the Washington Capitals.

That means the Wild will have to wait until 2016 at the earliest to bring the NHL’s signature regular-season event to Minnesota.

“I thought for sure the State of Hockey was getting the next one,” Wild center Zenon Konopka said.

Konopka wasn’t the only one.

Since purchasing the Wild in 2008, Craig Leipold has submitted annual bids to host the Winter Classic.

“Are we disappointed? Yes,” said Leipold, who was informed of the league’s decision two weeks ago.

“We want the Winter Classic. It’s the marquee event in the NHL and we feel like our great hockey market is deserving of the marquee game in the NHL.”

“We also have two fabulous locations that could host it,” said Leipold, referring to Target Field and TCF Bank Stadium.

Leipold felt things were tracking toward the Wild playing host to the 2015 game; the 2014 game was awarded to the Detroit Red Wings at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Mich., because last year’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs was canceled because of the NHL lockout.

Three years ago, the league told the Wild that if it wanted to host a Winter Classic, it needed to get marquee players, be more marketable and become a playoff team.

On July 4, 2012, the Wild signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to 13-year, $98 million contracts each. Three years ago, it began producing its own HBO 24/7-like reality/feature show, “Becoming Wild.” And the Wild ended a four-year playoff drought last season.

“And when you talk about outdoor hockey, is there any other market that epitomizes it more than ours?” Leipold said. “Pond hockey started in the Iron Range of Minnesota.”

Parise, who would love to play in his first Winter Classic, concurs.

“You can’t think of a better place to have one,” Parise said. “Outdoor hockey has such a great history here, you’d think this would be the ideal place. This is kind of surprising to me.”

This season, the NHL will actually hold six outdoor games. Besides the New Year’s Day Winter Classic, it will hold the Heritage Classic between Ottawa and Vancouver and four games in the Coors Light NHL Stadium Series — two at Yankee Stadium, one at Dodger Stadium and one at Soldier Field.

“At this point, my response has been, ‘I’m not interested in those games,’ ” Leipold said. “We are interested in hosting the actual Winter Classic.

“We want it. We’ll continue to work at trying to convince the NHL that Minnesota is the place where this game needs to be played.”

Top combos debut

Parise doesn’t like watching games from the stands, even in the preseason. That’s why last season’s leading scorer for the Wild is excited to make his preseason debut Saturday night against the Winnipeg Jets with linemates Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville.

No. 1 defense pair Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin also will play for the first time. Veterans Dany Heatley, Clayton Stoner, Keith Ballard and Niklas Backstrom are expected to play as well.

But all eyes will be on the Parise-Koivu-Pominville line to see if it can carry its impressive chemistry in practices and scrimmages into an exhibition game.

“All three of us are [excited],” Parise said. “We’re getting better and better. We’re moving the puck well and learning more and more about each other.

“Ultimately, it only matters how we do in the games. [Saturday] will be our first test. If it doesn’t go well, there’s no need to panic. We’ve just got to keep developing some familiarity with each other.”

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