Flames’ Leopold returns to Minnesota

Brian Stensaas

The last time Jordan Leopold was on the Xcel Energy Center ice surface, he skated off with a national championship trophy in tow. As he exited into the locker room, a surplus crowd clad in maroon and gold wished the senior captain of Minnesota’s men’s hockey team well on his next endeavor: the National Hockey League.

On the same ice surface that harbored the national title in April, Leopold returned Wednesday night as a professional player skating with the Calgary Flames in a preseason match-up against the Minnesota Wild.

Leopold said before the game he took a little walk on the bench in front of an empty arena, just to take a moment to reflect.

“I didn’t have too many butterflies before the game (Wednesday) but I’ll never forget how this place was when we won,” Leopold said, whose Flames fell 4-0 to the Wild in front of a sold-out crowd. “The emotion was so great.”

Though he didn’t quite skate in warm-ups to the same rowdy Frozen Four crowd – a quarter-filled Xcel Center clapped unenthusiastically at the beginning of the pregame workout – Leopold wasn’t without his fans. A small throng of well-wishers, most in Wild attire, waited for the 22-year-old pro near the Flames’ bench and welcomed his Minnesota professional debut.

Al Leopold, Jordan’s uncle, and Al’s 11-year-old son Joe were among the handful of fans in Gophers gear attending the game not so much for the local pro team, but for the local pro.

“It’s a great scene,” the elder Leopold said. “I’ve been watching him all these years. It’s so great to see him suit up professionally. It’s going to be hard not to choke up when I see him play.”

The last few months have been a whirlwind of activity for Jordan. After wrapping up the NCAA title, he took a little time to himself before getting in shape for rookie camp, and getting married in August and honeymooning in the Bahamas. He’s managed to find time for it all, but Leopold has never been one to brag about himself: It’s always been about the team.

After receiving the Hobey Baker Award, given annually to college hockey’s best player, Leopold dodged the self-gratifying questions saying, “I’ve never won a team trophy. Nothing would compare to the national championship.”

Now that he’s done that, it’s on to the big time – a league where hockey isn’t a pastime, it’s a business.

“It’s a lot different in a lot of aspects,” the former two-time WCHA Defensive Player of the Year and first-team All-American said. “You have to earn your keep. I’ve made a couple of mistakes so far but that’s the game. Every day is a new learning day. You just try to put it in a positive mind frame.”

Though his spot on the final 23-man roster is not yet set in stone, Leopold wears No. 4 – a safe bet he’s all but locked in. Calgary coach Greg Gilbert said every game Leopold improves a little more and sees the ice a little better.

Leopold just hopes to chip in when he can. To date, he is without a point in three preseason games but knows his time will come. He had three shots on goal Wednesday night and eventually one will find the back of the net.

“I’m in the back seat now,” he said. “I’m at the bottom again. When I started out at the U, I was just the quiet guy. It’s starting all over now, but it’s a job.”

His hair might be shorter – he wears it in a style he intends to keep rather than the flowing locks of years past. His official team colors might have changed. But deep down, Jordan Leopold is still the same humble guy he was while playing at Minnesota.