December 17th, 2000 - St. Paul, Minnesota. The upstart Minnesota Wild would take on the Dallas Stars for the first time ever on home ice. It is a game that still resonates with me. I was 13 years old and falling madly in love with new favorite team. I was old enough to know what the North Stars were and meant to Minnesota, but I cannot give you an accurate representation of what it was really like in the hey days of the North Stars. What I can tell you, is what it was like being in the building, in the very last row, when the old met new a week before Christmas.
It was my second Wild game ever. This night was circled on the calendar of thousands of Minnesota hockey fans. A packed house of close to 19,000 watched the pre-game teaser on the video board. Wild hockey-ops came up with a great montage, showing great moments in North Star history. The screen then showed the Metropolitan Center. It was a relatively nice day out with the sun shining, now that I remember. All 19,000 fans in attendance erupted in loud "boo's" and expletives when they video replayed to implosion of Met Center.
A guy a in the lower bowl was picked out of the crowd with a Wild jersey, with a custom-made nameplate on the back prominently displaying the words, "Norm Green Sucks." Fans began to cheer. After a montage of some of the great moments in the short Wild season a spotlight shone on the Wells Fargo Stage. None other than Minnesota's own Neal Broten was wearing an early-nineties Stars jersey. He was going to start the game with Let's Play Hockey, but before he said any words, he ripped off the Stars jersey to display the Wild crest across his chest.
If you've ever wondered what it is like to sit behind a jet engine when a jet-liner is about to take-off, being in Xcel Energy Center that night was about as close to experiencing the real thing. Even better is the Wild would pot multiple goals enroute to a 6-0 blowout of the Dallas Stars. In the middle of the 2nd period, a loud "Ed-die" chant broke out and wouldn't stop until the final horn. It was like the entire arena became one giant student section at a college hockey game to heckle Dallas' starting net minder, Ed Belfour.
Among those scoring that night were Marian Gaborik, and Richfield's Darby Hendrickson. Adding to the rich storylines in this game was Wild starting goaltender, Manny Fernandez. Fernandez was in the Dallas Stars camp before being selected in the expansion draft by Minnesota. Fernandez was also the nephew of Wild head coach Jacques Lemaire. I know most of the players in their post-game interviews were downplaying the game as just another game, but for Hendrickson, who grew up a North Stars fan before moving on to the Golden Gophers, and Fernandez, who really wanted to stick it to his former club, that game meant more to them than any of the rest of the team. The game also meant a ton to all the fans in attendance and those watching at home.
The phrase, "you couldn't have written it any better," was holding true that night. I get chills just thinking about the way the fans at the X were; the "Eddie" chants, and the pure distaste for Norm Green. I had already grown to love the sport of hockey by then, but that game cemented my love for the Wild franchise.