Founded in November 1971, the first Fighting Saints team played four seasons beginning in 1972–73 under the ownership of nine local businessmen. (St. Paul attorney Wayne Belisle purchased the team late in the 1973–74 season. Belisle was the front man for a group of owners that included Jock Irvine.) The Saints' first game, a 4–3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, was played October 13, 1972, at the St. Paul Auditorium. The team moved to the new St. Paul Civic Center, which opened in January 1973. The first game in the new arena was on January 1, 1973, a 4–4 overtime tie with the Houston Aeros.
The team colors were royal blue, white and new gold. The name was taken from the St. Paul Saints of the Central Hockey League, who had used the nickname "Fighting Saints" in promotional material.
The team originally had three sets of jerseys—white, blue and gold—all bearing the Saints "S" logo on the front, with the word "Saints" across the middle of the "S." (The gold jerseys were rarely used, and were worn only in the first season.) When the Saints left the St. Paul Auditorium for the new Civic Center on January 1, 1973, the familiar "little saint" logo replaced the "S" on the white and blue jerseys. While a halo was part of the team's "little saint" logo in promotions and advertising, it was never used on the jersey.
At the outset, the Saints had a policy of favoring local players, with the 1972–73 roster featuring no fewer than 11 athletes who were either born in Minnesota or were at least American citizens (as in the case of former Team USA players Keith Christiansen, George Konik and Carl Wetzel). This was almost unheard of in the early 1970s, when few NHL or WHA teams had even a single American player. In fact, one of the players the Saints selected in the inaugural WHA draft in 1972 was Wendell Anderson, a former star defenseman at the University of Minnesota and a member of the silver medal-winning Team USA squad at the 1956 Winter Olympics. Anderson said he was flattered, but he chose not to join the Saints and instead stuck to his day job—as Governor of Minnesota.
The Saints never missed the playoffs nor had a losing record. Perhaps even more impressively given that they were in direct competition with the Minnesota North Stars of the established National Hockey League, the Fighting Saints always drew more fans than the WHA average. On a few occasions, the Fighting Saints drew more attendance than their local NHL rivals. They also boasted a handful of expensive marquee players such as Mike Walton, Dave Keon and John McKenzie. Eventually, it was the team's high payroll that largely contributed to its demise, as it was an expense that even above-average WHA gate receipts could not meet. More critically, due to the lack of a marketable star in Gordie Howe or Bobby Hull's mold, the Saints were unable to secure a lucrative television deal that could have relieved their growing financial woes.
In 1975–76, the Saints had a record of 30–25–4 and were second in the West behind the Houston Aeros when they ceased operations because of financial struggles. Saints officials announced on December 31, 1975, that the team was broke, and the players would continue to play without pay. (Belisle's group withdrew its backing at the start of the season.) A permanent buyer was never found, and the players received one paycheck in the final two months.
The Fighting Saints' last game was played February 25, 1976, at the Civic Center, a 2–1 overtime loss to the San Diego Mariners in front of an announced crowd of 6,011. The decision to fold the franchise occurred February 28, 1976, in the lobby of the Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport, moments before the team was scheduled to board a flight to Cincinnati for a game that night.