A 113-day painful lockout ended a little over a week ago. The Wild are set to take the ice at the Xcel Energy Center this Saturday against the Colorado Avalanche. The organization immediately apologized to fans for the lockout taking away nearly half the 2012-13 season. If initial ticket sales are any indication, the fans don’t care.
Tickets for the opener against Colorado and February 17th’s game against the Detroit Red Wings sold out within the first hour of availability according to the Wild’s vice president of marketing John Maher. A large number of fans were already in line to buy tickets when the box office opened yesterday morning at 8am. Nearly 20 fans actually stayed overnight inside the stadium to get the seats they wanted. The excitement is palpable.
Wild players know the pressure is on, however.
“It’s not enough for us to say we’re sorry,” goalie Niklas Backstrom told the Star Tribune. “We have to go out there and play good hockey and worry. We have to do our job to repair the damage.”
There is clearly a buzz throughout Minnesota. With the lockout finally ending, Wild fans will finally get to see their revamped squad take the ice, which includes free agent signings Ryan Suter and Zach Parise. A free fall in the standings last season was due to the Wild’s consistent inability to score. Now the team hopes to change that on the ice.
“It still kind of burns in us,” Wild forward Cal Clutterbuck said of the free fall. “It was really a tough couple months for us. Anyone that was here is really looking to not have that happen ever again.”
The fans hope so too. If GM Chuck Fletcher and owner Craig Leipold’s actions are any indication, the Wild are determined to avoid a situation like last year. They seem hell-bent on giving fans in Minnesota a winner. As ESPN’s Craig Custance points out on his blog, Minnesota made extraordinary efforts to sell both Parise and Suter on the virtues of playing in St. Paul.
Parise and Ryan Suter had waited their entire careers for a chance to pick any team in the league to join. The Wild seemed, at best, a long shot.
But Parise had a packet of information on the Wild that sold the franchise in a way GM Chuck Fletcher and coach Mike Yeo couldn’t while waiting for a response from Newport following its opening offer. It might have been the packet that helped change the entire course of this franchise.
“They were the only team that sent information like that,” Parise said.
Well, kind of. The Wild had planned an in-person pitch complete with a video on the virtues of signing in Minnesota. They soon discovered there wouldn’t be any in-person pitch, and that video was later emailed to Ontario.
Custance’s piece continues:
What’s in those pages is a convincing blueprint Fletcher has been meticulously enacting since he took over the Wild. It’s a plan strong enough that Fletcher, who had just completed his third year of a four-year contract, got a contract extension in the spring even after the Wild’s collapse last season. Before Parise and Suter could be sold on the vision, Fletcher had to first reassure owner Craig Leipold that things were on the right track.
“I kind of presented last spring what our vision was, where I thought we were at,” Fletcher said. “We had a pretty candid conversation at the end of last year. Craig’s great, he’s extremely supportive. He asked a lot of questions, as he should. It’s his money. It’s his team. But I think he sees what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Parise started to figure it out, too. The information from the Wild combined with research done by his agents and the lure home became a tempting combination.
“You look at the structure of the team, and there’s a lot of depth up front,” Parise said. “You have an All-Star centerman in Mikko [Koivu], you’ve got [Niklas Backstrom] and [Josh] Harding is a fantastic goalie, too. You’ve got an All-Star defenseman in Ryan [Suter]. You have a 50-goal scorer in Heater [Dany Heatley]… you look at the future, the young players and these guys they’ve been drafting and grooming to take the next step.”
The more he analyzed it, the more it made sense. And paired with Suter, they became convinced that there was plenty in place to end a playoff drought. Perhaps more.
Fletcher’s detailed plan looks to finally be taking shape. While he’s been meticulously working out the details since day one, fans are finally being able to see his plan take shape. They have shown their appreciation by coming out in droves to buy tickets, despite the painful lockout. In return for the fans dedication, the Wild organization is dedicated themselves to return the favor by providing the hometown fans a winner.
It’s a relationship that is befitting the State of Hockey. And we all get to watch the plan in action come Saturday night.