Minnesota has long been a hotbed of professional, amateur, collegiate and hockey. Professional hockey was a mainstay in Minneapolis beginning in 1967 when the expansion Minnesota North Stars were added to the NHL. The North Stars moved south to Dallas in 1993, leaving a large hockey void within the state. Four years later in 1997, the National Hockey League announced the return of hockey to the Minneapolis-St. Paul twin cities, along with three other expansion franchises. The team name "Wild" was announced in January 1998 following a local contest that ran for six months. Former Calgary Flame player and general manager Doug Risebrough was hired as GM of the Wild and former Montreal Canadiens great and New Jersey Devil coach Jacques Lemaire was handed the reins behind the bench.
The Minnesota Wild began regular season play in the 2000-01 NHL season. They featured a mix of young players and hard working journey men NHLers who fit in well with Lemaire's tight defensive style of hockey. The Minnesota Wild made thei NHL regular season debut on October 6, 2000, losing 3-1 to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Rookie first round pick Marian Gaborik scored the first-ever goal in Wild history in the second period. Their home debut at the brand new Xcel Energy Center was later that week against the Philadelphia Flyers, ending in a 3-3 tie. Ten days later they would shutout the Florida Panthers behind goalie Jamie McLennan to record their first ever franchise win. Led in scoring by the rookie Gaborick, the Wild finished their first year at the bottom of the Northwest division with a 25-39-13-5 record for 63 points. Their second season saw a marked increase in point production during the regular season though once again they trailed their division with a 26-35-12-9 record for 73 points and a second straight year out of the playoffs.
The breakout year for Lemaire's team would come in the 2002-03 season. The Wild saw Marion Gaborik come into his own along with the likes of Pascal Dupuis along with goaltenders Manny Fernandez and Dwayne Roloson, to finish tied for eight overall in the NHL for regular season wins. They finished third in the Northwest division with a 42-29-10-1 record and a club high 95 points. In the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs they would face off against Patrick Roy and the powerhouse Colorado Avalanche. Things seemed to be going poorly for the Wild as they were down 3-1 to the Avalanche. But with solid efforts in the following two games, the Wild were able to tie up the series at three apiece before winning it on a dramatic goal by Richard Park in game seven in Denver. The upset win pitted them against the equally tough Vancouver Canucks squad in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
In an almost exact image of their first round matchup, the Minnesota Wild saw themselves down 3-1 to the Vancouver Canucks. No NHL team, let alone a third year club, had ever recovered from two three games to one deficits in one year, but the Wild had other plans. They rallied back to tie up the series and defeated a stunned Canucks squad, in Vacouver. They conference final matchup would face them off against the other Cinderella story of the 2003 postseason - the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. After pulling off some amazing feats the Wild eventually ran out of steam, losing to the Mighty Ducks in four straight games. Their solid regular season and the playoff heroics should make believers out of small market teams looking to compete in the National Hockey League.
Minnesota Wild Overview:
Arena: Xcel Energy Center
Stanley Cups won: 0