Word association time.
I say: "Met Center."
You say: "North Stars!"
I say: "Blackhawks."
You say: "SECORD SUCKS!"
It's the chant that every cold-blooded Minnesotan born before approximately 1980 still has tucked away in the dustiest corner of their soul. As I spend a few days visiting Blackhawk Territory, I am recalling some of my earliest and fondest North Stars memories. Willi Plett vs. Al Secord. Dino Ciccarelli vs. Al Secord. Basil McRae vs. Al Secord.
Secord was the goon that we North Stars fans loved to hate. Sure, there were enemies spread all across the old NHL, but Secord was special. He completed us.
The last time I was in Chicago for a significant amount of time was June of 2006. Granted, hockey season was over, but the Blackhawks were coming off a miserable 26-43-13 season, missing the playoffs for the seventh time in their past eight seasons. Meanwhile, baseball season was in full swing, with the White Sox as defending World Series champions and the Cubs still drawing like the Cubs. I don't know that I saw a Blackhawks logo in the city during the entire four-day visit.
This time, the feeling is much different. The Blackhawks, with their exciting nucleus of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, are fighting for the #1 seed in the Western Conference. Blackhawk paraphernalia is everywhere, from the guy wearing a Kane sweater in Chinatown to the dude in Hyde Park with the black and red parka and knit Blackhawk logo hat.
It's great for the NHL to have the Chicago Blackhawks relevant once again. They are one of the storied franchises in the league, and it is significant that one of the most important markets in North American hockey has a winner. I certainly enjoy watching the 2009-2010 model, and I have no disdain for them.
Therein lies the problem.
As a lifelong Minnesotan, and a lifelong North Stars fan, I should still feel the ire that burned at the sight of Al Secord, Dave Manson, Denis Savard, or Stu Grimson. I have become a big Minnesota Wild fan since their arrival, and I hate to be one of those sports curmudgeons ("Back in my day... "), but we have no natural rival. It almost felt like there was potential with Vancouver during the 2003 playoff run. Games with the Flames are always good for a couple of tussles. It's nowhere close to what we had in the old Norris Division. I fear that the Wild and their young generation of fans will never know a rivalry as intense and wonderful as what the North Stars and Blackhawks had.
Nor will they feel a hatred as beautiful and pure as what we felt for the great Al Secord.