Wild Owner Blunt about Cup Ambitions
The Minnesota Wild has been making owner Craig Leipold feel better as of late. Leipold, 66, is facing his fourth hip replacement in coming months and is still on crutches following replacement No. 3, but his spirits were lifted by the team winning five of seven games on its recent road trip.
“Boy, we’re all looking at this team right now going, man, they’re playing together,” Leipold told Sports Headliners on Monday. Last night, in the Wild’s first home game since the club’s longest road trip ever, Leipold’s boys lost to the defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals. It was the Wild’s first home defeat of the season, and predictable against such a quality team and after a long road trip.
The Wild has a habit of earning its way into the NHL playoffs but then making an early exit. Leipold expects more than just showing up for the postseason like his franchise has done for six straight years. “We’re not playing to come in second or third or fourth,” he said. “We’re playing to win the Cup. That’s what we want to do. That’s our objective and I think if you asked our players, that’s the reason they play hard every night.”
The Wild has mostly been receiving quality play from all four lines, and goalie Devan Dubnyk has been sharp. Leipold knows after 18 games there is a lot of hockey remaining on the schedule but he is hopeful that among the reasons this team could avoid long losing streaks is team rapport. “We really do have outstanding leadership in the locker room,” he said.
Preseason concerns included not scoring enough goals but results have been better than expected. Mikael Granlund, long known for his potential, is part of the reason. He leads Minnesota in goals with 10 and also has eight assists for a Wild best 18 points.
“He’s a special player,” Leipold said. “I think a lot of people around the league have seen it. And now I think he’s believing it as well.”
Veteran stars Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, coming off injuries last season, are constantly scrutinized by interested fans to see if they appear healthy. They tell Leipold they are “100 percent” and even if they only currently check in at 90 the owner is happy. Suter and Parise have played in all the games so far, and Leipold praised their talent and work ethic.
After games Leipold can often be found sitting in a corner location at Herbie’s On The Park, the two-year old restaurant and bar located in the historic Minnesota Club near Xcel Energy Center. He enjoys watching patrons celebrate when the Wild win. He also allows himself to fantasize about being in Herbie’s after the Wild win the Stanley Cup.
“That is the ultimate,” Leipold acknowledged. “There is no finer dream that I could have.”
In 2008 Leipold bought the Wild from Bob Naegele Jr. who died last week. The funeral is next Monday in the Twin Cities. “I wouldn’t miss it for anything,” Leipold said. “Many Wild employees will be there. He was a very popular man and he was a mentor to me.”
Because of Mr. Naegele’s funeral, the date for the Old Timers Hockey Association Luncheon has been moved from next Monday to the following day. The Tuesday, November 20 event begins at 11:30 a.m. at Mancini’s Char House in St. Paul.
Bill Robertson, men’s WCHA commissioner, will be the guest speaker. Dick Jonckowski will emcee.
I was reminded this week how badly conference leaders and the NCAA needs to make improvements to the game of college basketball. A typical game like Monday night’s early season matchup between Minnesota and Utah was frequently slowed to a crawl at Williams Arena. In the first seven minutes, for example, there were two timeouts and two stoppages for officials to view replays on a TV monitor.
In the second half, Utah called timeout with 8:10 remaining in the game. About 22 seconds later the play on the court stopped again for one of the eight mandated media timeouts during a game. Along with the coaches’ and media’s timeouts, add in how the college game is over officiated with unnecessary foul calls. The result is a roadblock to allowing the flow and rhythm that is a natural part of basketball.
It’s way overdue for college basketball to adopt policies regarding both officiating and timeouts similar to the NBA. The pro league knows what it is doing. The college game is clueless. The NCAA is stealing a lot of showtime from its so-called student athletes while infuriating fans.
Gophers senior forward Jordan Murphy, who was a preseason All-Big Ten candidate, had 17 rebounds and 11 points Monday night. His total play looked even better than hyped. Freshman guard Gabe Kalscheur, who hit his first five three-point shots and finished the game with 19 points, might have the smoothest shooting stroke of any Gopher in a long time.
Murphy and junior guard-forward Amir Coffey received some of the most enthusiastic applause in the pregame introductions. Head coach Richard Pitino, coming off last season’s 4-14 Big Ten record, received a very quiet reaction from the fans.
The Twin Cities Dunkers hear from Gopher women’s basketball coach Lindsay Whalen on Friday. Then Hugh McCutcheon, the Minnesota volleyball coach, talks to the breakfast group later this month.
McCutcheon’s volleyball team, 16-0 in Big Ten matches, concludes its regular season conference schedule on the road the next two Fridays and Saturdays with matches against Maryland, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers. No Gopher team in any sport has been undefeated in the Big Ten since the wrestlers were 19-0 in 2001-2002.
The Big Ten Network reported Monday that among major college football teams there are only four who are 13-1 in their last 14 conference games. Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma and Northwestern who the Gophers play on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.
The Northwestern Wildcats, 6-1 in league games, have clinched at least a share of the Big Ten West Division title and are playing for the best bowl game invite in their remaining games. Minnesota, 2-5 in the conference standings, is averaging 452 yards of offense in its last four games. This is Minnesota’s longest streak of at least 400 yards of offense since it went seven straight games over the 2005-06 seasons.