ST. PAUL, Minn. - Bob Naegele, Jr. loved hockey. Loved it so much that he spent millions, and poured his heart into the effort to bring a pro team back to Minnesota after the heartbreaking departure of the North Stars.
That's why the Minnesota Wild, Naegele's many family members and friends, and the state's hockey community are mourning his passing Wednesday night following a battle with cancer.
Naegele was a successful businessman who made his fortune as owner of a billboard company and Rollerblade. He is credited with assembling an informal group that dreamed about starting or acquiring an NHL team after Norm Green took the North Stars to Dallas. The Pioneer Press recalls that Naegele’s group, Minnesota Sports & Entertainment, bought the expansion franchise that would become the Minnesota Wild for $80 million in 1997 and paid $45 million toward building the Xcel Energy Center. The Wild began play in 2000, and the 'X' not only revived a near-shuttered downtown, but also became one of the nation’s top concert arenas.
Naegele made a deal to sell the club to current owner Craig Leipold in 2008. In 2017 Forbes valued the franchise at $440 million.
The Wild announced Thursday that the franchise will honor Naegele with a moment of silence prior to its next home game on Nov. 13 against the Washington Capitals. In addition, the team wear a patch with the initials BN on their jerseys for the remainder of this season, starting with Thursday's game at the Los Angeles Kings. Further details on how the team will honor Naegele's memory will be announced soon.
Team officials posted a testiment to Naegele on its social media sites that included a host of tributes to the man.
Statement from Bob Naegele III, son of Bob Naegele, Jr. and former Minnesota Wild board member:
We are deeply saddened by the loss of our much-loved 'Pop.' While he had many professional and business successes in his life, the pinnacle for him was to play his part in bringing an NHL team back to the State of Hockey. The Minnesota Wild was never about him. Mom and Pop were happily on the beach in Florida enjoying the start of retirement in 1997 when the opportunity arose to bring an NHL franchise back to Minnesota. When Gary Bettman said, "We love your market and your investor group, we never wanted to leave Minnesota, but I need one person I can call when I need to get decisions made," Pop stepped forward and said, "OK, I will do it." From day one, for him, it was all about the fans and the amazing Minnesota hockey heritage. It is a testament for how he lived his life.
Statement from Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold:
From the first time that I met Bob, when we were both introduced as new NHL owners that summer of '97, I was impressed by his passion for the game and his love of his home state. A piece of his heart and soul will remain forever as a part of the Wild. We will honor that. My family and I are so fortunate to have the chance to build on the great foundation he established here.
Statement from former U.S. Senator and St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman:
Bob Naegele was a friend and mentor -- I will miss him dearly. As a mayor, I dreamed great dreams, but it was Bob Naegele who had the skill and the faith to turn those dreams into reality. The result was the Minnesota Wild. Bob's faith is what always guided him. The Bible says faith is confidence in what is hoped for and assurance in what we do not see. Bob was confident the NHL would return to Minnesota, and he saw what many others did not see -- that it would succeed in St. Paul. His faith never failed him.
Statement from former CEO and board member of the Minnesota Wild Jac Sperling:
Bob Naegele was a dreamer, a dreamer with conviction. And the more challenging the dream, the better. As a dedicated Minnesota hockey fan, he dreamed of returning the NHL back to the State of Hockey, where it belonged, even in the face of many doubters. We are all grateful to the dreamer who made the return of the NHL possible, as will be future generations of the Minnesota hockey fans. We will all miss Bob greatly.