Being the elder statesmen of Hockey Wilderness, I come jam packed with a not quite unique, but different upbringing around hockey in the state of Minnesota. I was just 12 years old when the team packed their bags and moved to Lone Star State. The day they blew up the old Met Center is etched in my brain. The entire Western wall of the old stadium was stubborn that day, and took the wrecking ball to come down after the dynamite failed to spark.
You could describe the North Stars a lot like that Western wall at the Met Center. Stubborn, but tougher to get rid of than you might have planned.
The North Stars of course were part of the NHL's first expansion project. Prior to the 1967-68 season, the league had just 6 teams. The expansion in '67 would double that number, and Minnesota was one of 6 destinations chosen by the NHL to get a new franchise (and pay the paltry sum of 2 million dollars in expansion fees).
The North Stars enjoyed moderate success in the NHL, but had their hopes of hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup dashed twice in their history. In 1981, when they ran into the New York Islanders who won their 2nd of 4 consecutive cups, and again in 1991 when they lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins featuring Mario Lemieux and an 18 year old Jaromir Jagr. While the agony of defeat is a tough pill to swallow, nothing was more heartbreaking than what happened as a result of hit on January 13th, 1968.
In mid-January of '68 in a game against the Oakland Seals at the Met Center, North Stars center Bill Masterton would get checked by Ron Harris of the Seals, he would collide with Seals defensemen Larry Cahan and take an awkward fall to the ice, striking his head against the ice with such force that it knocked him unconscious, and caused him to bleed from his nose and ears. A day later, he would be pulled off life support and succumb to his injuries.
Ask anyone who was around for the North Stars years, and they undoubtedly have a favorite player and a favorite moment. From Keith Acton, Brian Bellows, Neal Broten, Bill Goldsworthy, Curt Giles, Danny Grant, Basil McRae, Don Beaupre, Dino Ciccarelli Jon Casey, Lou Nanne, Kari Takko (my personal favorite) and of course Mike Modano (just to name more than a few).
From the cup run in 1981, the improbable upset of the Presidents Trophy winning Chicago Blackhawks in '91, the subsequent cup run against the Penguins, the countless brawls with the North Stars biggest rivals in the Chicago Blackhawks, the "Secord Sucks!" chants, Dave Hanson and his movie career (he was a North Star only after he appeared in the movie Slap Shot) and for this budding hockey fan, a game in October, 1991 against the Boston Bruins.
On October 26th, 1991, the North Stars would welcome the Bruins to the Met Center. To this day I still have to look up the score to that game (a 4-0 outcome in favor of the North Stars). For a 10-year old little Noogie though, when sports of all kinds were pure in my little eyes, the game was merely the catalyst for the events that unfolded.
I've told this story more than once here, so it really should come as no surprise to you long time followers of Hockey Wilderness. For sports fans across Minnesota, there was a much bigger prize on the line just a few miles North of the Met Center. The Minnesota Twins were smack dab in the middle of their quest for a MLB Championship against the Atlanta Braves.
Perhaps there really were some Braves fans in attendance that day to see what this sport of hockey was all about, or maybe just some drunks having a little fun trolling an arena full of Minnesota sports fans, but for one reason or another you could hear the Braves signature chant, the Tomahawk Chop start to echo from the upper decks of the Met Center. What came next, was purely electric
"BRAVES SUCK! BRAVES SUCK! BRAVES SUCK!"
I've never heard a hockey arena get so loud. I'm not sure what my father was thinking of the events taking place, but he didn't open his mouth to scold his little guy sitting next him who was quietly joining in with the chant. I've been to a lot of North Stars games. My mother actually worked at the Met Center at the time so we got in for little to no cost, and occasionally I would end up in the disgusting underbelly of the Met Center even. Yet that moment sticks out in my brain like a giant shining beacon in a dark cave.
After the season finale of the 1992-93 season, the North Stars would be ripped away from Minnesota, and become the Dallas Stars. For me, I didn't completely understand what was going on. I knew we had a hockey team one day, and the next it was gone. I didn't understand the business side of it, the owner who was in it for profit and nothing more. It was not until I got older and started to read the stories and the rumors alike that the picture would come into focus.
Today we have a new team, the Minnesota Wild. For Minnesota sports fans of a certain age, the North Stars will always be our first love. It's the team we grew up watching, they are the players we emulated when we got out on frozen pond with our wooden sticks and dull skates. They are the jerseys we wear to this very day, with pride behind the iconic 'N' logo across our chests. The North Stars are, and always will be, Minnesota's team.
Have a memory or a favorite player from the North Stars? Share your moments in the comments below.