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Updated: January 6th, 2013 4:34pm
Zulgad: With lockout ending, can Wild recapture momentum of last July?

Zulgad: With lockout ending, can Wild recapture momentum of last July?

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

The excitement was undeniable.

In the heat of a gorgeous Fourth of July day, the Minnesota Wild managed to get everyone thinking about a sport played on ice by landing the two biggest names on the free-agent market on the same day.

Zach Parise and Ryan Suter each received a $98 million, 13-year contract that gave hope to a fan base that was watching a Twins team that was on its way to a 96-loss season and a Vikings team that had few expectations coming off a 3-13 finish.

The Timberwolves thought they would have a healthy Kevin Love - thought being the key word - but guard Ricky Rubio was still in the midst of rehabbing his knee after reconstructive surgery. And it isn't exactly like big-name NBA talent is interested in calling Minnesota home.

Wild owner Craig Leipold, however, had pulled off a New York Yankees-like coup by landing Parise and Suter and the celebration was on in Minnesota.

How significant were the Wild's moves?

Noted puck fanatic Patrick Reusse rushed into the 1500 ESPN studios on a holiday to do a few hours of in-depth hockey talk.

Meanwhile, the Wild's phone lines lit up with customers wanting in on the action. Within five hours of the signings, the Wild had sold about 700 new full season tickets.

The Xcel Energy Center again was going to be the happening place and the Wild's four-season playoff drought looked certain to end.

And then Sept. 15 hit.

That was the day on which the NHL's Collective Bargaining Agreement expired. The league locked out its players and then the wait began. The NHL had lost the entire season in 2004-05 to a lockout and appeared intent on doing it again.

As commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA head DonaldFehr battled, the excitement over seeing Parise and Suter in Wild uniforms began to wane.

Hockey fans again were reminded that their dollars could be spent elsewhere, and sports fans who had taken notice of the Parise and Suter signings suddenly were able to follow a Vikings team that was far better than anyone expected.

It was hours after the Vikings' season ended on Saturday night with a playoff loss at Green Bay, that word surfaced that the NHL and the NHLPA had reached a tentative agreement on a new CBA.

There is still work to be done and majority approval from the NHL's board of governors -- likely on Wednesday, according to ESPN - and the NHLPA membership is still needed before anything is official.

But it appears that a 48- or 50-game season will be played and there is chance the puck could be dropped as early as Jan. 15.

For the hard-core hockey fan this is great news.

But what about all those fans who suddenly jumped on the Wild bandwagon on July 4? The NHL and the Wild did a fantastic job of making themselves out of sight and out of mind for what should have been the first three-plus months of their season.

Now, Wild executives will open the doors and hold their breath that all will be forgiven.

There are some who will quickly forgive and plant themselves in the X for the remainder of the winter. But it's hard to believe that out-of-the-gate the Wild will be able to recapture the magic they had going for them last July.

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: Zach Parise, Ryan Suter
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