Expansion franchises are fun. Owners get to build an organization from the ground up, and choose everything from the arena, hockey operations department personnel, and even the logo and colors that will define a city or region, as well as the very players that will donne the jersey and become part of the very fabric of that franchise. It’s interesting, isn’t it? To become a fan of something that has yet to even have players touch the very ice they will skate on for a generation. It takes an understanding and a belief - faith, if you will - that a sports organization will reward you for aligning with their causes from the very beginning.
The Vegas Golden Knights, and the people of Southern Nevada are going through that very process as we speak. Tuesday night, Bill Foley and the rest of Black Knight Sport and Entertainment consortium unveiled the Golden Knights’ logo and team colors that will eventually crest the front of the jersey for every player.
The Wild were once an expansion team. No longer will the Wild and the Blue Jackets be considered the youngest teams of the NHL. I just hit the age of 30 a week ago. The North Stars were but a small memory of the one time I went to Met Center with my Father as a little tyke. They were known to me by movies, memorabilia, books, and by the stories my dad would tell me. I’ve learned the names of North Stars greats from a time now long gone, and one with which I feel very little connection.
Maybe that’s why the experience at last spring’s Stadium Series Alumni game was special to me. Outside of the Wild alums and Mike Modano, I got to watch the very players of whom I had only heard stories. I got to experience the horn from the old Met. I got to feel connected to that past with which, only by unlucky timing, I had missed.
But that’s why I have been on board with the Wild since their inception in 1997. I had cut my teeth on college hockey and the WCHA and really only followed the sport through the NCAA. For years, I had hoped the NHL would make a return to Minnesota, never fully understanding the business side of the sport had killed NHL hockey in the State. I don’t remember much of the actual announcement of the ownership group headed by Bob Naegele Jr. getting awarded the expansion bid, but I do remember the naming contest. I remember discussing with my Dad about the six nickname finalists; liking my own idea of “Minnesota Blizzard” over “Freeze,” “Voyageurs,” “Wild,” “Blue Ox,” “Northern Lights,” or “White Bears.” I remember reading the sports page when they unveiled the design of the original Home white sweater in my Junior High study hall hour. I was excited about the Wild and they hadn’t even begun playing games.
The games started and so did the Wild’s history that we’ve come to know, love, and even sometimes loathe. It started in Anaheim against the Mighty Ducks and some unknown 18 year old Slovak named Marian Gaborik would score the first goal ever for Minnesota. He didn’t even know English at the time and could hardly dictate the pride he had in scoring his first career goal to the Minnesota media. Then it was the first home game against the Flyers and Darby Hendrickson scored the first regular season Wild goal in the first game at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild struggles like hell that first year to win games, but the game that maybe meant the most was the first game against the Dallas Stars.
I was in the crowd for that game. The pre-game hype video showed North Star highlights, culminating with the announcement of their moving and a loud, raucous ‘Boo’ when they showed the Met Center implosion. “Norm Green Sucks,” chants rang through the sell-out crowd as highlights from the Wild season up to that point played on the board with the words “The Next Stage.” A clever play by Wells Fargo Bank, who had those words as their slogan, and sponsored the night with white towels on every seat. The Wild summarily dispatched the Stars with a 6-0 thumping and for a 14 year old kid excited about being able to grow up with a franchise, I was hooked.
The Wild are now in year 16 of existence. But the Golden Knights and the new franchise’s fans get to start this journey for themselves. They get to be there for the games that will become folklore in a region starving for pro sports. They get to call in to post game fan call-in radio shows and give their fan resume that states that they’ve, “been a fan of the team since the start.”
We got to experience that. As painful as it is, was, and will always be to lose the first loves, expansion is always fun. I am excited for the fans in Las Vegas and Nevada as a whole. They get to be a part of something new, fresh, and something that will garner a bunch of excitement when the puck finally hits the ice next fall.
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