Jordan Leopold is going to be just fine if he’s slapped his last puck into a hockey net.
Business is booming at Leopold’s Mississippi Gardens, the Brooklyn Park wedding event center he runs with wife, Jamie Leopold, and GM Cathy Dunn. The venue is booked most Saturdays through October 2016.
“The plan was to play hockey, but if that doesn’t happen there are powers above that make other things meant to be, and I have a good place here in a family-run business. I do a little bit of everything. The only thing I don’t do is selling. I’m not a good salesperson.”
Sales are handled by Dunn, a catering sales manager at Northland Inn, now Marriott Norwest, for 18 years, who handled Jamie’s wedding to Jordan 13 years ago. Dunn has become like family to the couple. “He’s like my little brother,” said Dunn, to which Leopold said, “Like a son,” prompting a big ol’ objection from her: “You’re too old to be my son.”
They can agree that Leopold is just the right age to be a draw at the venue. I’m told that a lot of people book hoping that Leopold will be around on their big day.
“I’ll probably stick my head in but I do a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff, you don’t see.
He is around most days, mopping, mowing, creating ways to make the setup and breakdown go more smoothly. “I will answer a phone here and there, not too often. But if it has anything to do with the facility, that is all me. Moving chairs, ordering linens, ordering toilet paper or any of that fun stuff; landscaping. Do it or find someone capable.”
Leopold would prefer to stay in the background because he doesn’t like or need attention. Not even the attention that comes from the acrylic handles in the familiar shape on the front doors of Mississippi Gardens. He balked but they are finally growing on the father of four.
As you know, his brief stint with the Wild began after his preteen daughter, Jordyn, who wrote a letter in January directed to “Dear Minnesota Wild Coaches.”
She said her dad was lonely playing for the Blue Jackets, missed his family in Minnesota. “We cannot take it anymore,” Jordyn poured out her heart. And it worked. A trade was made.
Q: It’s got to be kind of disappointing after all the fanfare of your daughter, Jordyn, writing that letter and the Wild bringing you home so you could be with your family, for it to only last …?
A: I was there for three months. I ended up getting traded in March and I was here for the remainder of the regular season, which was about a month and a half until the playoffs. Really those three months … it’s better than nothing. The circumstances of how I came home to be with my family here already, and the need to be back at home with my kids was quite high. To be able to get that opportunity was amazing. I played college hockey here four years, many, many years ago, and I had that hometown feeling. I grew up here and to get the opportunity to represent my people, my family, was pretty amazing. Would I have liked it to be longer? Of course, but good things come to an end and that was the point for me.
Q: How many concussions have you had?
A: A lot. [He laughed.]
Q: How many were properly addressed?
A: In the NHL I’ve had, oh boy, probably three or four. Previous to that, another four. I’ve had eight concussions on the record, as far as doctor notes and all that. I don’t think any professional athlete in a contact sport has had zero.
Q: What more would you like to see, if anything, the NHL and teams do to protect players’ brains?
A: It falls upon the player, No 1. No 2: Medical staff throughout pro sports have a responsibility to do what’s in the best interest of the player. We’re finding that policies are there to protect players and make sure they’re fit and able to go out and play. There are certain checks and balances. A lot of it [is based] on how you feel. That’s a very tough thing to diagnose and tough thing to understand if you’re the owner writing the paycheck and you have this guy on the sideline [who] looks good. He looks normal. He acts normal but he can’t participate on the field or the ice. It’s hard. And as a player going through it, it’s even, I would say, more difficult. You sit there, you feel a lot of guilt. You get depressed. You don’t feel right, we call it “so-called right.” There are many things that fall under that — headaches, sensitivity to light. You can be irritable. You just aren’t quite yourself. Many times [he laughed] I’d drive down the road and forget where I’m going, when you are recovering from those things. The kids tend to drive me a little bit nuts when I am recovering from a concussion, as well. It’s not really talked about what’s going on behind the scenes, especially people with families, but it is very difficult. It’s kind of a silent injury that you can’t put a diagnosis on like you can a broken bone or a pulled muscle.
Q: Do you have any interest in being a hockey coach, agent, or in the front office?
A: I would never say never. Am I aspiring to do it at this moment? No. Will I be coaching someday? Probably. At what level? I don’t really know. Traveling as much as I have in the past 13 years it’s nice to be at home with the family and get some home time and be there for them. High school, college, I could see myself possibly doing, but for right now I think a little bit of a break [is a good thing]. I’ll probably end up coaching my son, the 6-year-olds.
Q: You played for eight different NHL teams, if my number is correct. At some point moving around your young family was just not desirable?
A: Yes. Early in your career you tend not to bounce around as much. You tend to be stable and that’s when you don’t have kids. [Laugh.] Then when you start having the responsibilities with kids and taking them to school and making sure they are grounded, you start moving around and there are goods and bads that come with it. Lived in a lot of different parts of the country and different cultures, different environments. My kids are able to adapt almost anywhere. But there comes a point in time when you say: Our kids are getting older and this is starting to affect them a little bit and this is home. For them, I’ll come back here and this is fantastic. We appreciate home a lot. I think we will be here for a very long time.
Q: When you won that championship with the Gophers they hadn’t won in 23 years?
Q: So in the State of Hockey, you’re a god here, right?
A: I wouldn’t say that. My son is 6. I remember when I was his age I used to watch the North Stars. Then the North Stars left and the big-ticket item was the Gophers. I always aspired to play for the Gophers. I didn’t really aspire to play in the NHL because I was a big college hockey fan. For me to get [to college] was a big accomplishment in itself. Yeah, 23 years and to make it even sweeter it was in the new Xcel Energy Center and we had a packed house. It was rockin’. To go back to campus after and see all the festivities, it was quite remarkable. Probably the best moment I’ve had throughout my hockey-playing career. I’ve had a lot of good experiences professionally, internationally with USA Hockey, but the Gophers, that’ll probably rank as No. 1 pretty easy on my list.
Q: You were one game away, with Calgary, from winning a Stanley Cup. Did you ever try to hold the cup?
A: Nope. I’ve never touched the cup. I’ve seen it. Unfortunately in the wrong circumstance. I had a Game 7 in 2004, second year in the league. We went to a Game 7 against Tampa Bay. Like I say, there are powers above and it wasn’t meant to be. There was a controversy in Game 6 where we scored a goal, potentially scored a goal, that would have won us the game in the late third period. We ended up going to overtime in that game and that game we lost. We had to go back to Tampa Bay and play Game 7. That was a tight game, they won 2-1, and the rest is history.
Q: Have you seen any NHL players do anything inappropriate with that Stanley Cup?
A: [Laughs] Like I say, I’ve only seen the cup a couple of times. Have I heard stories? Yeah, maybe. Most of the guys who get the cup end up doing something with their family, having a party and being able to share it with other people. We are fortunate enough as hockey players, where it takes a team to win championships. I think all of us understand that. It’s a support group. When you get the cup, most guys tend to share it with a lot of people. Of course, you have a cup of cereal and couple of beers out of it if you get the chance.
Q: Do you spend a lot of time explaining Hobey Baker to people?
A: You can. I don’t talk about myself a lot so it really doesn’t come up. But some people ask what it is and it’s the equivalent of the Heisman Trophy for college hockey. That was quite an honor but like I just said, it takes a whole team to support you. For me, I had a great team to play with at Minnesota. I [attribute] a lot of that success to all the guys I played with. It was a great environment. Everything was right. Those guys are still like brothers to me. I won a very significant award, but I wouldn’t have won that award without them.
Q: You really don’t talk about yourself. You’ve asked me as many questions as I’ve asked you. You are so grounded. Why are you such a grounded professional athlete?
A: Ahh, I don’t know. Just my personality, I guess. The way I grew up. Grew up in Golden Valley, I didn’t grow up with a lot. I grew up in a split family. My parents separated when I was 11 years old. It was tough being a teenager going through that. I learned first hand the best thing I can do for my kids is love my wife. I had two very loving sides, from my mom and dad’s sides, grandparents and aunts and uncles. I was the oldest. I was an only child and the oldest grandchild. I had a lot of love and affection, which was great. I also had a lot of guidance. My family members have made mistakes and some have told me, “Don’t make these mistakes,” because of what they have done in the past. They’ve taught me how to do some things and how to appreciate things. My grandparents’ home in western Wisconsin was built by the family. … Somebody needed a roof on their house, the whole family would get together, have a couple of cases of beer and we’d roof a house. We didn’t have a lot of new things at my house. It was needs vs. wants. If you wanted it you had to earn it, and when you had it you had to take care of it. It was as simple as that. I remember fixing cars in parking lots in minus-10-degree weather, just because we didn’t want to call a tow truck and [spend] the money. That’s how things work and how we work as a family. Even building this building. We had to hire someone to build it but there are a lot of small things that needed to be done. My uncle, my dad, my father-in-law, my brother-in-law, even my brother-in-law’s dad. They’d be over here all the time, sweeping, hanging chandeliers with me, moving chairs, whatever it maybe. [I’m very grateful.] It’s fun to go through that because it brings back a lot of memories. Maybe it’ll teach my kids something, too.
Q: You’ve got all your teeth?
A: Yeah, knock on wood; probably a softball will get me now. I wasn’t known as a fighter, was known as more of a lover and a hugger. I always wore my mouthguard. [Points at the camera as emphasis to young hockey players.] That’s one thing, too. I’ve had a few times when I caught pucks in the mouth and caught sticks and elbows and teeth were loose, yes, but it’s a very painful thing to go through if you end up having teeth problems. I’ve been very fortunate.
Q: Do you think you’ll still have Matt Dumba over as often as you did last year?
A: Yes. He’s always invited. I talk to him probably once a week, just check in on him and see how he is doing. I’m sure once things settle down here at the business, if hockey’s not going to go forward. If it doesn’t, I’ll probably end up going down to Xcel quite a bit. No. 1, because my son wants to go down there. He thinks he’s part of the team still. You form relationships with these guys and especially Dumba. I was in his shoes a long time ago. He’s a young kid; we get along really well. He enjoys spending time with my family [and it’s mutual]. I think it’s a good thing for him as far as keeping him grounded. Remind him what family’s all about. He’s got a very good head on his shoulders.
Q: Those distractions, some of them have to do with social media these days?
A: Oh yeah. Social media has changed the landscape of professional athletes by far. I came in 13 years ago when we didn’t have cameras on our phones. We didn’t even know what texting was. I saw it in Europe for the first time in 2001. We never had a camera on us; we could do some things we never would regret. Now everything is caught and posted instantly, you really have got to watch yourself. That comes with training, too. Younger players are made very aware of that through media relations departments. I don’t know if it does more good or bad but it’s out there.
Q: I don’t know if most people notice the hockey sticks as you are opening the main door to Mississippi Gardens?
A: Funny story to that. My wife, when we were building, said we needed door handles for the front. She didn’t want just anything, she wanted something more personal that said, “Hello, welcome to our building.” Before you know it she ordered hockey sticks and when she told me, I wasn’t very happy. I really don’t like to bring attention to myself. Now that they are on the door and everybody [who] comes in likes them and enjoys them, I guess they are growing on me. They are very subtle. Just acrylic. If you don’t know anything about hockey, you wouldn’t even know they are hockey sticks.
Q: How many tea parties have you attended?
A: Probably a dozen back when Jordyn was real young. We had a Magical Birthday Party for her once. All my kids are Disney Princess freaks and the boy is a hockey freak.
Q: Are there any tea party photos?
A: Probably not. That was before digital [cameras].
Interviews are edited. The contact C.J. try firstname.lastname@example.org and to see her watch Fox 9’s “Jason Show.”