Fans hungry for return of pro hockey

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 12, 2000


Thursday, October 12, 2000

ST. PAUL – What happened to pro hockey in Minnesota?

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It snapped into the 21st century Wednesday night.

The up-tempo style of play and the sparkling new Xcel Energy Center – hosting its first regular season National Hockey League game – are a far cry from where pro hockey in Minnesota was when it up and left the state seven years ago.

The Minnesota Wild tied the Philadelphia Flyers 3-3 in front of 18,827 fans, but the score wasn’t what mattered most.

"We are thrilled and delighted to have hockey back here," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "Bringing pro hockey back here was the right thing to do. It’s obvious we never should’ve left."

The people of Minnesota made it clear that pro hockey belongs here. Forget the fact that the $2 bratwurst that was a treat at the old Met Center has evolved into the blandest $4 item you can buy from a concession stand. Forget the fact that the new team in town has green on its jerseys, but no capital "N" on the front. Forget the fact that Neal Broten and Jon Casey have been replaced by Marian Gaborik and Manny Fernandez. The capacity crowd was screaming for the puck to be dropped almost as soon as the national anthem began.

"Pro hockey and the NHL should be here," said Steve Polkowski of Eagan. Polkowski, who attended the Stanley Cup finals in 1991 when the Minnesota North Stars lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins, was one of a handful of fans sporting old North Stars jerseys. Polkowski himself was a North Stars season ticket holder.

"I skipped school the day they tore down the old Met Center," he said.

Wild fans haven’t forgot the bitter taste left when North Stars owner Norm Green moved the team to Dallas in 1993. As Wild Chairman Bob Naegele stepped to the microphone to address the crowd at the pregame ceremony, chants of "Norm Green sucks" came down from the crowd..

"Let’s let the past be in the past," Naegele said.

While the Wild won’t be in the Stanley Cup finals this year, the team gave its fans plenty to cheer about Wednesday.

In storybook fashion, Richfield native and former University of Minnesota standout Darby Hendrickson popped in the first goal for the Wild in their new building. Hendrickson took a perfect feed from Maxim Suchinsky just above the crease and put it into a wide-open net to tie the game 1-1.

"It was a thrilling goal to score," Hendrickson said. "It was a great pass and a great play, but the truth is, I was happier just to tie the game."