Friday, June 15, 2012


Fred Barrett played for the North Stars from 1970-1983.
by Daniel Cote

Fred Barrett was a second round draft choice by the Minnesota North Stars in 1970.  He was one of the first players drafted by the organization to have a significant impact on the NHL club.  A rock-solid stay-at-home defensemen, he became known to the Met Center faithful as "Steady Freddie" - one of the most fitting and iconic nicknames in North Stars history. 

Barrett spent 13 years with the North Stars.  Only Neal Broten, Curt Giles, and Brian Bellows donned the green and gold sweater for more games.  More than any other player, Steady Freddie bridged the gap between North Stars generations.  He played with early legends like Goldsworthy, Parise, Gump, Maniago, and Grant.  He survived the roster purge and brutal losing of the mid '70s.  And he got to play with the likes of Smith, Hartsburg, Broten, and Ciccarelli when the team rose again in the early 1980s.

I met Mr. Barrett when he was in town for the first North Stars Alumni Reunion in March 2012, and during a great conversation with him at that event's closing ceremony, I learned that he's funny, smart, nice, and opinionated.  This was an extremely fun interview to conduct, and a pretty easy one.  I just had to ask a couple of questions and let Steady Freddie run with it.

North Stars Preservation Society (NSPS):  Thank you so much for taking a few minutes to talk to us.

Fred Barrett (FB):  No problem!  I had a great time down there at the reunion.  It was really fun to see everybody.  I have very fond memories of our years down in the Twin Cities.

NSPS:  Do you get back to Minnesota very often or was that your first time here in a while?

FB:  It was the first time in a while.  We were back in 1992 for the 25th anniversary (of the North Stars).  We moved back (to Ottawa) in '85 and I hadn't been back since '92.  So, yeah, that's quite a while.

NSPS:  Has Minnesota changed much from your memory?

FB:  Not really.  We stayed mostly in St. Paul (during the reunion) where the arena is, and that area's changed quite a bit.  Of course we didn't really spend much time in St. Paul, we were mostly in the Bloomington area.  Compared to a lot of places, it's still a very affluent, booming community. 

NSPS:  You were with the North Stars for longer than just about anybody.  And since most of the early players came via the expansion draft and trades, you were also one of the first homegrown players to make an impact with the North Stars.  What sticks out about your first few seasons in the NHL?

FB:  I was part of the first universal draft, which meant teams were allowed to draft what they needed.  Before that, if you played junior hockey in Canada you would be owned by whatever team had the affiliation.  If you played junior hockey with the Toronto Marlies, like I did, you'd be owned by the Toronto Maple Leafs.  They changed that after expansion and I think that was good for the players as well as the teams.  As an example, at that time in Toronto they had won a couple of Cups.  In fact, '67 was the last time they won the Stanley Cup.  And they had Tim Horton and Bobby Baun and all these great defensemen.  For a young guy coming in from the junior team you probably wouldn't get a chance to play for two or three years.  Maybe more.  The new draft system and expansion allowed players to get a chance to play earlier and allowed the teams to draft what they felt they needed. 

But it was a neat time to play, having Gump Worsley as our goaltender.  And Cesare Maniago.  My defense partner was Ted Harris.  He was 37 years old and I was 20, so it was like having my own private coach.  We roomed together and it was a great opportunity for me to have a mentor like him.  It was a big jump to go from junior hockey to the NHL and it was certainly great to have all those veteran guys to help me along. 

NSPS:  Harris became the coach of the team shortly after that.  Did that change your relationship with him at all?

1971-72 O-Pee-Chee rookie card
FB:  No.  When Ted was our coach the team had suffered.  Sammy Pollock of the Montreal Canadiens had used expansion very well to develop players for Montreal.  And he would lend, for example, Danny Grant and Claude LaRose and Bobby Rousseau.  Rousseau and some of these guys were near the end of their careers, but they were good players.  They put people in our building and got our franchise up and running, but when they retired Sammy Pollock owned all of our draft choices.  So we went through some really lean years in the mid '70s.  And it really wasn't until we merged with Cleveland that we really turned around into a competitive team.  We had six or seven real good players, but then we got guys like Gilles Meloche, Al MacAdam, Greg Smith... numerous guys that came over, and all of the sudden we had 12 or 15 good players.  Then for three or four years in a row we had good runs.  We went to the quarterfinals, semifinals, and Finals.  That was largely due to the amalgamation of the Cleveland Barons and the North Stars.

NSPS:  That leads into my next question.  How difficult was it to go through those, as you say, "lean years," where the team had seemingly hit rock bottom in the mid '70s?

FB:  It was tough.  You had to kind of develop a survivor mentality.  I basically broke down what I did as a hockey player and said, "For me to play well, I have to go out and move the puck quickly.  I have to play the body.  Get six to ten takeouts in a game."  Then if, say, we lost a game 5-2, you'd have to ask, "Okay, did I do this, this, and this?"  It sounds selfish, but it's the only way you could keep your sanity because we were losing a lot of hockey games.  There were a lot of players coming in and out and losing their confidence.  And I got that nickname "Steady Freddie" and it was because I had figured out how to play the same game night in and night out.  That's what I did well and that was the best way for to help the hockey team, by not getting caught up in things I couldn't control.  I couldn't go out and score three or four goals because that's not my style of play.  But I could go out and do the things I knew I had to do to play well.  That's the kind of attitude that I developed.  Then when we merged with Cleveland I had to prove it all over again.  You have to earn your job and show that you belong on the hockey team.  And I had some really good years after that, too

NSPS:  Do you remember who gave you the nickname "Steady Freddie?"

FB:  It was kind of created by the fans, I think.  Or maybe some of the sportswriters that followed the team every game.  I think the fans always appreciate effort.  When you see someone putting out the effort to do what they can do... I think that's where it came from.  That's the way I was brought up.  You work hard, try to do your best at all times, and it serves you well over your life.  And it certainly did with the North Stars.  The fans always appreciated the effort that I put forth and I appreciated that they were behind me.  They knew I wasn't going to be able to do it all, but that's what a team is all about.  Everybody does their thing and you put all those pieces together and that's how you become successful.

NSPS:  How sweet was it for you to make the Stanley Cup Finals in 1981?  Would you consider that the highlight of your career?

FB:  Yeah.  But it was hugely disappointing in the fact that I was hurt.  I think one of the biggest highlights was when we won the quarterfinals against the Montreal Canadiens (1979-80).  We knocked them off and it was just a total upset.  They were the dynasty coming off seasons where the only lost seven or eight games during the year, but Gilles Meloche got really hot in the playoffs and we started getting confidence and we were able to win that series.  Then we went on to Philly and we were done.  Emotionally and physically we were just kind of spent.  But then the next year we got a little further and we got to the Finals. 

That's what's interesting about this year's playoffs and a team like L.A.  They've just waltzed right down the pipe and they've only played about four games each series.  It's huge, you know.  We were so banged up and beat up because you play hockey every second day at a higher and higher level, hitting eight to ten guys a night.  I wasn't able to play in the final game, the fifth game where we lost against the Islanders.  It was disappointing because I had a leadership role on the team and I really wanted to play.  But I had a very serious charlie horse and I couldn't play.  It's always tough when you can't play.  I was hoping we'd get another chance at it the next year.  But you don't get too many chances, you know?  That's what you have to realize.  It's interesting reading some of these articles, one player on the L.A. team said, "I've been around here 10-12 years and this is the closest I've gotten."  And he's looking at Drew Doughty and says, "Here you are, about 20 years old and you're in the Stanley Cup Finals with a good chance of winning it."  It's odd, you know, you get players who just happen to get traded around and they've won three or four Cups, and they're not even major pieces of the puzzle but they just got to the right place at the right time.  That's how careers go.  Some careers, guys play their whole career and never get close.  It's one of the toughest trophies if not the toughest trophy to win.

NSPS:  In your last year, you actually played for the Kings.  I'm not sure if a lot of North Stars fans remember that.

FB:  Yeah, I got traded at the end of training camp.  It was one of those things.  They brought in a new coach and he didn't have any experience from the NHL point of view.  I don't know the man at all, actually.  I wasn't given the opportunity to play too many games in training camp.  I was 33 years old, I think, so I went into the office and I said, "What's the deal here?  I don't mind, I've had to come to camp and make the team over half of my career, but it doesn't appear that you're even giving me a chance to make the team here."  And he wanted to go in a different direction.  That was hard to accept for me, you know, because I had that North Star tattooed on my ass for my whole career, and it was disappointing that I didn't get much of a chance to even make the team that year.

So, they traded me to L.A.  Of course I had a wife, the kids were both in school, and I had never been traded.  It was a big decision to make.  George Maguire was the general manager of L.A. at the time.  And I'd seen this happen to other older players, where you get traded at the end of your career and you know you're not really in the long range plans.  You're just hoping you can fill a hole for a year or two.  I didn't want to move out to L.A. and then get traded a month or two later and have to move my family again.  You know, I'm still married to the same woman and we've had a wonderful life together, and I wanted to respect all the support that I've gotten from my family.  So I said, "I'll come out there, but I want a guarantee that you won't trade me mid-year."  He (Maguire) wasn't willing to do that, so I decide maybe it was time to hang 'em up.  I told them I was retiring. 

A couple of months later, Roger Nielson took over for Maguire and he called me and said, "Look, will you reconsider?  Will you come out and play the last couple of months?  We need a good, steady example for these kids..."  Because that was always a problem in L.A.  There are so many distractions other than hockey and a lot of the young players would forget the real reason they were there was to play hockey and not to take surfing lessons or whatever.  So I said okay.  I went out and played the last 15 or 20 games.  It was a good experience.  I got along well with Roger and Mike Murphy.  But the way the cards went, Roger was interim general manager at the time.  He had gone out there with the hope of becoming general manager, but the owner ended up giving the job to Rogie Vachon.  And they missed the playoffs and decided they had to rebuild.  I'm now 34, and you don't rebuild with a guy who's 34.  So there was a mutual understanding that they weren't going to offer me another contract.  And then I did retire.

NSPS:  Your brother John played in the NHL, too.  He actually played in one game for the North Stars later in the 1980s, but when you were playing he was with the Detroit Red Wings.  What was it like to play against him?

FB:  Yes, he played in the same division so we played eight times a year against one another.  He played a very similar style to me.  He was a defensive defenseman.  So it wasn't a case of one of us challenging the other.  It was great.  He took a different route.  He was a later draft pick and played a few years in the minors before he got a chance to play.  He then got traded from Detroit along with Greg Smith, who was one of my old partners, to Washington.  It was right when Washington had a very good chance to actually win the Stanley Cup.  It was fun to see him in the league.  I remember Ray Scapinello, one of the veteran linesmen, came up to me and said, "Holy shit, there's a guy in Detroit who looks just like you!  I thought you got traded."

NSPS:  So what are you doing these days?

FB:  Well, I came back to Ottawa in 1985.  My dad was very sick and he passed away that year.  I worked with Rollerblade when they were a young company out of Minneapolis-St. Paul at the time.  Then I got a chance to get on the fire department, so I took that.  It was the Gloucester Fire Department, which was a smaller city, then they amalgamated all the cities around Ottawa into one.  So I ended up with the Ottawa Fire Department and retired just two years ago. 

The fire department is similar in a lot of ways to hockey.  It's very much a team-oriented job.  There's a lot of big highs and a lot of big lows, similar to hockey, and you have to rely on your teammates.  When the shit hits the fan, you have to know that the guy beside you is going to be there for you.  It was a very good second career to follow up hockey.  I certainly enjoyed my time there.  I broke my femur in my first year as a pro in Minnesota, when I was 20.  I had a strong leg and never really had any problem with my leg other than the fact that it was ten degrees off.  The break was so close to the knee joint that they just put me in a cast.  They didn't plate it or put screws in because they didn't want to disturb the joint itself.  So I ended up with a leg that was a little bit crooked from that.  Even though it didn't affect my hockey career, it eventually wore all the cartilage off the side of my kneecap.  I had a knee replacement about a year ago.  As I got to my last couple of years in the fire service my knee was getting pretty sore.  It's a very physically demanding job at times, so it was a little bit trying.  But I got through it.

NSPS:  Do you remember what your reaction was when you heard the North Stars were moving to Dallas?

FB:  You know, it didn't surprise me too much because of... well, you know... the ownership.  As we saw with Mr. Green.  And I wasn't there when that was going on.  But even the Cleveland owners, they were good people but they were absentee owners.  They weren't like the original North Stars owners who were all local businessmen, who all really knew the community and really seemed to bond with the fans and businesses and stuff.  I think you need that, you know?  It seemed to change a little bit, even though we had success, under the Gunds.  The fans got used to having a pretty good hockey team, but then it really tailed off.  Then they had another run at it in the early '90s when they got to the Finals again.  But it's tough to keep a consistently strong team. 

The same thing happened here in Ottawa.  Actually, it was ironic because Craig Hartsburg, who was one of my defense partners, ended up being the coach of the Senators here.  About halfway through the season, things were not going well and he said, "Freddie, this team reminds me so much of the North Stars after we got the Finals."  About '83 or so, the work ethic had kind of slipped off.  Management had kind of talked themselves into thinking they had a little better team than they really did.  When you get that kind of thing going on you can quickly slip from being a top level team.  You've got to make some really good decisions as the management.  You look back at the Islanders when they picked up Butch Goring the first year they won the Cup, and he was unbelievable in the playoffs.  He took faceoffs, he killed penalties, he scored short-handed goals.  He was a great, great addition to that team to get them over the hump. 

We got to the Finals against the Islanders, and the next year we slipped.  Our work ethic had tailed off and I think management was guilty of thinking we were better than we were.  I don't want to be blaming anybody.  It's tough to see that stuff and make the right decisions.  Potentially, I think we could have handled it a little bit better.  But it's tough to kind of see the air going out of the tires.  As a defenseman it's a very simple game.  If you only have to handle one-on-ones and two-on-twos, your job is pretty easy.  But when you're always getting outnumbered with two-on-ones and three-on-twos, you can tell your team is not playing the way it should.  And if you let them constantly outnumber you, you're in trouble.  The reason they're outnumbering you is because somebody's not working hard enough.  That's up to management to see that and take action to solve it.

That's what Paul MacLean has done here in Ottawa.  He really turned this thing around.  They had a much more successful year, and it's the work ethic.  They're not getting outworked anymore.  They're coming back now in the third period instead of tailing off.  It's a credit to management here.  It took them a long time.  They went through four coaches before they finally got it figured out.  But it's a pretty simple game.  You've got to outwork the guy who you're lined up against and, if you can't do that, you're not going to win.

NSPS:  I think that wraps up the questions.  Did you have any final thoughts or anything you'd like to add?

"I had that North Star tattooed on my ass for my whole career."
FB:  I just really want to thank the people of Minnesota for being so welcoming when we got back there.  It was great to see so many old die-hard North Stars fans.  You've got a wonderful new building there. 

I had the chance to cumminicate with (Wild owner) Craig Leipold a couple of times.  I'm a member of the Ottawa Senators Alumni that we started in 1992 when they got the team back.  And I told Mr. Leipold that we had nobody that played for the Ottawa Senators.  The last time the Ottawa Senators were here was 1927.  So my brother John and I and a few guys got together.  We had 20 to 25 ex-NHLers living within an hour of Ottawa, so we said, "Let's put an alumni together."  That was right after the (Alan) Eagleson fiasco where he got sent to jail for stealing money from the pension funds, so we had a reason to get it going. 

Now there's the NHL Alumni, which is an umbrella group over all the alumnis.  I'd like to see the active players take a little more interest.  I tell you, I played for thirteen years, and that's a long career. And I've already been in the alumni for 28 years.  So when you look at it that way, it's to every active player's best interest to try to make the NHL Alumni the best organization it can be, to help as many people as possible.  It's an unbelievable group when you think about it.  You've got everybody from Sidney Crosby at the bottom end to, you know, Jean Beliveau and Gordie Howe at the other end.  Quite a remarkable group of people. 

It's unfortunate that the active players are probably not educated as to how different it used to be.  I remember going to Minnesota in 1970, and a first round draft pick would make twenty-five grand.  Then ten years later a first round pick would make $250,000, after the WHA had come and gone.  I don't begrudge the guys for making the money they're making, but... "Hockey's greatest family."  That's what they call the NHL Alumni.  I'll never forget, I stood up in one of the meetings and said, "If I was making $500,000 a year, and my dad was making $50,000 a year, and my grandfather was trying to survive on $5,000 a year... we'd be helping one another out."  Do you know what I mean?

NSPS:  I do.

FB:  That's what a family does.  So now you've got guys making $5 million a year, and you've got alumni who are 70 years old and their pension is five grand.  Five grand total, for the whole year.  They've done some things, they've improved some of the pensions for the older guys, and that's all good.  But, (younger players) don't understand.  One thing you can always learn from is older people.  They tell you how hard it was for them when they started out and got married, and they didn't have this or didn't have that.  We need to learn from that.  It's wonderful that the guys today have what they have.  They're very talented.  But you need to remember your history, too.  There's a way to give back and help the big group out.  I know Sidney Crosby's probably not thinking about being an alumni.  Or maybe he was a little bit when he was dealing with those concussions.  But it's a great group of people.  No matter whether I played with a guy or against a guy, he's a hockey player, and he understands what I understand.  You can go and see guys and right away you have an instant connection and instant bond with them.  The older guys seem to have that more than the younger guys.  I guess maybe we weren't as financially secure when we got out of the game.  We had to stick together a little bit.  Hopefully that continues because it's a great organization.  Paul MacLean, who's coach of the Ottawa Senators, I played one or two years against him.  When he came to town and I was introduced to him I was asked, "Do you know Paul MacLean?"  I said, "Yeah, the last time I saw Paul MacLean we were trying to kill each other!"

There's a good book out by Carl Brewer and Susan Foster called The Power of Two.  If you're interested in hockey, it shows how we went from no players' association at all to where we are today.  It's not a hard read, it's a couple hundred pages.  But it's a very worthwhile read for someone who's interested in hockey and the history of the players' association.

NSPS:  Thanks a lot, Freddie.  Like I said at the beginning of the interview, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us.  And thanks again for coming down to the reunion.

FB:  That was fun.  At first I said "Oh, I don't know..."  There was a lot of uncertainty about what was going to happen.  I'm really glad we went, though, because we had a really great time.  Brad and Lori Maxwell did a lot of work and did a great job of pulling it all together, and that's tough to do.  It's hard to get the cooperation sometimes.  But hopefully the new owner there will embrace the alumni.  Even though they're not Wild guys, they're NHL Alumni, and Minnesota's been a great area for developing hockey players.  There's a lot of guys there that could add to the success of that franchise.

Senators Alumni

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


by Daniel Cote

Propper battling in front of the net for the North Stars in 1991.
Before signing on with the North Stars in 1990, Brian Propp had a brilliant ten-year career with the Philadelphia Flyers.  He signed as the Flyers first-round pick in 1979 following a legendary junior hockey career (in fact, in 1999 he was named as the left-wing on the All-Time Canadian Juniors team... the others to make up the team: Mario Lemieux, Guy LaFleur, Bobby Orr, Denis Potvin, and Bernie Parent).  He played on a line with Flyers greats Bobby Clarke and Reggie Leach, scored 34 goals, picked up 41 assists, and made the All-Star team as the Flyers advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Propper's star continued to shine in the City of Brotherly Love throughout the '80s.  He made five trips to the All-Star Game while in Philly and helped lead them to three Stanley Cup Finals appearances (1985 and 1987, in addition the the previously mentioned 1980).  He is a member of the Flyers Hall of Fame and is third on the team's all-time scoring list, only behind legends Bob Clarke and Bill Barber.  Former linemate Clarke traded him to the Boston Bruins at the trade deadline in 1990 and he made his fourth Finals appearance that year.  A new sweater didn't change his Cup luck, though, as the Edmonton Oilers took care of the Bruins, making Propp 0 for 4 in the Finals.

A free agent following that season, Propp was reunited with Clarke in Minnesota.  He had a great comeback year during the regular season, finishing third on the team with 73 points (and second on the team with 47 assists).  He stepped up his play even further during the playoffs, scoring 23 points in 23 games during the North Stars' Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Finals.  Included in that total were eight power play goals -- a franchise record that still stands.

Ultimately, a Stanley Cup was not in the cards for Propper.  The North Stars lost the the Penguins in six games, making him winless in five career Finals appearances.  There were more milestones to pass before his career was over, though.  During the 1991-92 season, Propp scored his 400th career goal while playing for the North Stars.  After a three-season run at the Met Center, Propp signed with the Hartford Whalers for the 1993-94 campaign.  In his final NHL season he surpassed the 1,000 point and 1,000 game plateaus.

North Stars Preservation Society:  You're a legend in Philadelphia.  You were a five-time NHL All-Star and you're third on the Flyers career scoring list, but Minnesota fans probably know you best for the three years you spent here, including the 1991 team that made the great run to the Stanley Cup Finals.  You signed with the North Stars as a free agent in 1990.  Why did you pick Minnesota?

Brian Propp:  The year before I was traded at the trading deadline to Boston and I ended up going to the Finals with them.  I was a free agent at the end of the year.  Bob Clarke was the general manager of the Flyers and at the end of the year they fired him and Paul Holmgren took over.  Bob Clarke went to Minnesota and hired Bob Gainey, and then started talking to me.  Looking at the Minnesota North Stars, they had a really talented team and really good players for a while.  Clarke brought Bobby Smith and myself in.  Both of us were a little bit older and brought some leadership in to help solidify the whole team, especially in the playoffs.  I always liked what Bob Clarke did and I always knew the Minnesota North Stars would have a good team, so that made my choice pretty easy.

NSPS:  What are some of your favorite memories from your time here in Minnesota?

BP:  It was a great city to play in.  A hockey city.  When I first got there it was very sparse as far as the fan base at the games.  I remember at the first few games there were only five to seven thousand people there.  But by the end of the year we had the place rockin' and it was filled and we kind of solidified the team for a couple more years with the fan support by going to the Stanley Cup Finals that first year I was there.  Also, playing with some great young players.  Getting a chance to play with Dave Gagner and Mike Modano was a thrill for me.  As a bit of an older player trying to give back to the young ones and teach them, we had a pretty good unit that we did pretty well with.  As you get a little older -- and that was my twelfth season -- getting to the Stanley Cup Finals is always what you shoot for.  That year we just barely got in the playoffs, but we beat the number one team overall in the Chicago Blackhawks and we beat the number two team overall in the St. Louis Blues.  Then we won against the Edmonton Oilers, who had won the Cup the year before.  Then we came up a little short against the Pittsburgh Penguins.  But getting to the Finals is so difficult and having that opportunity, winning game one, and trying to win the Stanley Cup was the biggest memory that I have.

NSPS:  Yes, and you were outstanding individually in the playoffs that year, too.  You had 23 points in the playoffs that year including eight goals.  Did you know or do you remember that all eight of your playoff goals that year were power play goals?

BP:  They were, yes.  I should've had a few more on the regular shift, too!  The power play carried us through the playoffs that year.  We beat Chicago because they were so undisciplined.  We basically beat them on the power play.  We had a fabulous power play that year and that helped take us to the Stanley Cup Finals and we almost won the Cup with that.

NSPS:  That season, personally, was my favorite hockey memory.  I was 13 that spring and that was my greatest memory as a North Stars fan.

BP:  It was exciting.  Then the following year we ended up getting the opportunity to go back to the playoffs but we lost in the first round to Detroit.  That's not as memorable, losing in the first round, but it was a lot tougher.  Teams were ready for us during the regular season so it was a tougher battle all season.  Also that year, I ended up with a dislocated shoulder.  I missed a lot of games and wasn't 100% going into the playoffs.

NSPS:  I'd imagine it was harder to sneak up on teams that year.

BP:  Sure.  Same thing with rookie players and rookie goaltenders.  That first time around, a lot of times they're more successful because people don't have a book on them.  It gets more difficult as people get to know your style, know how you play.  You've got to keep improving.

NSPS:  I solicited fans on the North Stars Facebook page for questions to ask, and many who responded wanted me to ask you about "The Guffaw."  Would you care to explain your signature celebration?

Doing "The Guffaw" in Philly.
BP:  The Guffaw!  Sure!   I have the whole story on my website, but basically I ended up getting that from Howie Mandel.  He used to go to Atlantic City every year to do a show.  I was at one of his shows and during the show he said, "Hey, if you guys wanna mess up the next comedian that comes to town, rather than clap or cheer, wave like this and go 'Guffaw! Guffaw!' Wouldn't that be gufunny?"  And I thought that was kind of cool.  This was in the mid '80s.  I told my buddy who I was at the show with that I needed a little more personality after I scored and the next year I was going to start that.  Which I did, and it caught on.  To this day it's still a pretty big part of me.  When I see people they're doing the Guffaw to me, so that's pretty cool. 

NSPS:  Well it's part of your image now.  And it will be forever!  Back to hockey, a big topic over the last couple of years in the NHL has been concussions.  You had a pretty high profile one when you were hit by Chris Chelios in the Flyers-Canadiens playoff series in 1989.  You came back and played within the next few games, though, right?

BP:  I did.  It was the first game in '89 when he hit me.  I remember playing in the sixth game, so that was maybe a week later.  I did okay in that game, but we lost out.  They went to the Finals and we went home.  I think today the concussion issue is being addressed a lot more because there's a lot more knowledge on it.  Every player gets the baseline testing and their physicals at the beginning of the year, and teams and coaches and doctors know that their players are more at-risk.  They have better ways of knowing if someone has a concussion pretty quickly and know to not let them back out on the ice.  They take the precautions and hold them out for a bit.  There have been a lot of players that have retired because of concussions in the last couple of years.  There seem to be more hits from behind.  There doesn't seem to be as much respect in the league, the way I see it.  Maybe it's because there's more money at stake for the players and guys don't want to lose their job so they do whatever they can to keep it.  I just see a lot more hitting from behind and guys not letting up or knowing when to hit somebody, or guys even putting themselves in bad positions to get hit.  And I'm not even sure if that's not because of these rule changes where you're not allowed to stand somebody up as they're coming into the zone.  I feel bad for defensemen now, they just get cranked all day long.

NSPS:  In hindsight, do you think you came back from that concussion too early?

BP:  No, no.  I was okay.  There are two types of concussions.  One is when you get hit and it's on the memory side of your brain.  The other side, where a lot of players really struggle, is the equilibrium and balance.  Those are the guys that don't feel well.  They can't drive.  It just takes a lot longer to heal.  For me it was the memory side, which you know... to this day my wife says I've got a good excuse.  But I was okay, I just had to be mentally prepared to go out there and play my game.  I think I had a goal and an assist in the game, too.  It took a couple of years.  Going into the corner you get that reflex, maybe you watch out a little bit, but I got over that, too. 

NSPS:  You finished your career with over 1,000 points, which puts you in pretty exclusive company.  Did you pay much attention to statistics and individual honors?  And was 1,000 points a goal of yours?  Or was that all just something you thought of after the fact?

BP:  I was always a team player, but anytime you're close to a career milestone... of course I was looking at it with Hartford in that last year.    I got my 1,000th point and my 1,000 game in the same month and those were two milestones that I definitely wanted to get.  Once I hit them I was able to go sign a contract to play in France the following year without worrying about it.  I think if I had been just short I would have wanted to do whatever I could to hook on with another team to try to get that.  And the following year was the lockout year, so I was glad that I got it when I did.

NSPS:  What was it like playing in Hartford?

BP:  We had some talented players, just fell a little too far behind in the middle part of the season to make the playoffs.  A little disappointing, but I got to play with Chris Pronger in his first year in the league. And Brad McCrimmon was there, and a bunch of guys that I knew and had played with.  We worked hard, it was just disappointing that we didn't get into the playoffs.

NSPS:  Getting back to the North Stars, we touched a little bit earlier on the year after the Stanley Cup Finals run.  The 1991-92 season was the year where the new black uniforms were unveiled, replacing the classic "N" logo with the word "Stars."  Did you think that was a sign that there were thoughts of moving the team?

Autographed 1991-92 Upper Deck card
BP:  Yeah, I think everybody knew that.  There was a lot of talk about that with Norm Green, that he had been looking around.  As players, we still had a job to do so mentally we just had to not let that bother our play.  Because no matter what we still had a job to perform.  And there was not much we could really do but play our best.  You want to make sure you keep your job.  That was just kind of my thought process.  Mentally, I always try to be prepared.  You block out the negatives and concentrate on what you have to do to be successful. 

NSPS:  What is Brian Propp doing these days?

BP:  I work for the Judge Group.  If you see my website we have a good description there.  We have an office in Minnesota.  We have 27 offices throughout the U.S.  I'm helping to develop Canada and we're also in China.  Basically what our company does is technology consulting.  A large percentage of our work is staffing, whether it's contract workers or firm workers.  We also have a training company and a unified communications audio/video company, and a mobile app division.  We work with the United Health Group.  We have a health care and medical practice.  We do a lot of staffing and help a lot of people find work. 

NSPS:  Are you still involved in hockey?

BP:  We have a Flyer Alumni.  We play about 8 to 10 games during the year.  It's fun to be involved with that.  This past season I did a TV show with Lou Tilley, a sports broadcaster here.  So every week I was doing a little show on the Philadelphia Flyers.  That's on  We just finished up our last show this past week because the Flyers are out of the playoffs, but I did that all season long and may do that next year, too.

NSPS:  Have you been watching much of this year's playoffs?

BP:  The playoffs have been awesome.  Great hockey!  It's quite a battle, so we'll see what happens.  L.A.'s playing really well.  And the Devils and Rangers is a pretty good series, too.

Linkage: (official website)
Propper Hockey on livestream

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Maxy winds up for one of his blistering slapshots.
by Daniel Cote

At the end of March 2012, the Minnesota NHL Alumni Association held the first ever Minnesota North Stars Reunion.  It was the first such event since the Stars were taken to Dallas some nineteen years ago. 

The heaviest lifting in organizing the reunion was done by Brad & Lori Maxwell.  Old school fans remember Brad Maxwell as the physical All-Star defenseman who spent most of his 10 year career in green and gold.  These days, he's the guy who keeps the old band together.  He is the president of the Alumni Association, where along with other former North Stars and ex-NHL players who call Minnesota home, he participates in charity games and events, raising money for local hockey organizations and causes.

For his day job, Maxy has owned and operated Brad Maxwell Custom Cabinets & Fireplace Mantels for the last two decades.  He took a short break from his workshop to chat with us on Thursday afternoon.  Over a 40 minute conversation, we recapped the North Stars Reunion, discussed what's next for the Alumni Association, talked about his career, and covered the current NHL Playoffs and the state of our current home team, the Minnesota Wild.

North Stars Preservation Society:  I guess the first thing I'd like to do is recap the North Stars Reunion weekend.  Now that we've had a couple of weeks to reflect on it, how do you think it went?  Would you consider it a success?

Brad Maxwell:  I think it went really well.  For a first-time deal, it was really good.  I'm happy with how things turned out.  The dinner turned out exactly the way that I wanted it to, with guys telling stories and stuff.  People were totally mesmerized listening to the stories that these guys we're telling.  And I've heard that before.  We did some of that with the Wild, at fan fests and stuff like that, and people really like it.  So I liked how the dinner worked out.  On Friday I took all the guys to David Brooks' place in downtown St. Paul and we had a good time with that.  And on Saturday we had the game and the event at Wild Tymes, and that turned out pretty good.  And I think Thursday worked out really good.  I was hoping that the Wild would have a better crowd.  I wish we'd have done it on Saturday.  It seemed like they had a lot more people.  But I know they were trying to use us to sell that (Thursday) game against Florida, which hadn't sold (as well), but it worked out okay.

NSPS:  A lot of people commented on the North Stars Facebook page that a North Stars reunion game should be against the Blackhawks.  Or even against the Red Wings or Blues.  But a Blackhawks game is going to sell out anyway.

BM:  Yeah, they wouldn't really need that.  And that's kind of how they wanted to use us, to see if we could get some people to come in for the Florida game, because their ticket sales were really down for that game.  It worked well.  We kind of had to coordinate it with Earle Brown Center, where we signed autographs, so we kind of had to do it that weekend.  It would have maybe been nice to have not done the Thursday deal, but done the Friday dinner and then done the Saturday game where they had more of a full house.  That might have been a little more exciting.  When you go out there with the guys and the building is half-empty, that's not a good sign.

NSPS:  Could you tell that there were more North Stars jerseys and shirts than usual in the crowd?

BM:  Yep.  There were quite a few people.  There were a couple of things I wish they would have done.  One of the things was I wish they would have had the current players on the ice (when they introduced the North Stars).  They introduced us before the game, and not everybody had gotten to their seats yet.  A lot of people were standing up on the concourse or up having a beer.  They weren't really sitting in their seats.  And they maybe could have had a flyer that said we were going to do this as part of the game so that people would know a little bit about what was going on.  But, everybody thought it was good.

NSPS:  So what are the chances of future reunions?

BM:  I think we'll do another one.  The guys who did come said that maybe in a couple years we could do something.  Maybe we can get some different players to come in next time.  One thing about that weekend is that with spring break guys like Danny Grant couldn't come.  Danny O'Shea, Ernie Hicke, some of the other guys we invited said, "We'd love to come," but with spring break weekend they had made other plans and it's kind of hard to break that. 

NSPS:  If you had to pick one thing, what was the highlight for you, personally, of the reunion weekend?

BM:  I think it was the dinner.  Because I love the stories.  We had about four generations of players there.  Like Tom Reid, who played before me and I played a little bit with him.  You had J.P. (Parise) up there, and Barry Gibbs.  You had the older generation of players, then you had my generation and some after, and just listening to the stories that the guys tell... even myself, I'm fascinated by the stories.  Some I'd heard, some I hadn't, and they're always funnier than heck.  For me the dinner was really the highlight.  I was really happy with the way that went. 

NSPS:  I agree with you, that was my favorite part, too.  Just as a fan, that was an unbelievable experience.  It was really cool to see how genuine all of the players were.  They all just seemed like good guys.

BM:  They really are.  We go back to that.  We played, just like the current players, but I think there's a different breed of player nowadays.  I don't know if it's the money or what.  It's not the league.  We played in the same league.  Maybe it's the money that some of them feel puts them on a different level.  But the older players, they're all just down to earth.  They did everything that we asked them to do.  We had them running around on a Thursday night doing stuff around the Xcel.  We did the autograph signing.  Nobody said, "No, I don't want to do that."  Everybody went along and said, "Yep.  We're happy to do it."  And they like to talk to people.  And the older players, they like when they get a little notoriety, which they once had a long time ago.  And when you've got people coming up to, say, Willi Plett, and saying "Willi, I loved when you played.  You were one of the toughest players!"  We may go, "Yeah yeah yeah," you know?  But it's still always nice to hear that. 

NSPS:  Have you been watching any of the NHL Playoffs?

BM:  I have, actually.  I had a date night with Lori last night.  We had to watch the Philly game because after that last one... she likes that old time hockey, just like me.  And that's what it is, it's just amazing hockey.  Then I watched a little bit of the Vancouver game last night.  It's great to watch, you know?  You get into the playoffs and the players are playing as hard as they can play and they're doing whatever they have to do to win a game.  It's exciting to watch.  You watch the regular season and it kind of drags on a little bit, but when you get to playoff hockey it's pretty exciting. 

NSPS:  There's nothing like playoff hockey.  It's been a lot more physical this year.

BM:  It has.  I was watching Kris Letang from Pittsburgh, and that's a guy the Wild should go after.  He's a great defenseman.  He's physical, he's tough, but he's great on the power play.  That's the kind of defenseman the Wild need, is Letang.  I've been watching him quite a bit.  He's really good.  And sure it would be nice to get a Crosby, but maybe they can get Zach Parise.  I don't know if he'll come up but I know they're working on that.  I just think the Wild need a few real good defensemen and a couple of tough guys, a couple of guys who can bump in the corners, and they might be on their way.

NSPS:  Well they've never really had a defenseman like that.  Brent Burns was probably the closest thing, but he wasn't quite Letang.

BM:  Yeah, Burns got what he got.  Playing out in San Jose now, you get a little more media and you're probably expected to play a little bit more, and you have to show up every game.  I don't know if Burns, when he was here, played as hard as he could every game or not.  I don't know if he did that.  But when you go to some of these bigger towns with more media, they expect you to play.  Like the East Coast, if you're playing out there with Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and the Rangers, you better play every night or there's a lot of press out there who will really get on you. 

NSPS:  Any predictions at this point?  Who's gonna win it?

BM:  If I was a betting guy, I think Pittsburgh is going to come back and beat Philadelphia, even after being down 3-0.  I just think they have a better team, and now after last night's game they seem to have figured out how to play against Philly.  We'll see what happens there.  Other than that, I don't know.  I haven't seen New Jersey play.  Boston's great, you know.  I think Nashville will beat Detroit.

NSPS:  Nashville's my pick.  Kind of an underdog pick, but even before the series started, I just feel like they've got the goalie and big time defensemen to get it done.  Anyway, let's talk a little bit about your career.  You had a couple of stints here, but the main one was about seven or eight years?

BM:  Yeah.  I was there seven years.  I was a first round pick in 1977 and I came in and played until 1985.  I got traded to Quebec in '85.  I played half a year in Quebec and the taxes there were so hard.  That's why they don't have a team anymore, because nobody wanted to play there because their taxes were pretty tough.  Then I ended up in Toronto for about a year and a half.  I got hurt, we were playing in Chicago one night and I tore my hamstring and I never really got back on my game after that.  I went to Vancouver for about six months and was dealing with the same thing.  Then the Rangers picked me up and I went there for maybe a month and a half or two months, and then I got traded back to Minnesota.  That was '87, which was really great because I had a chance to play under Herb Brooks.  Herbie was a great guy.  I knew him from when he coached the Gophers and the USA Olympic team, but I never really got to know him that well.  But playing underneath him, he was just a great, great coach.  I'm glad I had a half a year under him anyway.

NSPS:  What made you decide to retire?  Was it the injuries?

BM:  Yeah, but not only that.  I played ten years.  I came back and I went to training camp here in '88.  I was in really good shape in camp but J.P. Parise came to me and said, "Maxy, you'd make the team," but my contract had run out.  Lou Nanne had traded for a couple other defensemen in the summer and with the numbers and contracts and stuff like that...  and I could have went to Washington and I should've kept playing.  But it's just that I'd traveled around.  In two and a half years, I had played for four teams.  That seemed like a lot.  And you know, you kind of lose your worth a little bit.  In hockey, I think when you're a first round pick and you play for one team, you're gold, but then you get traded away a couple times and you start going from a porterhouse to a t-bone, and pretty soon you're nothing but a hamburger.  Your value drops immensely once you get traded a few times.  I should've kept playing but the hamstring did have a big responsibility for me retiring. 

NSPS:  Looking at your career stats, the year that really jumps out is the 1983-84 season.  19 goals, 54 assists, 73 points, 225 penalty minutes.  Career highs across the board.  What was different that season?

Autographed 1983-84 O-Pee-Chee card.
BM:  That was a great year!  If I was playing now and I had those stats, I'd be a rich man!

NSPS:  You would be!  With those stats, you'd probably be a Norris Trophy winner!

BM:  Yeah, I think what is was, Dan, is that year Lou Nanne had hired a guy named Bill Mahoney as the coach.  He came in, a really down to earth guy.  He was very talented, and he let me play.  That was the thing with some coaches in the past, sometimes you'd take a bad penalty and they'd sit you for a few shifts and you'd get a little upset.  But with Mahoney, he just let me play.  He let me play power play, regular shift.  I killed penalties, which I had never done under anyone else.  He played me a lot.  And also that year Craig Hartsburg had got hurt and he wasn't playing so I felt I had to pick up the slack a little bit.  But it was just a fun year and I ended up playing in the All-Star Game.  It was a good time.

NSPS:  Why didn't Mahoney stick around?  He was only here for a year or two, right?

BM:  Well, I think what happened is that we finished first overall in our division that year and we played Chicago, who had finished fourth.  And Chicago beat us out in the first round of the playoffs and that didn't go well with Louie.  He wanted to win and felt he had the team to do it, so he replaced Bill, and that's what happened.  There's a lot of good coaches that have had one really good year and then maybe they go through a tough start the next season and the general manager just gives up on you and finds somebody new to put in there.

NSPS:  You got into a few spars on the ice during your career...

BM:  A couple.

NSPS:  Did you have a favorite guy to fight?

BM:  Not really.  I never wanted to fight, you know?  I wanted to play.  But back in those days each team had six to eight physical players.  So you'd get in a game and maybe somebody took a cheap shot at Dino.  You'd jump in there and help support your goal scorers.  And you'd go in there and then you'd have to fight (Al) Secord or fight (Stan) Jonathan.  Then there's (Terry) O'Reilly, and it just kind of keeps going.  I really didn't want to play that way, but my dad told me when I first got into the league, "If somebody looks at you sideways, you might as well hit him first.  You can always say sorry when he's on the ground."

NSPS:  That's good fatherly advice!

BM:  I thought it was!

NSPS:  Well, since you mentioned him, one of the Facebook page fans, Mike Rendahl, wants me to ask you if Secord still sucks?

BM:  Well... yeah.  Lori told me you were going to ask me that.  It's really funny because it was such a great rivalry.  A lot of that stuff is showmanship, but you know Al's a really nice guy.  I can remember after I retired, I think it was in about 1990, we went to Calgary.  There was a 3-on-3 event they had up in Calgary and Donnie Beaupre and I, and Timmy Young and some other guys from here went up there to play, and Chicago was supported by Secord and (Steve) Larmer and (Denis) Savard.  And we're in the same locker room getting dressed and talking just like you would anybody else.  There were no grudges or whatever.  What happened on the ice just kind of stayed on the ice.  But I think if you talked to Dino, he'd probably be the one to ask about Secord.  He probably wouldn't say good stuff.  But I don't think I ever had a fight with Al.  I think we squared off a couple times but nothing ever happened.  It was more mutual respect, I guess.

NSPS:  I've heard he's actually a good guy.

BM:  If you can believe it, now I think he's an airline pilot.  Delta or something.  You don't want to lip off your pilot when you're flying with him.

NSPS:  You're now in the custom cabinet and fireplace mantel business.  How long have you been doing that?

BM:  I've been doing that since about '89.  I had a really good friend who owned a brick company in Plymouth, and when I quit playing he offered me a job.  So I went and sold brick and sold gas fireplaces for a couple of years.  Then I wanted to do something on my own and I just kind of started doing fireplace mantles.  It was back when builders were building mega-houses.  Within two years I had 50 builders that I was just doing fireplace mantles and marble surrounds for, and I kind of grew into doing bookshelves and entertainment centers for people.  And after all this time, I've started doing kitchens too, but I still do a little bit of everything.  Fireplace mantles, bars, entertainment centers.  All sorts of stuff. 

NSPS:  Did you have a background in that before you started the business?

BM:  I did not.  I had no education.  I just have always been the type of person who, when I look at something, I can pick it up and make it work.  Guys always used to bug me about my hockey sticks because I used to work on my sticks all the time.  It was back when they weren't fiberglass or weren't the synthetic blades.  They were wood blades and you could shave them up, you could curve them.  Back then on game days I would spend an hour or two fixing a half-dozen sticks for the game that night.  So people always said to me, "When you get out of hockey, you'll probably do something in the wood business."  My dad was really handy, too.  He did a lot of things and I learned a lot from him.  But I just kind of picked it up as I went along. 

NSPS:  And how's business?

BM:  Business is good.  It's all word of mouth.  I don't advertise, but I give away tons of business cards to people.  Friends of friends of friends.  The other day I did a job for a guy who I did an entertainment center for about 14 years ago.  He called me up and wanted to remodel it a little bit.  People keep my name and my cards and refer me to a lot of their friends.  It's really nice.  And their kids are getting older, so people who I did stuff for 15 to 20 years ago, I'm doing stuff for their kids now.  It works out great!

NSPS:  The North Stars Reunion has passed, but the Minnesota NHL Alumni Association is still busy.  I saw you just announced your 2012 golf event.

BM:  July 12 in Hastings.  Yeah, we get rid of one thing and we get to jump on something else!  The reunion is over so now I get to deal with the golf tournament.  And Lori does a lot of work.  She helps out the Alumni immensely, keeps me on track, keeps me aware of the things I need to do.  So I'm working on that and I'm also getting started on working on some other stuff that might be more up your alley.  You know, when the North Stars went to Dallas, they took a lot of our North Star property.  So I'm getting started working on and trying to finalize how I'm going to go about seeing if I can get some of that memorabilia back from Dallas.  I don't know why they would want it.  I know that when Lou Nanne wrote his book he went down there with Bob Showers and they went and sat in a room and looked at all these photographs and started talking... you know Louie didn't remember everything until he looked at some of that stuff. 

I know Dallas has a new owner now.  A Canadian guy.  Maybe he'll feel like he might want to give it back to us.  We don't want to sell it or anything, we just want to protect it.  I think of it as kind of our heritage.  With all the guys that are here, we have a great alumni.  Our alumni is one of the strongest in the United States.  I know Canada has a lot of teams that are still playing that have great alumnis, but for not having a team for a long time now, I feel like Minnesota NHL Alumni has done pretty well.  We've got a good nucleus of guys.  So that's something I'm trying to do.  I feel like I should go after it and see where I can get with it.  Hopefully I can get Neal Broten to help.  Neal played in Dallas and he knows (Stars GM) Joe Nieuwendyk, so maybe we can get a little help out of that.  Hopefully we can rectify it, get some of it back.  If we can ever get it back, I'd like to display it somewhere and have people come look at it.  I know there's just a ton of pictures that they have and it would be great to see them.

NSPS:  That would be terrific.  It belongs up here.  And I know there's not a lot of stuff around, and even for the Reunion, Shaun at Fan HQ was having trouble finding good photos of some of the guys for the autograph signing.  In some cases, we ended up using small photos that we found in old yearbooks or postcards and blew them up to 8 x 10s, and that's really the only thing we could do.

BM:  Yeah, I saw some of that stuff they had and I thought it was great.  But I thought about that and I thought I'd see what I can do from the inside and see if they're going to keep all of that.  I don't know why they would want it.  They won a Stanley Cup at one time, so they kind of have their own identity now.  I just don't want to see it going in the garbage someday, or see somebody selling it on eBay to make a buck out of it.  So I'm going to take a look at it and see if I can do something.

NSPS:  I wish you luck on that.  It would be great to have back here to preserve.  Do you want to talk a little bit about what the Alumni Association does?

BM:  Sure.  The Minnesota NHL Alumni is a non-profit.  We're a 501(c)(3).  We raise money with everything we do and we give it all away at the end of the year.  We're not in it for profit.  We don't pay our guys to do anything.  And that's one of the things that I'm proud about, being a member of the Alumni, is that throughout our organization nobody gets anything.  I don't pay myself.  I don't pay my wife for the work that she does.  We have some people to do the bookkeeping and it's all a donation of time.  Our Alumni guys, they come out and give back.  And that's a great feeling, to call up Phil Housley and say, "Phil, would you play in this game for me or do this appearance for me?" and he'll say sure.  If they can fit it in their schedule, they'll jump in.  Joe Dziedzic, Shjon Podein, all the same.  These guys are just a bunch of great guys.  They believe in the organization and they believe in what we're doing and they have a great time once they get there.  They get out in the public a little bit, they keep their game going.  Shjon Podein has his own charity that he works with, Team 25

We get out and play about 12 to 14 games a year for charity around the state.  We'll go in to Highland Park or St. Louis Park and play a game with the coaches or something like that, just to help them raise money for their organizations.  It's a nice deal.  That's what we're about.  Raising money and giving back in the state of Minnesota. 

NSPS:  You help out some former players, too, correct?

BM:  We do.  We offer a player program to help former players when they're in need.  We've helped a couple of guys, but fortunately that's all we've had to.  There's also a national NHL Alumni up in Toronto and they have some great programs for helping guys out.  Nowadays there's all these concussions and things like that, but fortunately I haven't had to deal with that too much.  There's a couple of guys I've tried to help through the national side. 

NSPS:  Didn't you give away some scholarships, too?

BM:  We had some scholarships and we couldn't even give them away.  We were putting money into these things and a hard time finding people to give them to.  This was back when Tom Reid was the president.  In the last couple of years we haven't had that program, but before that we had about five or six programs.  We had a committee that were going around, calling people, saying "We'd like to give you a scholarship," but we couldn't give them away to them.  I won't tell you who they were, but that really surprised me.  So we've kind of changed that up a bit.  In the last few years we've donated to Defending the Blue Line, to the Minnesota Warriors.  We kind of switched our focus a little bit.  But it's new every year and we welcome anybody to come to the Minnesota NHL Alumni website or our Facebook page and post something on there if they feel they would like us to look at them.  We're kind of getting to the point now, I think, where we're going to start opening up to not just the hockey side of it, but getting into some of the other great charities.  There's tons of great charities out there that we could donate to.  We kind of have to look at all of that and I think we're going to start looking harder at going into some different areas.

NSPS:  I know I've taken up a lot of your time, but if you have a couple more minutes I wanted to try getting to a couple other questions that some fans had posted for you on Facebook.  This first one is something that I see a lot on the page.  A fan named Mike Tanner says "The only way to preserve the Minnesota North Stars is for the Wild to change their name to the North Stars."  I'm sure you've heard that from people before asking "Why don't they just change their name?"  So my question for you is this:  hypothetically, if that ever were to happen -- or even if they just got the rights to the logo and jerseys and occasionally wore them as throwbacks -- as somebody who played for the North Stars, how would you feel if you saw the Wild wearing a North Stars sweater?

BM:  Well, I think it would be great.  Like I've said, I think the name belongs in Minnesota.  It belongs here just as much as the Vikings or Twins or Timberwolves.  And I've said this before, with the way these politicians are playing around with the Vikings stadium, if we lose the Vikings it should come back to the politicians who let them go.  I don't want to go too far on that subject.  But I do believe the North Stars logo belongs in Minnesota.  You wouldn't take the Bruins out of Boston.  Some things are just supposed to be there and I think the North Stars should be there.  If they could get the rights, I would love to see the Wild turn around and start wearing the North Stars logo or jersey.  But I think the bottom line is that ticket sales would be greater if they did change their name and come back.  Not everybody's in love with the Minnesota Wild and if they wanted to turn around and come back as the Minnesota North Stars, I think that would be fine with a lot of us.  I think it would be great to see that.

But, you know, at this point in time, with them being here this long, it would be a big undertaking for that to happen.  I don't know if the league would let it happen.  But I don't understand why you couldn't have both the Minnesota North Stars and the Dallas Stars.  If you had two teams named Stars, what's the difference?

NSPS:  Baseball has both the Red Sox and White Sox.  I agree with you.  I feel like for a long time the Wild didn't need it because they had that honeymoon period where every game was sold out for however many years it was.  But they're not winning now, they haven't been to the playoffs in four or five years, and you can see from how the attendance has dropped off now that, unless they start winning, that honeymoon period is over. 

BM:  I think you can look to our economy, too.  That has a big effect on it.  Going to a Wild hockey game for a husband and wife is not a cheap night anymore.  It's an expensive night.  And you can look to 2005 or 2006 when everything kind of got set back here in the United States with the banks, and that's hurt a lot of people.  And if you think "It's gonna cost me $250 to take my wife to a hockey game tonight," I think a lot of people are deciding not to do it.  And I don't know if a name change is going to make any difference.  It's what it is, I guess. 

NSPS:  One of the other questions from Facebook has to do with rivalries.  You had that great rivalry with the Blackhawks, but the Wild have never had that arch-nemesis.  Do you think that's something that would help ticket sales, if realignment happened?

Dan Cote and Maxy at North Stars Reunion Closing Ceremony.
BM:  I do.  I really do.  You've gotta have rivalries in hockey.  That's what brings people out.  Earlier in the year when Winnipeg came down here for the first time, there were 7,000 fans here from Winnipeg.  And we're not a rival of theirs, but we could be.  You could take Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Winnipeg... put them all back here with Minnesota.  On the West Coast you could take Vancouver, L.A., Edmonton, Calgary, and Phoenix and put them all together.  It cuts the travel time.

That's one of the biggest questions, I think, one of the problems... when I talk to J.P. Parise about his son Zach.  The Wild and fans are all gung-ho that he's gonna come here, but if you take a look at the travel side of it, if you're to play a game in Vancouver it's a three day trip.  You go there the day before, then you have the day of the game, then you come back the next day.  If you play out with the Islanders and Pittsburgh and Philly, these guys go to the rink in the morning and get on a plane, and come back right after the game.  So they may live in Pittsburgh, but they go play in Philadelphia and then they're back in their own bed in Pittsburgh that night.  That makes a big difference on the family side if a player has a family and kids.  To a player, that's appealing.  Would you rather play one game and have it take three days or play one game in a 24 hour span?  And then you look at the rivalry side of it, and look at how Pittsburgh plays Philadelphia and how the Islanders play the Rangers.  There is something there.  I know the Wild have spoke to the league a little bit about it.  I've heard talk about it, and the league really doesn't seem to be in favor of it.  And I don't understand why.  You need the rivalry in hockey.  That's what's going to bring the fans back and get them into the stadium.  You know, if Chicago hadn't been in the Norris Division back when we played, people wouldn't still be talking about how "Secord sucks."  Because if you only play the team once, you really don't care.  But it would be a great thing for the Wild if they could get back in a division with them and cut the travel time.  That would be phenomenal for these guys to be able to go play a game and come home at night.  It really makes a lot of sense.

NSPS:  Getting back to the golf tournament, do you have any player confirmations to announce yet?

BM:  We'll have our local guys, they all come and play.  I know last year Neal Broten played.  I'm going to invite some of the guys to come in from out of town.  I know Willi likes to play so I'll invite him and see if he can come.  Sometimes it works out, but when you get into summer like that, they've got their own stuff going, so it's a little tougher.  But we'll have our local alumni.  Other than that, I don't know if the Twins play on July 12, if those guys could to come out to play a round of golf.  I know it's a great thing that Shaun (from Fan HQ) did on Facebook when he had Gardy and Mauer and Morneau wear the North Stars hats.  That was awesome.  Maybe the Twins will let those guys come out and play golf for a day.  We'd love to have guys like that, Twins and Vikings and stuff.  We really don't know, we're in the early stages of planning it.  We'll open it up but we really don't know until a month in advance or three weeks in advance who we'll actually have.

Brad Maxwell Custom Cabinets & Fireplace Mantels

Thursday, March 29, 2012


Steve Payne wearing #26 (1978-83)
by Daniel Cote

The North Stars hit rock bottom in 1977-78, finishing dead last in the NHL with 45 points on the season.  Two major offseason events would change their fortune.  They merged with the collapsing Cleveland Barons franchise, infusing the North Stars roster with a true number one goalie in Gilles Meloche and a slew of quality players such as Al MacAdam, Mike Fidler, and Greg Smith.

Most important, though, was the 1978 draft, perhaps the best in North Stars history.  (If it wasn't '78, it was the '79 draft that yielded Craig Hartsburg, Tom McCarthy, and Neal Broten with their first three picks.)  Curt Giles and Steve Christoff would pay off in the future, but the first two North Stars draft picks that year paid immediate dividends.  They drafted Bobby Smith with the first overall pick.  Then, with the first pick in the second round (19th overall), the Stars selected Smith's Ottawa 67's teammate, a big sniper named Steve Payne.  

Over his ten year career, Payne would become one of the most productive wings and top scorers in North Stars history.  He scored 40 points as a rookie, but broke out for a 42 goal, 43 assist season and an All Star selection in his second year.  In 1980-81, when the North Stars made an improbable run to their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance, Payne led the charge.  He scored 17 goals and added 12 assists in the playoffs alone.  His 29 points in 19 playoff games is an all-time North Stars record (Brian Bellows scored 29 as well during the '91 Stanley Cup run, but in 21 games).  Included in his 17 goals were four game-winning goals.  In his book, Lou Nanne called Payne the best clutch goal scorer in North Stars history.

Payne surpassed the 20 goal mark in each of his first seven seasons, incuding four straight seasons over 30 goals, before spine and knee injuries prematurely ended his career.  He spoke with us on the morning of the first ever North Stars Reunion weekend to talk about his career, the reunion, and what he's keeping busy with these days.
North Stars Preservation Society:  Before we get into talking about when you played and about the North Stars reunion this weekend, my first question is something I’ve wanted to know the answer to since I was about 7 years old... why did you switch your number from 26 to 44?

Steve Payne:  (laughs)  Well, here’s the deal... growing up in Toronto, I had number 4 quite often.  So number 4 is my favorite number, personally.  When I first came to the North Stars, I couldn’t have number 4 because we had just merged with Cleveland and Jean Potvin, if you remember him, Denis Potvin’s older brother, he had number 4.  I’m a rookie and he’s a very senior player, there was no way I was going to get my choice of having number 4 over him.  My second choice would have been number 19 because that was the number I wore in junior hockey, but of course that was retired because of Bill Masterton.  So, at that point, I really didn’t care what number they gave me.  Doc Rose decided I should wear number 26, so that’s what I ended up with.  So I started with 26 and I wore that number for five years.  Then just over the summer I thought to myself, you know, I’d love to have number 4, but Craig Hartsburg wears it now... nobody’s really into these double digits yet in the NHL yet, so I thought why not have two 4s?  I called Doc and told him I’d like to switch to 44 and they had my jersey ready when we got back to camp that year for my sixth season.

NSPS:  44 does seem like a cooler number.  Those double digit number in sports seem to have a certain amount of status, at least now.

SP:  Back then it was just in its infancy.  I think I may have been the first guy in the NHL with 44.  You’d have to look that up.  But if I wasn’t, I was one of the first couple.  I remember a guy who played for Winnipeg back then, Dave Babych, wore 44 as well, but I don’t remember who had it first.  But it was either him or myself, I believe.  Now it’s more common, now everybody has a 44.

NSPS:  You started a trend!

SP:  Yeah, maybe I did!

Autographed 1979-80 Topps rookie card.
NSPS:  How excited are you for North Stars Reunion Weekend?

SP:  This is way overdue.  Long overdue, and I’ve been excited ever since Brad Maxwell announced that we were gonna do it.  It couldn’t get here fast enough for me.  I’m pretty pumped to have all the guys together and see a lot of the guys that I haven’t seen in over 20 years.  Guys like Willi Plett and Dennis Maruk and Keith Acton... all these guys coming back.  Shawn Chambers, I haven’t seen Shawn in forever.  I think it’s just going to be wonderful to hang out with the guys for three days, catch up on all the BS, find out where our lives have taken us.  There’s so many stories to share in the last 20 to 25 years that we haven’t been together.

NSPS:  Do you think you guys will get enough time to yourselves?  I ask because one awesome thing about this weekend is that it’s very fan oriented and the fans are getting a lot of access to the players.  Do you think you’ll get enough time to just be with your teammates?

SP:  Yeah, I think so.  I think a bunch of us will probably do some off-site things once we get together and figure out what’s going on.  But even in and around the events, there’s the two games we’ll be at, the Thursday and Saturday games, we’ll have time to share with each other between periods and before the game up in our alumni lounge.  Then Friday night’s event, we have an hour before the fans come in and some time after that we can spend together.  So we’ll have some time together where some us can just sit around and privately catch up.

NSPS:  You arrived in 1978, same draft as Bobby Smith.  That same year, the North Stars had an infusion of new talent from the merger with the Cleveland Barons, but before that they had been one of the worst teams in the NHL for a few seasons.  In retrospect, that offseason was a huge turning point in North Stars history.  When you got here, did it feel like a new beginning for the organization, or did it just feel like you were coming to one of the more downtrodden teams in the league?

SP:  Well, to be honest with you, I didn’t really think of that.  I mean, I knew they had finished the year before in last place, and that’s why they had the first pick every round which is how they ended up getting me and Bob from the same team.  But at that point, I’m just a young kid.  I was 19 years old when they drafted me and my main concern was just having an opportunity to get a shot at the NHL.  I watched the North Stars growing up.  I watched them play and was familiar with them.  I always thought they had a cool uniform, and they had some pretty good teams, you know, in the ‘60s and into the early ‘70s with Cesare Maniago, J.P. Parise, and Bill Goldsworthy.  They were a pretty good squad, I thought.  But to be honest with you, I didn’t watch a lot of NHL hockey during my last couple of years in junior hockey, mainly because we played a schedule that was pretty similar to the NHL.  All the time when there were NHL games on, we were playing, so I didn’t get to watch a lot of NHL hockey because of that.  

So I didn’t get a chance to watch the Stars and see how poorly they had dropped off.  I knew they were a last place team, but that meant to me it was probably the best opportunity to crack into the NHL lineup as well.  You know, as opposed to going to a place like Montreal that year, where they were coming off four Stanley Cups and the odds were pretty slim that a rookie could step in and claim a spot on a team like that.  So I looked at it as an opportunity.  A very good opportunity, in fact.  The fact that I got to go there with Bob only helped.  And it was exciting, two teams merged like that.  We weren’t quite sure what it was going to look like once we’d come through training camp.  It was a very busy training camp.  There were a lot of bodies there.  It was crazy.  There were four sessions a day because there were so many players that the coaches and scouts had to evaluate.  

It was exciting and anxious, all at the same time, and it wasn’t without its drama at the beginning, either.  We had Harry Howell starting out, he was going to be the head coach after the merger, but then he ran into health issues with his heart.  So very early on, he ended up getting replaced by Glen Sonmor, then just decided to stay in a scouting role rather than come back behind the bench.  So it was a very interesting first year, let’s put it that way.  But things eventually settled down and fell into place, and although we didn’t make the playoffs that first year... I believe we missed it by a point, maybe three points... but it really gave us a good turnaround year.  When we came back to camp the next year, everybody was pretty confident that we would be able to build on that.  And of course we went right to the semi-finals the very next year.  It proved we did have the pieces from the merge year, and everything kind of settled in, and we came out of the chute in training camp the next season, just flying.  We had a really good season.

NSPS:  And then the year after that, you made the Stanley Cup Finals.  You, in particular, had an amazing individual season in the 1981 Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Your had 29 points in 19 games.  A lot of people will say that’s the best individual post-season in North Stars history.  Was that the highlight of your career?

SP:  Yeah, I would say so.  Just to be a part of what we did.  It was the first time we went to the Stanley Cup as a franchise.  We accomplished a lot of things that year.  We had a great season, finished ninth overall.  But everybody we beat in the playoffs finished ahead of us.  We were the underdog that whole playoff, starting with Boston, then moving on to Buffalo and to Calgary, and ultimately to the Islanders in the Finals.  I had a great individual playoff, but it’s because the team was playing awesome as well.  You know, I’m not Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux.  I need a supporting cast and I made the most of the opportunities I had, but my teammates gave me plenty of opportunities.  It just all clicked really well.  Individually, yes, it was very satisfying.  But as a team, and being a part of that squad of guys, for the whole time I played for the North Stars I was never prouder than the core of that group of guys that went through the playoffs and made the championship.  I remember sitting there after the Islanders beat us in the fifth game, we’re back in the dressing room and of course everybody is disappointed, and we’re all exhausted, but we also realized we accomplished something that nobody gave us a chance to do.  And I looked around at everybody in the room and I remember thinking, “You know what?  I’d rather be sitting in this room than in the room down the hall right now with the Stanley Cup.  I’m so proud of these guys and what we accomplished.”

NSPS: That’s very cool.  We have a couple of fan questions now that we solicited on Facebook page and through the North Stars Preservation Society blog.  First, Gary Hanson asks: “Given that you played 30 some years ago, and that professional athletes are bigger, stronger, and faster today, how do you think you would fare against today's crop of NHL players?“

SP: Good question.  Well, probably half of the league would be my size now as opposed to when I played.  Maybe only 10% of the guys were my size, you know, I played at 6’3”, 220.  Teams usually had one guy or, at most, two guys my size back then.  My size certainly helped me.  You know, I wasn’t a fancy kind of player, but more of a bang the corners and own the front of the net type.  So now it would be a heck of a lot more difficult for me to dominate those areas as I did when I played.  I think I could still compete, but it would be a lot tougher.  Every other guy that I’d be up against, tussling with and dealing with, would be my size.  I probably would have to adjust the way I played a little bit accordingly.  I probably would’ve had to look at trying to get even bigger as far as muscle mass and get a little more weight just to get me some leverage against some of these guys these days.  And, they’re fast!  I was a fairly fast skater, but on average I think these guys are much faster than they were back when I played.  

But I’ll tell you, the one difference I think, where they still can not hold a candle to us, is our ability to score.  If you look at the statistics for, say, the last 15 years in the NHL compared to my era, you’ll see maybe one guy with a point-per-game average or more, and that’s about it.  And half the teams don’t have that.  When I played, it was quite common -- even with the worst team in the league -- to have three to five or six guys with scoring averages like that.  

NSPS:  That’s right, and the same for goalie stats.  I was looking at that the other day and noticed that Don Beaupre didn’t have a shutout until his fifth year in the league.  Now you’ll see very mediocre goalies get three shutouts a year.

SP:  Yeah.  And I think a lot of those goaltenders were as good as the goalies now, it’s just...

NSPS:  They didn’t have all the pads!

Wearing #44 (1983-88)
SP:  Well, yeah, and they were facing better snipers.  It was quite common to have multiple 50 goal, even 60 goal scorers.  Now, it’s an anomaly.

NSPS:  My dad wants me to ask, “Who was the best locker room leader during your time with the North Stars?”

SP:  Well, that’s a tough one because there were a lot of guys who were great locker room leaders for different reasons, and leaders in different ways.  There’s guys that lead by example, there’s guys who lead by cheering and verbally, and guys who can do it both ways.  If I had to pick one, I’d probably go with Craig Hartsburg.  Craig was our captain for a reason.  He was a leader.  He was very verbal, very emotional, trying to get the guys up.  He also set a great example.  You very rarely saw Craig Hartsburg have a bad game.  So I’d give him the nod overall as our best locker room leader during the years I played there.  

NSPS: Sadly, like you, we saw his career cut short due to injuries.  Was it a tough decision for you to retire?

SP: Yes.

NSPS:  Because it wasn’t just one injury, but a series of pretty nasty injuries at the end of your career, right?

SP:  Yeah.  It was the beginning of my eighth season that I had a cervical spine injury that I had been playing with during my seventh year.  When I got to training camp for my eighth season it had not healed at all.  It was as bad as ever.  I came to the realization that I was going to have to have something done.  I couldn’t just keep getting by with it.  That’s when we took a hard look at what the issues were, and it turned out that I needed to have surgery.  I had to have what they call a laminectomy.  I had been dealing with a herniated disc in my neck, but what ultimately happened is that the disc ruptured and I had disc material and stuff right on my spine.  They had to go in and surgically remove that to get rid of basically the paralysis I was dealing with.  My left arm was down to about 20% strength and I was in a lot of pain, too.  Almost constant pain.  I didn’t have a choice at that point.  I wasn’t going to be able to play in that condition anyway, so we decided to have the surgery.  

So I did that, and I got back from the surgery and played maybe another four or five weeks.  Then we were in Philadelphia and, unfortunately, I blew my ACL out in my right knee.  That ended my season there and I didn’t get back on the ice until almost halfway through the following year.  And when I did, I still had more problems with the knee.  I ended up having a total of five surgeries on the knee to fix all the problems.  So I was in and out of the lineup for my last three seasons with surgery, rehab, surgery, playing, surgery, rehab, playing... and then when I finally got the knee going to where I could actually get my stride back and actually start to play in my tenth season, my cervical spine went again on me.  

At that point, the writing was on the wall.  I went down to the Mayo Clinic and spent the day down there with their top orthopedic surgeons.  They all had their turn at poking and prodding me, trying to determine the best course of action, and they unanimously told me that I should probably retire.  I was only one hit away from losing the use of my left arm.  If I got hit in the wrong way, it would damage the nerve so bad that I’d basically have a dead arm.  And I had two young children at the time.  I had a son who was not quite four and a daughter who was only about eight months old and I wasn’t willing to make that sacrifice because of the family.  It wasn’t an easy decision but I made that decision based on what was best for my family.

NSPS:  Would you like to tell North Stars fans what you’re up to these days?

SP:  Sure.  On the professional side of things, I work for a software company in Minneapolis called Appmosphere.  I’m a business development manager for them.  We’re a software company and what we do is make mobile apps for smart phones and smart devices.  One of our customers that fans around here would recognize is the Toro Corporation.  So I do that.  

I’m going into my fifth year of my hockey camp that I run out in Stillwater called North Star Hockey.  I’ve got a partner and we run a camp out there for kids ages 7 to 14.  We run that in the summertime at the Lumberyard practice facility out in Stillwater.  

And I’m also very involved with a couple of military based charities.  One of them a lot of the fans would know because it’s based here, started in Hastings, and it’s called Defending the Blue Line.  Shane Hudella, who’s a National Guard member, started it and runs it.  I sit on the advisory board for that organization and donate a lot of slots at my hockey school every summer for their kids to come and participate.  I help out in a lot of other areas, wherever I can, but I’m very involved with those guys.  I have been for three years now.  

Then the other military based charity that I’m involved with is called Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing.  That’s a national organization based out of Washington, D.C.  What we do with that group is we get recovering military out on the water, fly fishing, to help with their rehabilitation.  Basically to get their minds off of the trauma they’re dealing with emotionally, mentally, and physically.  A lot of them are damaged in many ways.  They’ve been in the theater and have come back, thankfully, alive.  So I’m going into my second year with them.  Last year I organized an event at a friend of mine’s ranch in Colorado, about an hour outside of Denver, called Boxwood Gulch.  The event is called the Battle at Boxwood.  What we do there is have a weekend competition, a friendly competition, fly fishing for trout.  Each team consists of a guide, a paid participant, a recovering troop member that we bring up from Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, and an NHL player.  I have a lot of my alumni buddies that fly out there on their own time and their own dime to help support that event for me.  So we get the troops on the water and we also raise money for the organization at the same time over that weekend.  We hold that in the middle of August.  Then there’s a television show called Fly Rod Chronicles on the Outdoor Channel, they come up and cover the event as an episode for their series.  That helps give the event and the organization more national exposure.  In fact it was just on television last weekend.  

So that’s what I do as far as charity and professional and things like that.  That’s what I’m up to.

NSPS:  Sounds busy!  That’s really great, though.  Thank you so much for your time, Steve.  I really appreciate you chatting today.  I’ll be sure to re-introduce myself at the various Reunion events this weekend.

SP: Excellent!  It should be a lot of fun.  I’m really looking forward to it.

NSPS: Yeah, it’ll be a blast.

SP:  It’s gonna be a great deal.  It’s long overdue.  And it’s going to be interesting, I’ll bet you we’re going to see a sea of kelly green in the stands.  It’s really cool, at every Wild game I go to... I go to about six or seven a year... there’s always a lot of North Stars jerseys out there.  And hats and stuff.  And I’m anxious to see how much that gets amped up today.