Time for an NHL Border Battle

Could Wisconsin support a pro hockey team?

Luc Anthony

STATE OF HOCKEY. The Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul is the epicenter of Minnesota’s hockey culture. (Image: Brendanjered | CC BY-SA 3.0)
STATE OF HOCKEY. The Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul is the epicenter of Minnesota’s hockey culture.
(Image: Brendanjered | CC BY-SA 3.0)

I think the time has come to move some hockey teams.  You can thank Emilio Estevez.

Hockey is the signature cultural sport of the Upper Midwest, yet the National Hockey League’s lack of sensible team organization in this region has always left me bewildered. Wisconsin has never had, and likely never will have, an NHL franchise. Hockey-mad Minnesota did not get a franchise until the NHL was a half century-old, and that team – the North Stars – was mostly mediocre before getting yanked away to Texas.  When the league went through boom times in the 1990s, the definitive hockey state was out of the picture; ‘Sota did finally get the Wild in 2000, but they, too, have regularly underwhelmed, though at least they have a passionate fan base.

Hockey is the signature cultural sport of the Upper Midwest, yet the National Hockey League’s lack of sensible team organization in this region has always left me bewildered.

Meanwhile, there has been no talk of NHL expansion to Wisconsin, which has far more hockey heritage than current NHL locations such as Arizona and Florida.  The presence of the Wild and the well-established Chicago Blackhawks on the borders, along with the relative lack of hockey interest in the Milwaukee-Madison area (hockey passion is more of a western Wisconsin thing in the Badger State) will almost certainly keep us from landing our own NHL squad.  Plus, several other North American cities are already set for further moves or expansion.

My radio co-host Dan Kasper thought Wisconsin’s pro hockey desert inappropriate when he was a sixth-grader in the 1990s. As part of a class project, he wrote a letter to then-Gov. Tommy Thompson asking for the establishment of an NHL team:  the Wisconsin Polar Bears.  If Tommy T. had somehow followed through, maybe history would have been different, but the Polar Bears remained just a concept in a classroom letter.

There is another fictional team that could have become reality, this time west of the border:  the Mighty Ducks.  Ah, the classic Disney hockey movie, set (and filmed) in the Twin Cities, a story about those plucky and pucky kids led by Gordon Bombay.

For children of the 1990s – I’m especially speaking to older Millennials here – The Mighty Ducks and even the D2 sequel were part of a formative cinematic experience. Even if you were a Wisconsin-oriented sports fan, you could not help but cheer for the ragtag bunch playing pond hockey in wintry Minnesota.  The movie was popular enough that the NHL had a real franchise that for many years was known as the Mighty Ducks.

One would think a Minnesota hockey team would have Mighty Ducks as a nickname; in this instance, timing thwarted an ideal situation.  The league’s aforementioned boom time of expansion led to its decision to place a second team in sunny southern California. Disney was the owner, and they naturally used their hit movie to brand their real-life hockey team as the Mighty Ducks Of Anaheim.  This was late 1992 – months before North Stars owner Norm Greed (actually Green, but no jilted North Stars fan calls him by his actual name) left a sour arena situation and a sexual harassment lawsuit and moved the franchise to Dallas.  Minnesota barely missed having actual Mighty Ducks – a team now known as the Anaheim Ducks, having been re-christened in the 2000s.

Despite the reasons stated before, top-flight Wisconsin pro hockey still makes sense.  The Mighty Ducks in Minnesota make sense.  Thus, I present a modest proposal to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who will certainly ignore it or screw it up (see his track record over the decades):

Move the Ducks out of Anaheim – that region will still have the Los Angeles Kings – land them at the Xcel Energy Center and bring back the name “Mighty Ducks.”  Go all-out with the uniforms from the original movie.  What of the Wild?  Move them east – they can be the Wisconsin Wild, the Wisconsin Polar Bears, whatever.  Fans will come, and an NHL Border Battle will be established.  Even the Wild colors make sense for this state (green, gold, and red).

Sure, moving teams is not easy, but having the hockey fans of Wisconsin get an actual home-state favorite, and the Mighty Ducks placed in their story origin, feels right.  It will never happen – but, then again, District 5 winning the state title was never going to happen, until Gordon Bombay made it so.  Ducks fly together.

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