Robert O. Naegele Jr., who played an instrumental role in bringing the NHL back to the Twin Cities as the first owner of the Minnesota Wild, died Wednesday night in the Twin Cities due to complications of cancer. Naegele was 78.
The team plans to honor Naegele with a moment of silence before its next home game on Nov. 13 against the Washington Capitals. The Wild also will wear a patch with the initials BN on their jerseys for the remainder of this season, starting with Thursday’s game against the Kings in Los Angeles.
Minnesota lost its first NHL franchise, the North Stars, after the 1992-93 season when Norm Green moved the Bloomington, Minn.-based team to Dallas.
Naegele, who was born in Minnesota, was the goalie on the Minnetonka High School hockey team. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1961 and was married to his wife, Ellis, for 58 years, raising three daughters and a son together. The Naegeles relocated to Naples, Fla., in 1994 but he eventually became the lead investor in a group that made a bid to get an NHL team back in the Twin Cities.
The group was awarded an expansion franchise to play in St. Paul on June 25, 1997 and the Wild played their first regular-season game on Oct. 11, 2000 in the new Xcel Energy Center.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of our much-loved ‘Pop,'” Bob Naegele III said of his father in a statement. “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 (NHL Commissioner) 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.”
Naegele Jr. served as chairman of Minnesota Sports & Entertainment (MSE) and was the majority owner of the Wild until the NHL Board of Governors approved current owner Craig Leipold’s purchase of the team on April 10, 2008.
“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,” Leipold said in a statement. “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.”