ST. PAUL (AP) -- An expansion NHL team in Columbus, Ohio, makes some sense.
A new team in Minnesota?
"NHL hockey should never have left, but it did," said Neal Broten, one of the greatest players ever produced by the state. "Anything can happen in sports."
More than seven years after the North Stars moved to Dallas, hockey is back in Minnesota, a state where most kids grow up a short skate away from a pickup game. And fans are welcoming their new team, the Wild, like a lost child.
They were rewarded with a victory Saturday, as the Wild beat the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in their home exhibition opener at the new Xcel Energy Center to bring their preseason record to 2-2-3.
The Wild won't be competitive in their first season, but fans don't mind. The opening game sold out in under two minutes, and the Wild sold more than 15,000 season tickets and all 72 luxury suites in their dazzling new $160-plus million, 18,064-seat arena. They rank in the league's top four in season ticket sales.
Pro hockey's separation from Minnesota was painful. North Stars owner Norm Green, pleading financial hardship, moved the team in 1993. Green was vilified by fans, who used his name in vulgar chants and on signs and T-shirts. "Norm Greed" was scrawled on a concrete wall near the team's offices.
Dennis Pladson, a Wild season ticket-holder from South St. Paul, recalled the North Stars' farewell skate after their final game at Met Center as "the saddest day for Minnesota hockey."
"When you get hurt that bad, I don't think you'll ever forget," Pladson said. "You might forgive, but you can't get rid of that hurt."
Lou Nanne, a North Stars player, coach, general manager or president for all but the final two seasons of the team's existence in Minnesota, got out before the fall. But he was still living in Minneapolis when it happened.
"It was devastating to the fans," Nanne said. "For those of us who had been involved, it was almost surreal."
The only household names on this Wild roster are in management. General manager Doug Risebrough, hired from the Edmonton Oilers, won five Stanley Cups as a player or coach. Coach Jacques Lemaire, a Hall of Fame player, won eight Cups as a player and most recently coached the New Jersey Devils to the championship in 1995.
Since the North Stars left town, Minnesotans have watched the NHL add franchises in Anaheim, Calif.; Miami; Atlanta and Nashville, Tenn.
If fans have been paying attention, they know they must be patient. The most successful of the recent expansion franchises, the Florida Panthers, missed the playoffs in four of seven seasons, though they reached the Stanley Cup final in 1996. In eight seasons, the Tampa Bay Lightning have reached the playoffs only once.
The Wild are the fourth pro sports team in the Twin Cities area, which is also home to the University of Minnesota. Sports economists have wondered if the Twin Cities can support five major sports programs, especially in the fall, when the Twins, Wild, Timberwolves, Vikings and Gophers football all overlap.
But Minnesotans snapped up Wild tickets despite an average ticket price of $39.60 -- compared to $20.75 in the North Stars' final season -- and Wild jerseys have been the NHL's best seller since their unveiling in mid-November.
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