Each week, I will take a look back at some of the biggest moments in Minnesota Wild history and discuss the importance of that event. So since this is the very first one, I will go way back to 1997, when Commissioner Gary Bettman awarded the city of St. Paul, and the state of Minnesota an expansion franchise, all the way to the first ever draft pick in Minnesota Wild history at the 2000 Entry Draft.
It was June 25, 1997 when it became official that NHL hockey was returning to Minnesota. At a press conference held with, then St. Paul Mayor, Norm Coleman, Commissioner Bettman, and the first owner in Wild history, Bob Nagele Jr. Fans in Minnesota were sore over the departure of the North Stars to Dallas, and at this time, were wondering if they would ever see NHL hockey in the soon to be proclaimed State of Hockey.
Moving along, it was now time to pick a name for the franchise. Doug Risebrough was named the team’s first General Manager and on November 20, 1997 six names were announced as possible candidates for the new franchise. The names of the Blue Ox, Northern Lights, Freeze, Voyagers, White Bears, and Wild were the ones being voted on. Honestly, can you imagine this team being named anything else besides the Wild? On January 22, 1998, the new name was going to be announced at a local arena with many Minnesota fans in attendance eager to hear what their new pro franchise will be called. When the Wild name was unveiled, it was now set. the only thing missing was a head coach, and players to make up the roster.
It wasn’t until just before the expansion draft that Jacques Lemaire would be named the team’s first head coach and it was now time to pick the team at the expansion draft with Columbus. The first ever member for the Wild would be goaltender Jamie McLennan, and the draft was on. Jacques would pick some players familiar to him, like longtime player Jim Dowd, and a name Minnesotans had known very well, hometown player Darby Hendrickson. The majority of the roster was now set, and it was now time to head to the first ever entry draft in team history. Minnesota would have the third overall pick and would take speedster, and goal scorer Marian Gaborik.
Minnesota now had their NHL team again and finally it was time to play hockey. All that was left now was opening night. It was a long wait for players and fans alike.