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Hockey’s return heralded

June 17, 1997

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) _ From rink rats and Gov. Arne Carlson to the lifelong fan who wants to drive the Zamboni, Minnesotans cautiously heralded Tuesday’s announcement of the NHL’s return.

The NHL tentatively approved expanding to Nashville, Tenn.; Atlanta; Columbus, Ohio; and Minneapolis-St. Paul. The NHL Board of Governors needs to ratify the deal.

``Every one of us wins and wins big,″ Carlson said.

Marty Brueggemann, a 14-year-old from St. Paul, put it simply as he pulled off his helmet after a clinic at the Gustafson-Phalen Ice Arena.

``Minnesota’s a hockey state and we need an NHL team,″ he said.

As 15-year-old Megan Kloek of Mahtomedi was taking the ice, she said, ``Minnesota’s pretty cold and everybody plays hockey and everybody likes to watch it.″

Hockey and Minnesota have a long history together. Although hockey programs from youth leagues through college have thrived for years, it hit hard when the North Stars left for Dallas four years ago.

``The United States Hockey Hall of Fame is here and we don’t even have a team and I think that’s really sad,″ said Michelle Kuitunen, executive secretary at the hall in Eveleth.

Part of the plan to lure a team is a new $130 million arena that would be home to the team and the state’s prestigious high school hockey tournament.

St. Paul native Jim Santos, who has loved hockey since he was 5, agreed. He runs the Phalen rink and will seek the Zamboni job in the new arena.

``I’ve been talking to people with the Dallas Stars, but I’d rather stay home,″ Santos, 41, said of his job prospects.

For some, the return removes the sting of the past. Former North Stars vice president Pat Forciea is among them.

``The NHL should be here,″ he said. ``The North Stars move didn’t need to happen. Shouldn’t have happened.″

But until the puck hits center ice, some guarded optimism may be in order.

``I think it’d be an interesting thing to try again, but I feel the state is having too much controversy with professional sports right now,″ said 14-year-old Tom Gockowski of Maplewood, who had just finished a summer hockey clinic.

``They have to make up their minds, which one they want, hockey or baseball. They’re not going to have enough funding for both.″

Putting a new team on ice in St. Paul hinges on the arena. The state is expected to come up with $65 million in next year’s bonding bill, which must have the approval of the Legislature.

St. Paul has a back-up plan, but Carlson said ``woe be unto that legislator who decides to vote no.″

Forciea, now a marketing consultant for the Twins, is part of an effort to shore up support among state residents and lawmakers for a new baseball stadium.

``I’m not aware of any other city in the country that would spend public dollars to bring one team back and let another one go,″ Forciea said. ``That’s never happened before, hopefully it won’t happen here.″

Gockowski had some advice for both teams.

``I personally would attend the games, but if they’re going to be charging us the fans for the stadium, which is something the team should buy, I guess I wouldn’t go,″ he said.

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