By Heather Brown

MAPLEWOOD, Minn. (WCCO) — Longtime Wild fan Jim Ariola doesn’t mince words when it comes to the NHL lockout.

“I thought it sucked, big time,” he said, just minutes before he welcomed three of the Wild’s biggest stars into his Maplewood home.

Ariola got the word from the Wild ticket office on Monday that Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Mikko Koivu and Wild owner Craig Leipold would be hand-delivering his season tickets as a thank you to loyal fans.

The four men arrived right after practice and squeezed onto the couch between Jim and his brother-in-law, Rick Maki.

“This is unbelievable for a real, true hockey fan,” Maki said.

Leipold apologized to the entire Ariola family – sisters, grandchildren, daughter, uncle — dressed in Wild apparel sitting in a basement filled with Wild gear.

“We know the lockout was difficult for you,” he said. “It seems like our fans got the worst of it and, for that, we apologize.”

The crew stayed for about 45 minutes taking pictures, chatting about Finland, holding the baby and giving out gifts.

“It’s important for the fans to know we’re sorry for what happened,” Parise said.

Just before heading home, the three players posed with a picture collage on the Ariola’s wall.

It was of their 9-year-old grandson, Jack, who had passed away this summer after a brain infection from an amoeba in a Stillwater lake.

“It was very touching,” Barb Ariola said. “They were so sweet — very touching.”

Heather Brown