It was a letter that made people read between the lines.
Jamie Leopold found it on the kitchen countertop in January. Written by her then-10-year-old daughter, Jordyn, on school notebook paper, it was a plea to the Minnesota Wild to ... well, you have to read it yourself:
Dear Minnesota Wild Coaches,
My name is Jordyn Leopold. My Dad is Jordan Leopold one of the Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman. Well my Dad is very lonly without his family. We are living in Minnesota right now and I am lost without my dad and so is my Mom, my 2 sisters, and my brother. My Dad is on a team with young guys and is very lonly and is not playing because the Jackets got him because they needed a D man. It has been since November and we can not take it any more. Well to get to the point the Wild have not been winning games and you lovly coaches are most likly mad about that but your team need's some more D men so can you please, please, please ask the Jackets if you guys can get him!
Love Jordyn Leopold :)
Dad, you see, had been traded by St. Louis to the Blue Jackets just before Thanksgiving, so the holidays had been a mad scramble. After about a year of living in Missouri, following six moves in 12 years, Jordan's wife, Jamie, and the children returned to their home base north of Minneapolis. Meanwhile, the then-34-year-old father of four was trying to make the best of things with the seventh different team of his 12-season NHL career.
"It was a little crazy," Jamie says.
"We were going home to Minneapolis to visit anyway, but we decided to stay rather than move to Columbus. We still had to get the kids settled in three different schools."
Jordyn's letter two months later was spurred by an assignment in school to write something persuasive. It was funny, sweet, heartfelt and, despite a few misspellings, very well-written. So Jamie posted it on her Facebook page. She also shared it with family friend Paul Allen, a sports talk host on KFAN FM radio. On his morning show the day of the March 2 NHL trade deadline, he trumpeted the letter.
Unbeknownst to the Leopolds, Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher had actually been talking to his Blue Jackets counterpart, Jarmo Kekalainen, about a trade for the hometown hero -- "Leo" grew up in the Minneapolis suburb of Golden Valley, married his high school sweetheart, won a national title and the Hobey Baker Award at the University of Minnesota and played on the 2006 U.S. Olympic team in Turin, Italy.
So right before the 3 p.m. deadline, Fletcher did something "lovly," acquiring Leopold for 26-year-old defenseman Justin Falk and a fifth-round pick in the 2015 NHL draft.
"It was about getting a left-handed defenseman with experience," Fletcher says. "But it was also about doing the right thing."
That night Mom and three of the kids -- 8-year-old Brooke, 6-year-old Kyle and 1-year-old Paisley -- met Dad at the airport.
"They picked me up with open arms," he said the next day. "I try not to get emotional, but it is. It's a great thing."
As they were hugging, the letter was going viral. Carson Daly read part of it on the Today show the next day. The house phone began ringing off the hook with media requests. When Leopold took the ice at the Xcel Energy Center that night, he got one of the biggest ovations of his career. About a week later, before a March 8 home game against Colorado, Jordyn was given the honor of saying the traditional "Let's play hockey," accompanied by both Paul Allen and her younger brother. She nailed it.
What made the letter so powerful was that it suddenly turned them -- meaning those highly compensated, presumably pampered professional athletes -- into everyday people with day-to-day juggling and night-to-night worrying. It showed that they too have people at home who need them.
"My biggest concern," Jordan says, "was that people would react negatively and think a spoiled star was just complaining about his life. As it turned out, people understood."
And as it turned out, the Wild made the playoffs and beat Leopold's former team, the Blues, in the first round. Unfortunately, they had to meet eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago in the second round. But Leopold played in nine of the 10 playoff games, the most since he played in 26 postseason games for Calgary in 2003-04.
It has been a noble career for the 35-year-old. He had 33 points to help Calgary get into the 2004 Stanley Cup finals and 35 points for Buffalo in the 2010-11 season before he settled into a role as an experienced, heady defender. His presence in Minnesota at the end of the season was especially beneficial to defenseman Matt Dumba. The 21-year-old grew up in Calgary rooting for Leopold and the Flames, and he got such a kick out of playing with his former favorite that on the night of Leo's arrival, he scored two goals. They soon became a regular pairing on and off the ice.
"I called him Uncle Leo," Dumba says. "He was a great guy, and our chemistry worked really well. He taught me all sorts of things on the ice, how to read certain situations and react accordingly. And I loved chilling with his family, the home-cooked meals, playing ball hockey with Kyle. ... It always reminded me that I was exactly halfway between father and son -- I'm 14 years older than Kyle, and Jordan is 14 years older than me. But he's also 35 going on 15."
Even after the season, the two teamed up on the northern swing of the Minnesota Wild Road Tour, a public relations tour of smaller communities: Roseau, Crookston, Bemidji, Grand Rapids, Eveleth, Duluth. Nice places, but they're not exactly Las Vegas. That's where Jordan really wanted to be on June 24, to see Jordyn win the Social Media Moment of the Year Award at the annual NHL Awards show and present the General Manager of the Year Award with commissioner Gary Bettman.
Given all those good feelings, you might be surprised to learn that as the Wild and other clubs open training camp this month, Jordan Leopold is an unrestricted free agent. Because of the NHL salary cap, there are scores of veterans who made $1 million or more last season and are now looking for teams, Leopold among them. Jordyn might be tempted to take pen in hand again to ask why that is, but the simple, hard fact is that the Wild have seven defensemen under contract and not a lot of room under the cap.
"It is what it is," Leopold says. "I'm in shape, and I have a few more years left in me. If the situation is right, I'll consider it. But after Jamie helped me to chase my dream for so long, it's time for me to help her chase hers."
That dream is Leopold's Mississippi Gardens, a wedding and events center in the northwest suburb of Brooklyn Park with beautiful views of the Mississippi River. They have transformed an abandoned restaurant into a spectacular venue with indoor and outdoor reception areas, a dining room with a dance floor, a full-service kitchen -- and eight chandeliers assembled by Leopold.
"First one took me seven hours," he says. "I'm now down to three hours."
It's opening this month, and they already have 30 weddings booked, as well as the awards dinner for Jordan's old Robbinsdale Armstrong High hockey team. The Leopolds will also renew their vows there this month for their 13th wedding anniversary.
"I've been spending a lot of my summer at Home Depot," Jordan says. "Go ahead, ask me where to find anything in the store."
The times have been wonderful but sometimes a little scary for the family. The worst moment came when Leopold was playing for the Penguins in Game 2 of a playoff series against the Senators in 2010. After taking a devastating hit, he lay motionless on the ice for more than a minute.
"Inside, I was freaking out," Jamie says, "but I knew I had to stay calm."
Stay calm is something of a mantra for the wife of a hockey player.
Leopold recovered in time to play in Game 2 of the next series against the Canadiens. After that season, he signed with Buffalo as a free agent and had two very productive years.
"That was one of our favorite places," Jamie says. "There were a lot of players with families, and four of us lived on the same block in Clarence, so we made some really good friends."
But then Jordan was traded to St. Louis in the middle of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, and the family eventually came along. The uncertain life of an NHL journeyman can be hard -- a "healthy scratch" is sometimes more painful than an injury, and Leopold had plenty of healthy scratches after the trade to Columbus. His return to Minneapolis wasn't just about home; it was also about closing one door of disappointment and opening another door of opportunity.
So there's a little irony to the main entrance of Leopold's Mississippi Gardens. The doors have handles that are Plexiglas hockey sticks. It's an acknowledgment of his popularity in the Twin Cities, of course, but also a bow to Jordan's career and all of the exits and entrances.
Not to mention the madness of November, when the family was happily settled in Missouri.
"I was at the rink at 6:30 a.m., ducked outside at around 8 a.m. to cheer on Jordyn, who was running past the arena in a 5K, went back to work out at 9, did the pregame skate at 10:30 and then got told at 11:15 in the shower that I had been traded to the Blue Jackets -- and that they wanted me on the ice in Columbus that night," Jordan says.
"I caught a 1 p.m. flight -- 2 o'clock in Columbus, remember-- and got there in time to change out of my jeans into my gear. Played pretty well, actually, because I had no time to think about it. The thing was, I had promised Kyle that I would be at his game the next morning, and a promise is a promise.
"After I talked with the media, I headed back to the airport, rented a car and drove the six hours back to St. Louis. Got home at 4:30 a.m., closed my eyes, watched him play and then we all went home and packed up my stuff. I got back on the road that evening, drove through an ice storm in Indiana that had stranded cars by the side of the road and checked in at midnight. Then went to practice Monday morning at 10:30."
A few days later, Jordan moved into an apartment complex, did a little dumpster diving and bought himself a "Charlie Brown Christmas tree" that only reminded him of what he was missing at home. So now you know why Jordyn wrote her letter in January.
And if you want to know why Jordan doesn't want to do that to his family again, climb into his motorboat on a beautiful August evening with him and Jamie, the four kids and two close friends. The Leopold compound has a dock right on the Mississippi, and the destination is dinner in Anoka, five miles upriver at the confluence with the Rum River.
After a delightful dinner at Billy's and a stop at Two Scoops for ice cream, everyone piles back aboard. Jordan lets Paisley honk the horn as the boat rejoins the Mississippi and the sun disappears. Look behind and you see a lovely wake attended to by a flock of ducks. But it's what's ahead that's making everyone smile.