Welcome Home: Ballard Signs with Minnesota Wild

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Go Gophers!Keith Ballard after the 2003 WCHA Final Five. 
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Link: Ballard Excited for Fresh Start (MinnesotaWild.com)
Link: Nick Leddy Re-Signs with Stanley Cup Champions (Gophersports.com)
Link: Jordan Leopold Inks Two-Year Deal with St. Louis Blues (Gophersports.com)

Former Gopher First Team All-American and eight-year NHL veteran Keith Ballard officially signed with the Minnesota Wild on Friday morning, agreeing to a two-year, $3 million deal that will bring the Baudette, Minn., native back to his home state. 

Ballard has recorded 165 points (36 goals, 129 assists) in 545 games and spent the past three seasons with the Vancouver Canucks, having also played with Phoenix and Florida during his career. The former Gopher was drafted 11th overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. 

"This isn't a big homecoming celebration," Ballard told Michael Russo of the Star Tribune. "There's a lot of work to be done to re-establish my career. It's an important year for me. I'm not overly wrapped up in [the returning home] side of it. I'm just focused on putting all my efforts into having a good year and helping the team do well."

In 123 games with the Gophers from 2002-04, Ballard notched 100 career points (33 goals, 67 assists) and helped the program win back-to-back national championships in 2002 and 2003.  The defenseman was a First Team All-American and a team captain in 2004 -- his final season with the Gophers.

Ballard is the third NHL veteran with Gopher ties to sign a new contract this week, joining Hobey Baker Award winner Jordan Leopold (St. Louis Blues) and Stanley Cup Champion Nick Leddy (Chicago Blackhawks). 

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