In this week’s episode, we skate back to the National Hockey League’s 1967 “Great Expansion,” when the league ambitiously doubled in size from its “Original Six” to incorporate a half-dozen new franchises – including the seemingly most obvious and overdue market of all: the hockey-mad state of Minnesota and its cultural epicenter, Minneapolis-St.Paul.
With a skilled management team led by amateur hockey pioneer Walter Bush, the Minnesota North Stars fielded a team-minded and quickly respectable squad of NHL journeymen, castoffs and amateurs that immediately won the hearts of the hometown Met Center faithful.
By the mid-1970s, however, the North Stars had fallen on hard times, with perennially poor records and few playoff berths – until 1978, when, in an unprecedented arrangement, Cleveland Barons (née California Golden Seals) franchise owner-brothers Gordon and George Gund acquired the team and merged them. Bolstered by an immediate influx of quality Barons like goaltender Gilles Meloche and forwards Al MacAdam and Mike Fidler – plus savvy acquisitions and draft picks like eventual Calder Cup-winning forward Bobby Smith, 1980 US Olympian (and Minnesota native) Neal Broten, and future Hall of Famer Dino Ciccarelli – the North Stars reeled off five straight winning seasons and reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 1980-81.
Author Adam Raider (Frozen in Time: A Minnesota North Stars History) joins the show to recount the club’s rise to championship contention, and subsequent relapse in the later 1980s/early 1990s – that ultimately saw: the Gunds trade for rights to a San Jose expansion franchise; Calgary Flames owner Norman Green opportunistically swap his interests for the North Stars; and, despite the addition of Mike Modano and a 1991 Stanley Cup Finals run, Green achieve villainy status (“Norm Sucks!”) by moving the team to Dallas in 1993.
If you are a fan of today’s NHL Minnesota Wild, Dallas Stars or even San Jose Sharks, the story of the North Stars is an important part of your hockey education!