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Wild owner Craig Leipold ‘pumped’ to finally have the Winter Classic

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Wild owner Craig Leipold has a very specific way of watching games from his suite at Xcel Energy Center.

He posts up in the second row, directly in front of the TV, and makes sure to have open seats to his left and his right. Literally nobody can sit next to him. Not even his wife Helen.

Expect a similar setup at Target Field on New Year’s Day when the Wild host the Winter Classic against the St. Louis Blues. Puck drop is 6 p.m. Saturday.

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“I’ve got to have my space,” Leipold said with a hearty laugh during a recent interview with the Pioneer Press. “As soon as I get into the suite, and I’m going to be there early, I’m going to scout out my seat right away and grab all the seats around me and say, ‘OK. These are off limits.’ ”

This moment has been more than a decade in the making for Leipold. He has been petitioning the NHL to bring the Winter Classic to the Twin Cities since the game’s inception in 2008

Similarly, the State of Hockey as a whole has been patiently waiting to be a part of the annual spectacle. That explains why tickets sold out almost immediately, with nearly 40,000 fans expected at Target Field on New Year’s Day.

“The market is no doubt looking at this as a very special event,” Leipold said. “Everyone is looking forward to it.”

The only thing fans might not be looking forward to at the Winter Classic? The sub-zero temperatures. The forecast for New Year’s Day is calling for a high of minus-2 degrees and a low of minus-15, which would make it the coldest Winter Classic in NHL history by a hefty margin.

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“I was talking with (NHL commissioner Gary Bettman), we were talking about how cold it’s going to be, and he goes, ‘Well, we’re having this thing in Minnesota, so I think we all expected it could be this cold,’ ” Leipold said. “Luckily, I think Minnesotans will be prepared for it.”

While he will be watching from a suite, Leipold said a few of his sons are planning to watch from the lower bowl at Target Field. There’s a good chance they try to sneak into the suite by the end of the night.

“We’ve got a lot of people coming” Leipold said. “It’s going to be a big family event for us, and we’re all looking forward to it.”

Interestingly enough, the first time Leipold sees the outdoor rink at Target Field will be on the day of the game. That is by design.

“I haven’t been there on purpose,” he said. “I don’t want to see it when there are tarps on the field. I don’t want to see it when there are trucks out there. I want to see it exactly how it’s going to be for the game. That’s the visual that I’m really looking forward to.”

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As for the game itself, once the puck drops, the Wild (19-9-2, 40 points) will be trying to snap a four-game losing streak. The Blues (18-9-5) lead the Wild by one point at the top of the Western Conference’s Central division standings.

“Let’s not forget, this game really counts,” Leipold said. “I actually see myself watching the game as if I’m in the Xcel Energy Center because this game matters as much as any other game does.”

That said, Leipold also plans to soak in the moment at Target Field, enjoying the Winter Classic for what it is after working so hard to get it to Minnesota.

“It was never, ‘Are we going to get it?’ It was always, ‘When are we going to get it?’ ” Leipold said. “The Winter Classic has become a very popular event for the NHL, so they had to make sure they shared it. Now it’s our turn. That’s the only thing that matters now. We’re just so pumped to have it.”



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