Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sharing some memories

A few weeks ago Dan asked me to share some of my North Stars memories. It took me a while, but I finally got around to it today. He's hoping this gets the puck moving and more of you join in to share your memories of the North Stars. 

I wrote something new here, but you can also find another of my North Stars memories on my blog, Beneath This Dirty Hood. Just look for the entry about Bob Probert, but please have a look around. I hope you enjoy, and please do share your own stories and keep the North Stars legacy alive!

~ Paul LaTour
Growing up in Duluth in the 1970s, the North Stars seemed more a dream than a reality. We could watch their games on KMSP once in a while, and we could pick up their radio broadcasts, too. But for the most part they only existed in the morning's newspaper and my collection of tattered hockey cards. It wasn't until I was a teenager that I saw them in person at the Met Center for the first time.

One of my clearest early memories is listening to Al Shaver's voice drifting out of my small transistor radio when I was 13. I was supposed to be sleeping because it was a school night, but instead I listened as the North Stars pasted Winnipeg 15-2. Scoring 15 goals seemed so amazing to me that I couldn't turn it off even though the outcome was never in doubt.

That was during the '80s. The North Stars were making their ascension to NHL elite by heading to their first Stanley Cup finals appearance. Back then to watch the playoff games in Duluth that weren't on KMSP, we had to go somewhere with one of those huge metal saucers known as satellite dishes. Our place was Skyline Lanes, a bowling alley on Miller Trunk Highway in Hermantown.

The owners set up a big screen TV in the carpeted walkway in front of the lanes to accommodate all the people who poured into the place ready to cheer on the Stars. (We always called them the Stars, too. That was before the shortened nickname became a slap in our faces thanks to the Bastard Norm Green.) We cheered as the Stars finally beat the Bruins. We later laughed when we learned a Bruins fan had dumped a beer on Kevin McHale, who made the mistake of cheering for his homestate team at the Boston Garden, the same place where Bostonians cheered enthusiastically for him as a member of the Celtics.

We jeered the hated Blackhawks and their TV announcer, Pat Foley. His description of Denis Savard and his spin-a-rama moves set us to yelling at the screen (because of the satellite we were forced to watch the Blackhawks' broadcast). We had a special place for where Foley could stick Savard's "magic wand." And don't even get me started on what things were being said when Al Secord appeared on screen.

Steadily, the North Stars were weaving themselves into our hockey quilt that stretched from Bloomington to Duluth and covered the entire state. During their heydays, the North Stars went from dream to reality almost overnight in Duluth. I'm sure it had a lot to do with my getting older and being more aware of things. But it seems to me the North Stars became more important to us at this point.

We all know what happened as the '80s became the '90s and the Bastard Norm Green bought the team. I've since moved to Chicago and even cheer for the Blackhawks now. I reconcile that traitorous switch by saying it isn't really the same franchise since Bill Wirtz died. I grit my teeth when they honor punks like Bob Probert and anyone from the 1980s, but enjoy watching Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews.

This wouldn't have happened if the North Stars still existed in Minnesota. The bitterness of their departure remains all these years later. But as I write this, I prefer to think of the good times. I want to think of Dino Ciccarrelli getting under Secord's skin. Of Gilles Meloche or Don Beaupre coming up with the key save. Of Bobby Smith using his long arms to stickhandle around hapless defenders.

These are my North Stars memories.

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