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Updated: December 3rd, 2011 5:55pm
Zulgad: Twins serious about hockey, 2014 All-Star game at Target Field

Zulgad: Twins serious about hockey, 2014 All-Star game at Target Field

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

Minnesota Twins President Dave St. Peter is serious about bringing an outdoor hockey game to Target Field and it doesn't have to be the NHL's Winter Classic.

While St. Peter has reached out to the NHL and the Wild about hosting a Winter Classic, he said this week there have been "preliminary discussions" exploring the possibility of setting up a college hockey game at Target Field.

"I'd like to think there would be tremendous interest in a college hockey event at Target Field," said St. Peter, who mentioned how ideal it would be to bring together rivals such as the Gophers and Wisconsin in an event that could be like the popular Beanpot Tournament at TD Garden in Boston.

It also would figure North Dakota would be in that mix. St. Peter is a graduate of that school.

The Twins are serious enough about this that they will send people to Fenway Park on Jan. 7 for a Hockey East doubleheader and at Progressive Field in Cleveland on Jan. 15 for the Ohio State-Michigan hockey game.

"We'll be studying (those games) from an operations perspective," St. Peter said.

As for the potential of getting a Winter Classic, the two logical sites for that event would be Target Field or TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus.

Asked about the Wild's interest in the Winter Classic, a team spokesman said in an e-mail to 1500ESPN.com the team "continues to be very active in its attempts to host the NHL's premiere in-season event. ... We are fortunate there are two world-class venues in this market that can host The Winter Classic."

The drawback to holding any event like a Winter Classic in TCF Bank Stadium is the inability of that venue to sell beer. A University of Minnesota spokesman said in an e-mail that, "We considered hosting an outdoor game during this current season, but decided not to move forward on it. We remain open to the idea and will reconsider it again in the future."

This season's Winter Classic will be played on Jan. 2 between the Flyers and Rangers at Citizens Bank Ballpark in Philadelphia.

St. Peter said the Twins have reached out to the NHL Commissioner's office over the last couple of years and had regular communication with Wild owner Craig Leipold in order to continue to express interest in being the host venue.

"We understand that that decision lies ultimately with the NHL and I suspect that NBC probably has a lot of input as it relates to those choices," St. Peter said. "But it's our hope that at some point, perhaps in the next couple of years, we can be part of a successful bid to bring that showcase to Target Field."

The issue is that one would think for the Wild to get the game they are going to have to put together at least one excellent season. The fact the team lacks a big-time superstar also doesn't help.

This will be the fifth Winter Classic and the only one to be played in the Midwest was held at Wrigley Field in Chicago when the Blackhawks played host to the Red Wings. The other games were played at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo (2008), Fenway Park (2010) and Heinz Field in Pittsburgh (2011).

The draw of Minnesota would be the ability to feature the state's love affair with hockey.

"I got the feeling that right now the league is beginning to formulate plans for the game in 2013 and at some point in early 2012 they'll have a better sense of where they want to go," St. Peter said. "I'm sure they want to see what's happening on the ice this year with markets such as Minnesota.

"I know they're focused on trying to showcase Cup contending teams and premier players. Obviously the better the Wild do this year from everything we've learned that will enhance their chances of getting awarded that game. But make no mistake we would certainly be the host venue but it would be an NHL event and a Wild event."

All-Star Game bid on deck

St. Peter told 1500 ESPN.com that the Twins hope to deliver their bid for the 2014 Major League All-Star Game to Commissioner Bud Selig by the second or third week of December.

"Then the ball will be in MLB's court," St. Peter said. "They have not yet officially awarded the 2013 game, so obviously we won't get the 2014 game awarded until they get that one done. We're very optimistic but obviously it's not official until the Commissioner says so."

Target Field would be the Twins' third home stadium to be awarded an All-Star Game. It was played at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington in 1965 and the Metrodome in 1985.

Improvements on horizon

This spring, the Boston Red Sox will move into the $75 million JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla., not far from the Twins' spring training stadium.

While the Twins won't be getting a new stadium, they do stand to get improvements to Hammond Stadium and the surrounding complex. St. Peter said there have been ongoing talks with Lee County about this.

The county has hired the Populous architectural firm to create a master plan for the Lee County Sports Complex.

"That master plan, I'd suspect, would be finalized at some point here early in 2012 or before spring training starts in March," St. Peter said. "I think it will provide a road map in terms of the future of the Lee County Sports Complex. We're very much engaged in that process right now and talking about a lot of things.

"Certainly fan amenities are a part of that. There are a lot of ideas being kicked around. But in addition there's a pretty heavy level of focus on player development. Clubhouses, training rooms, weight rooms, another practice field."

The fact the Red Sox are getting a new stadium in Fort Myers did trigger a clause in the Twins current lease, "that basically assures that our facility be kept up to date," according to St. Peter.

"We're not looking for a new facility at this time, but we are looking to assure our fans of the same experience at the Lee County Sports Complex as they will get at JetBlue and ultimately that we have the same level of (advantages) from a player development perspective," he said.

Honest admission

The Vikings are 2-9 heading into Sunday's game against Denver at the Metrodome and first-year coach Leslie Frazier admits his real anger about the situation is with himself.

"I think our team has been fighting week in and week out and we haven't made enough plays to get over the top in some games," he said. "More angry with myself in not being able to get us where we needed to be so we wouldn't be 2-9, but I think our guys have fought week in and week out and tried to put us in a position in the fourth quarter to have a chance to win games and we just have to find a way to get over the hump so we can gain some confidence and build on that and hopefully that will be this weekend."

That isn't going to be easy with the Vikings facing a good defense in the Broncos and a quarterback, Tim Tebow, whom defensive coordinators have struggled to figure out.

Tebow is about as unconventional as it gets and while there are legitimate questions about how long he can succeed playing his style there is little doubt that short term it has worked.

"It does create some unique challenges," Frazier said. "You don't see an offense like this in the NFL where a quarterback carries the football twenty-two times (as Tebow did at San Diego last Sunday).

"It's unique and the teams that have played them prior to us have had to try to come up with a plan to slow down their option offense and not very many people have had the success in doing that and we've got to come up with a way of getting it done. It's unique but there are some things that we're going to try and do to hopefully slow them down and put ourselves in a position to win it."

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
In this story: Leslie Frazier
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