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With the death of Bob Naegele Jr., the State of Hockey just lost its father

Bob Naegele Jr.

LOS ANGELES — Bob Naegele Jr., the hometown kid who played the most pivotal role in bringing the NHL back to the Twin Cities two decades ago, died on Wednesday night due to complications from cancer. He was 78.

Naegele will forever be remembered as one of the founding fathers of the State of Hockey after he and his group, Minnesota Sports & Entertainment, bought Minnesota’s expansion franchise for $80 million in June 1997 and chipped in $45 million toward building the Xcel Energy Center.

To honor Naegele, the Wild will wear a patch with the initials “BN” on their jerseys for the remainder of the season, starting with Thursday night’s game against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center. The team will conduct a moment of silence before their next home game, Nov. 13 against the Washington Capitals.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of our much-loved Pop,” Bob Naegele III said 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.”

Naegele III recalled how his parents were enjoying the start of retirement in Naples, Fla., when the opportunity arose to bring an NHL franchise back to Twin Cities.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman needed someone to spearhead the movement, and Naegele stepped up, ready and willing to do whatever it took to get the NHL back where he felt it belonged since the North Stars left for Dallas in 1993.

“The National Hockey League, the Minnesota Wild and hockey fans across the State of Minnesota have lost a dear friend with the passing of Bob Naegele,” Bettman said in a statement. “More than 20 years ago, Bob had a vision, to return NHL hockey to the Twin Cities and to ensure that the great fans in the State of Hockey would have a state-of-the-art arena in which to cheer for their beloved Wild. He worked tirelessly, often in the face of long odds, to ensure that his dreams became reality.”

Naegele credited former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), then mayor of St. Paul, with helping him start the process, sharing his vision of an NHL franchise as the centerpiece to downtown renaissance.

“As a mayor, I dreamed great dreams, but it was Bob Naegele who had the skill and the faith to turn those dreams into reality,” Coleman said in a statement. “The result was the Minnesota Wild.”

A few years after the purchase, the Wild played their first regular-season game in the brand-new Xcel Energy Center on Oct. 11, 2000. That night, Naegele honored the sellout crowd in a pregame ceremony, retiring the No. 1 sweater as an ode to the fans. He explained that it was a tribute to the support and passion of the fans, proclaiming, “You are the ones who brought the NHL back home where it belongs.”

Longtime Wild center Wes Walz said on Twitter, “Trust me when I say this, nobody loved the Wild more than Mr Naegele, period. Strong in his faith and convictions but always, always cared about others. You changed my life, & gave me opportunity when you purchased the Wild, I will always be indebted and grateful. RIP Mr. Naegele.

Marian Gaborik, the Wild’s first draft pick in 2000, wrote, “I’d like to express my deepest and heartfelt condolences to Naegele family. Bob Naegele,Jr. was a great, honest and the family man with tremendous amount of integrity. Me and my family loved him dearly. He was a family to me. Thank you for everything! R.I.P.”

Naegele was the Wild’s majority owner until he sold the team to current owner Craig Leipold in January 2008 for a deal believed to be worth $250 million.

“A piece of his heart and soul will remain forever as a part of the Wild,” Leipold said in a statement. “We will honor that. My family and I are so fortunate to have the chance to build on the great foundation he established here.”

Naegele grew up skating on rinks around the Twin Cities and played goaltender for Minnetonka High School. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1961, and was married to his wife, Ellis, for 58 years. Together they raised four children.