ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold unveiled his shiny new, expensive purchases on Monday, introducing big free-agent signings Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to the team’s excited fan base and is hoping for another new addition.
Leipold’s hoping for another big addition to the organization soon—a new practice facility across the street from the Xcel Energy Center.
At Monday’s introductory press conference for Parise and Suter — the two prized free agents who signed matching 13-year, $98 million deals — Leipold made his pitch for a practice facility, with a special request to St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.
Highlighting a hopefully bright future for his organization, Leipold made his plea to Coleman, who was in attendance.
“I love our future and I can clearly see a respected franchise, a Winter Classic, the playoffs, more playoffs, deeper playoffs, and a practice facility across the street. How about that Mayor Coleman?,” Leipold said in his opening statement of Monday’s press conference to big applause from the fans and team staff in attendance.
The Wild have sought a new practice facility for several years. In 2009, the legislature had passed funding for a new facility, but the measure was vetoed by Governor Tim Pawlenty. Currently the Wild travel by a bus to St. Thomas more than a dozen times a season for practices.
Leipold’s plan would have a new facility built across the street from the Northern end of the Xcel Energy Center, between the arena and an existing parking ramp where there is an open lot.
Parise and Suter each expressed concern, according to Leipold, about having to for practices after talking with players around the league about the pros and cons of playing for the Wild.
“Their agents came to us,” Leipold said. “They wanted to know. They had heard that sometimes we’ve got to go downstairs, the players have to put their equipment, they take their skates and sticks, they get on the bus and they drive over to St. Thomas to practice. They wanted to know how often that happened because they’re concerned about it.”
The team did some figuring and found out it would happen 14 times this season. The number even shocked Leipold a bit.
“It was, “Eww, yeah, we better tell them the truth,'” Leipold said. “So we told them. They decided. We also told them that we’re working very hard with Mayor Coleman to get a practice facility. Not just a practice facility, but a sheet over there for the public to have. We’re going to keep working on that. We gave them that commitment that we’d work on it.”
Leipold spent $196 million dollars to bring bring Parise and Suter to Minnesota. Now his focus is on reviving the practice facility discussions. Pawlenty vetoed a bill in 2009 that called for a 4,000-seat, single-seat facility that would have been paid for as part of a $32 million loan and Coleman was a supporter of the bill.
The Wild could be acting on renewed enthusiasm for a team that has missed the playoffs four straight seasons. Leipold said almost 2,000 new season tickets have been sold since Parise and Suter signed on July 4 and the replica jerseys with Parise’s No. 11 and Suter’s No. 20 have been selling well.
“We knew there would be a great reaction. We just didn’t know it would be this size,” Leipold said.
Add it all up and there have been big changes with the Wild.
“Free agents of Zach and Ryan’s caliber are often attracted to the major markets where there is more attention, brighter spotlights and, frankly, more money,” Leipold said. “These two chose Minnesota over those things, and in doing so, transformed our franchise. We’ve all walked a little taller since July 4.”
Now the owner is hoping his team can walk across the street to practice.