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Wild Close on 2021 NHL Winter Classic


Target Field could be the playing site for the 2021 NHL Winter Classic. The Twins and Wild would host the prestigious annual game that has never been played in Minnesota, and a January 1, 2021 date could help commemorate the 20th anniversary of the local NHL team.

Wild owner Craig Leipold acknowledged to Sports Headliners yesterday that his franchise is competing with one other NHL city for the Winter Classic, but the league has yet to inform him of its decision. An announcement of the 2021 playing site for the outdoor game is likely to come January 1, 2020.

Known as the “State of Hockey,” the NHL Winter Classic seems overdue for a Minnesota date. “It should be us,” Leipold said. “We think that we’ve got exciting players. We think that we have a good team, and a very competitive team, and we have a great market. No one will ever question that. Our fans are fantastic. So I think we check most of the boxes, and…we hope it’s our time.”

Local interest in attracting the nationally televised event has been ongoing for a long time by the Twins and Wild. Twins president Dave St. Peter spoke of his interest in the game as recently as August of this year. The Wild hosted a successful NHL Stadium Series game at TCF Bank Stadium in 2016, but that event is less coveted than the Winter Classic that last January was played at Notre Dame Stadium, and January 1, 2020 lands in the Cotton Bowl.

The Winter Classic was first played in 2008 to evoke the outdoor roots of hockey. The event uses football and baseball stadiums, with one game drawing over 100,000 fans to Michigan Stadium. A Sports Headliners hockey source said the NHL and TV rights holder NBC prefer historic league teams from the United States like the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks. Planners also want winning teams that can attract a large TV audience.

The Wild has been a mediocre team for years and that’s been a factor in the NHL not granting the Winter Classic to Minnesota. But the team has been impressive of late and with the franchise’s 20th anniversary looming since its inception for the 2000-2001 season, and the fact so many other cities have already hosted the game, Minnesota’s lobbying efforts could finally pay off.

The Wild’s opponent might be the Blackhawks because of the rivalry between the two teams and the size of the huge Chicago TV market. The Dallas Stars, the team once based in Minnesota as the North Stars, may well be another possibility. Activities surrounding a Minneapolis Winter Classic could include an alumni game between former Wild and Blackhawks or Stars players.

The Wild is undefeated in its last 10 games, going 7-0-3. Leipold said the team is showing skill and depth, referring to the third and fourth lines as playing “fantastic.” With three goalies and a sound defense, he is excited after the Wild had a slow start to the season. “We don’t have any weaknesses,” he said.

New general manager Bill Guerin has had time to evaluate the personnel but Leipold doesn’t think there are any trades in the works right now. “But I think the next month, and month-and-a-half, is going to tell a lot as to where we think this team can go,” Leipold said.

Worth Noting

It will be interesting to see if Gophers athletics director Mark Coyle is rewarded with increased compensation this month, or shortly after the first of the year. Coyle’s work since being hired in 2016 is highly regarded, but his annual compensation of $850,000 remains unchanged from the original contract—although he did receive a three-year extension last October taking his deal through 2024.

There are many major college athletic directors earning well over $1 million including some of Coyle’s colleagues in the Big Ten. An increase of $150,000, taking Coyle to $1 million, could make sense to new University of Minnesota president Joan Gabel after the breakthrough season in football under the direction of coach P.J. Fleck who Coyle hired in 2017.

The University regents meet December 12 and 13 in Minneapolis but the agenda for the meeting is as yet unknown. Possibly blocking a Coyle increase is this week’s announcement of faculty layoffs at UMD. Although Coyle’s compensation comes from the largely self-supporting Gophers athletic department, a University system perception problem could arise because of the fiscal challenges at UMD.

Coyle’s success at Minnesota, including popular hires of hockey coach Bob Motzko and basketball coach Lindsay Whalen, is noticed by other universities. There was speculation earlier this fall USC was interested in Coyle for its AD opening. Coyle, an Iowa native who first worked for the U athletic department about 18 years ago before taking AD jobs at Boise State and Syracuse, has often expressed his liking for working at Minnesota and living in the Twin Cities with his family.

Sid Hartman’s 100th birthday will be March 15 of next year, and that day just happens to be a Sunday. It’s perfect timing to celebrate the milestone on WCCO Radio where Hartman has been heard for decades on the Sunday morning “Sports Huddle” program.

Dave Mona

Show co-host Dave Mona told Sports Headliners the station will do a “Sidtennial” celebration. A list of about 50 potential celebrity guests for telephone interviews is being reviewed to reach a smaller total. The Sid salute March 15, Mona said, will continue during a WCCO Radio Twins spring training broadcast in the afternoon and on into the evening with more interviews, stories and tributes to the legendary radio personality and Minneapolis newspaper columnist.

The Twin Cities Dunkers organization that supports Minnesota professional and amateur sports has provided $690,500 in combined gifts to the athletic departments of the Minneapolis and St. Paul high schools over the past eight years. The organization was originally known as the Minneapolis Dunkers and dates back to 1948.

Gophers wide receiver Rashod Bateman was named the Big Ten’s wide receiver of the year Wednesday (Richter-Howard Award). Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck raved about Bateman recently, describing him as “incredibly talented.” But Fleck also praised the sophomore for his work ethic and selflessness. “When you start combining the skill with that, that’s an inferno, that’s a bonfire, instead of the fire in your fireplace with one log,” Fleck said.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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