With his team suddenly on a hot streak and his longtime dream of bringing an outdoor NHL game to the State of Hockey about to become reality, Craig Leipold was one giddy owner Saturday.
As the Wild’s head honcho sat in his suite watching the alumni game, Leipold looked left, looked right and suddenly blurted out: “I’m like a little kid. We came out for the 1 o’clock practice, and I’ve got to tell you, I could not have been happier to see all the activity going on. … It was just so cool. They’re having fun, I’m having fun. Just a great time.”
Saturday was the first time Leipold spoke publicly since the firing of coach Mike Yeo a week earlier. The Wild returned home on Thursday night following a 3-0 road trip under interim coach John Torchetti.
“Even to this day, we’re going to make the playoffs. I’ve felt it all along,” Leipold said. “The decision that was made had to be made. Winning those three games has given us new life. It has reenergized our team, our organization, our fans. This is just a good time now culminating into this event as Torch’s first game.
“I mean, wow.”
A league official said Saturday that Sunday’s game will be the second of 17 outdoor games put on by the NHL that won’t be a sellout. More than 40,000 tickets have sold. TCF Bank Stadium’s capacity is 53,000. Saturday’s alumni game drew an announced 37,922.
“The fact of the matter is we sold all the 35,000 tickets allocated to us. Chicago sold all the 10,000 tickets allocated to them,” Leipold said. “And on Wednesday, we got back from the league 4,000 tickets and we had no opportunity to sell them. So that’s the only reason. This would have been sold out weeks ago. Three weeks ago, we had 400 tickets left.”
Leipold’s excitement wasn’t dampened.
“The weather could not be better,” he said. “Think about the Vikings playoff game [minus-2 degrees, minus-25 wind chill], we could have had that same level or worse. It enhances the whole experience.
“Our organization and the league worked really hard to pull this thing off. This doesn’t happen by accident. Hundreds of people worked on this weekend nonstop for two, three months now. It’s fun to get it over with, and then we can go back into playoff mode and start winning every game.”