Monday, April 15, 2013

Long Gone, But Not Forgotten

"It's Ludwig, giving it to Dahlen ... 4,3,2,1 ... and it's all over. The Stars lose it here, 5-3, and now it's pack-'em up time and on to Dallas. We wish them good luck. And to all the North Stars over the past 26 years, we say thank you, all of you, for so much fine entertainment. 

It's been a pleasure knowing you, Minnesota's loss is definitely a gain for Dallas - and a big one. We thank you, though, from the bottoms of our hearts, for all the wonderful nights at Met Center, when you've given us so much entertainment and you've been such a credit to the community in which you played. We will still remember you as the Minnesota North Stars. 

Good night, everybody. And goodbye."-Radio voice Al Shaver makes the final call in North Stars history.

The date was April 15, 1993. It was a warm, clear spring day in Detroit, Michigan. And it was the final game of the regular season, for Hockey Town's beloved team, the Detroit Red Wings.

It was a seemingly meaningless game for the Wings. They were locked in to second place (Second to Chicago) in the old Norris Division, with a playoff matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs on the horizon. It seemed that all that mattered to the Red Wings on this night, was sharpening up their game for the playoffs later that week.

But to their opponent on this night, the game was far from meaningless.

The Minnesota North Stars were the visitors at Joe Louis Arena that evening. They were losers of 10 of 14 (3-10-1) since early March, and had lost out on a playoff spot, ending a streak of two seasons of making it into the postseason. They were coming off their final home game two days earlier, which was a 3-2 loss to the Blackhawks, which clinched the Norris Division title for Chicago.

What made this night and this game more important than it actually was, was the fact it was the final game in North Stars history.

A little over a month prior to this game, Stars owner Norm Green announced he was packing up his team and taking them south to Dallas. At the time, the Stars were sitting on a playoff spot with a record of 33-27-9. But much like the hearts of every Stars fan, the team quickly fell apart after that announcement. They just played flat lifeless hockey, and in the end, missed out on extending the time of the team in Minnesota for another week or so with a trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

As for the game, Ulf Dahlen had two goals and Dave Gagner added two assists for the Stars, but five different goal scorers on Detroit (Including one from former Star Dino Ciccarelli) sealed the deal and sent the Minnesota North Stars into the record books with a 5-3 defeat at the Joe.

Once the game had ended, the Stars now belonged to Dallas, and Minnesota was left with nothing but the memories of their now former hockey squad.

Since the Stars moved on to Dallas, they became a power house for a decade and a half lead by their hall of famer Mike Modano. The team enjoyed numerous trips to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, including back to back trips to the finals in 1999 and 2000, winning the 1999 Stanley Cup. That Cup was was just as painful to Minnesota hockey fans, as the team's departure in 1993. It was simply a reminder of what we lost and what we should of had.

Perhaps the greatest injustice to all of this, is the lack of respect to the team's history the Stars show for their years in Minnesota. No division or conference championship banners exist in American Airlines Center from the North Stars years. The retired numbers from Minnesota (#8-Bill Goldsworthy and #19-Bill Masterton), are still honored, but the way they are honored is insulting (#7 of Neal Broten was retired by Dallas on February 7, 1998). And a trip to the Stars website, gives no history of their years in Minnesota, but merely a history of hockey in Dallas.

Its as if Norm Green took the records of the North Stars and tossed them in the Mississippi River on his way down to Texas.

Meanwhile, Minnesota hockey was still booming after the Stars left. The Gophers Hockey Team continued to be a hot ticket in town and High School hockey still continued to set attendance records at the state tournament (Sans those two years at the Target Center).

But the biggest victory for Minnesota hockey came on June 25, 1997 when an ownership group lead by Bob Naegele Jr, had announced they had secured an NHL expansion franchise in St. Paul, beginning in the 2000-01 season. Ever since that day in June, the Minnesota Wild have been almost more popular than the North Stars were at any point, minus the two Stanley Cup runs by the Stars (The Wild's 409 game sellout streak would greatly tilt the argument in their favor).

Even with the popularity of the Wild, the pain of the Stars leaving still exists. The pain will never go away. We were left with a terrible void in our lives that has not been easy to fill. But most times, the Wild have made us forget about what we have lost.

On days like this, we reflect on the great history of the North Stars, and we wonder what would of happened had the team not left us. Would they of won a Stanley Cup still? Would Mike Modano play all but one season in the NHL as a Star? The answer could still certainly be yes, but we will never know for sure.

Dallas may not honor the 26 year history of the Minnesota North Stars, but Minnesota still will. And here today, on this terrible anniversary of the team playing their final game, we still salute the first NHL team to play in this state. And we will never forget the memories they gave us...

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell

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