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.


Friday, March 23, 2012


Tom Younghans with the North Stars (1976-1981).
by Daniel Cote

Welcome to the rebirth of this blog and the very first in what will hopefully be a long-running series of interviews with former Minnesota North Stars.  I wanted to get at least one interview in before the North Stars Reunion event on March 29-31.  Hopefully there will be time for another, but I really don't think we could have started off any better than with this one.

We begin with Tom Younghans, and it doesn't get any more Minnesotan than "Youngy."  The St. Paul native played under Herb Brooks for the Gophers, winning the NCAA Championship in 1976.  By that fall, he was in the NHL with his hometown North Stars.  He would play for the Stars for five full seasons, helping to transform them from NHL bottom-feeders when he arrived to Stanley Cup Finalists during his last full year here in 1981.

Younghans reunited with Herb Brooks and spent his sixth and final NHL season playing for the New York Rangers in 1981-82.  Following his career, Younghans returned home to Minnesota, where he has remained a vital part of the hockey community.  Through selling affordable sticks for his son's company (Trinity Hockey), teaching and coaching (he spent time as head varsity coach for Minneapolis West High School - a composite team made up of students from Washburn, Southwest, Henry and North High Schools - before that unit was disbanded and merged even further), and participating in various alumni and charity events.

Youngy took some time to talk to us while on his way to the Return of the Robin tournament in Rochester, and gave a wonderful, honest interview covering a myriad of hockey topics.  Enjoy!

North Stars Preservation Society: You played for the Gophers but were not drafted, correct?

Tom Younghans:  No, back then they had what they called a “negotiating window.”  That thing is since gone.  When I was at St. Mary’s in Winona in my draft year I was, you know, invisible.  Scouts didn’t scout the Division III schools at the time.  Back then there were only a few players worth a look and even then, they were bubble players anyway.  Then, going to the University of Minnesota, obviously there’s a lot of scouts there and I got a little notoriety from that.

NSPS: So you’re a free agent then... did any other NHL teams show interest in you besides the North Stars?

TY: No other NHL teams did.  When we won the NCAA title in ‘76, I was offered a contract from the Calgary Cowboys in the WHA.  It was like $25,000 for the first year and a $5,000 signing bonus.  What happened is that two guys had influence here, Bob Dill who was a St. Paul native and scout, and John Mariucci.  John probably had a little more say since he was the assistant GM, but he says “Hey, let me talk to Jack Gordon.”   And what I’ve heard is it went, “Hey, don’t let this kid go... bring him in.  You can’t lose.  He’s on a two-way deal.”  So, they offered me the exact contract that the Calgary Cowboys had offered me.  And of course, I didn’t want to go to Canada.  I had the innocence of an 18 year old.  Well... maybe I was older than that... I think I was about 21.  So I stayed.  But there were no other NHL teams that were really looking at me.

NSPS: It seemed like the North Stars had more of a tendency to sign the hometown guys and give them a chance.  One of the big knocks that a lot of fans have had on the Wild over the years is that they’ve been pretty reluctant to do that.  Did you feel any sort of advantage in being a hometown guy playing for the North Stars?

TY: You know, you can actually go all the way back to when I went to the Gophers.  Back then we had such pride in the Minnesota-born player.  Herbie (Brooks) wanted that.  John Mariucci wanted the US players, and the focus back then was Minnesota guys.  Now if you go to ‘76 when I entered the league, you had Lou Nanne, Mariucci, they looked at the U.S. and especially Minnesota because, you know, you had a pretty dynamic team there and a lot to pick from.  And the guys who actually left to play, there were probably seven of us that played NHL hockey.  
Now, fast forward to this day and age.  I know that initially (the Wild) weren’t looking for... at least I heard they weren’t looking for Minnesota or USA players, they were looking more towards Canadians and French Canadians.  But, you know, look at who was coaching.   (Jacques) Lemaire.  And (Doug) Risebrough was the GM, and that’s their background.  They’re more comfortable with those types of players and it’s kind of like, “Well, who do you know?”  
So there was a tendency so say, “Yeah, we’ll take a look.”  And yet, are there quality players in Minnesota or the USA?  And to me, yes there are.  Are they good enough in Minnesota?  Well, I think there are.  It’s just whether they could work out in the draft, get them in the places you’d draft them.  I think that had something to do with it as well.  There’s some other moving parts.  We as laymen and fans of the game, we don’t know this.  We can only guess.  Of course, at the end of the day, you see the product on the ice and say, “Hey, you’re not taking any Minnesota kids!” or “You’re not taking USA kids!”  Well, now they are.  I mean, you can see there’s about five players now that have US citizenship and I’m always certainly for that because, hey, I’m an American.  I want Americans to play.  The league is, as I think most people know, it’s like 50% Canadians.  And there’s somewhere around 15% US players.  And the rest, the other, is Czechs and Finns and Swedes...

NSPS: Well, that kind of leads into my next question.  I know you played a lot of international hockey with the US team.  Did playing against Europeans help you develop as an NHL player?

TY: Well, the one thing it did do was open your eyes to how much talent was over there that didn’t get out until the ‘90s.  That really was the big thing.  We’d go play the Russians and the Czechs, all the Communist countries, and there were some great players there.  Certainly when you look at the Russians and Czechs, they had teams that were playing for eleven months out of the year.  Or probably a little bit more, they were training.  They were professional players.  And when we would go over there, you would get a blend of college players and some professionals whose seasons had ended.  We took a backseat to their talent pool and certainly their training, and of course they did a lot better than we did.  And when the Canadians put their team together, they had All Star teams.  And we had a few, we just didn’t have a full boat back from ‘76 to ‘81 or ‘82 when I was there.  
But we learned there were these guys who were really talented and in great shape, and then when you put them on an Olympic sized rink it really changed the complexion of the game.  Some of our skaters, the US guys and even the Canadians weren’t as quick from A to B on that big rink because there’s just so much more space.  So that did change how the game was played.  It opened our eyes up, that there was another way to do it and if we’re gonna play these guys we’ve got to play a certain way.  But we learned.  You just have to be a great skater to play on those European rinks.

NSPS: There were a couple of European guys on the North Stars when you played, too, which leads us to the first Facebook fan question.  One of our fans, Tarik, wants to know, “Who was a better offensive player: Roland Eriksson or Per-Olov Brasar?”

TY: Well, I look back on Roland and I think he was probably a little bit better of a player.  Bigger... I don’t know if he was as tough as (Brasar).  And again, coming over in those early times, everybody beat them up.  If you were coming over from Sweden, or anybody from Europe then, you must really be SOME player.  Which is, you know, totally the wrong way to think of that.  So, in their own right, playing when they did play, especially during the ‘70s where we’re talking Broad Street Bullies kind of stuff... you know, they were tough.  They were tough.  But I’d say Roland was more talented, a little more well-rounded player.  Olov Brasar, he was pretty good, too, but he was smaller so he might have taken a bigger beating.  But you have to give those guys a lot of credit.  They came over to play in the NHL, and after what they had been doing it was a totally different world.  I have to say that in the early ‘76-’77, maybe ‘78, our team was considered to be a big... you know, a big wussy team.  Other teams didn’t respect us.  They took advantage of us.  And we didn’t have the players and mainly the wherewithal to stand up where we should have.

NSPS:  What do you think changed that?  Was it the merger with Cleveland, or Lou Nanne coming in as GM, drafting guys like Brad Maxwell, or what?

TY:  Well, a couple things.  One was the merger.  There was usually around 70 guys in training camp?  Well, with the merger, now there’s 140.  And out of that we got guys who were talented players.  And then Jack Carlson came in.  And Maxie, he was a pretty tough kid, too, except he didn’t have anybody to kind of stand with him.  Then you get Billy Butters coming in.  Then, all of the sudden, Paul Shmyr arrives and he really was the catalyst to bring everything together which culminated in the ‘79-’80 season and the ‘80-’81 season.  We were just getting better.  But Paul, he was another guy who wasn’t gonna take any crap either, so, you know, all of the sudden the team swarmed up this whole “Hey, we’re not taking crap” attitude.  
Of course, probably what was the ultimate was when we went into Boston that one year and had that Boston Brawl.  That solidified that we weren’t taking any crap anymore.  And we were tough enough then that we could do that.  We got some respect back and that was really a big issue.

NSPS: That brawl was legendary.  Fans still talk about that all the time on the North Stars facebook page, and ask if there’s a link to any video footage of it.  Classic.  Completely switching gears now, do you remember your initial reaction when you heard the Stars were moving to Dallas.  Were you shocked?

TY: Well, yeah, shocked.  I was pretty disappointed.  I think there were a lot of things that were pointing in that direction before they made the deal.  I would start to hear, from talking to a lot of guys that worked in the building, you’d hear the cleaning crew are on a 30-day contract, and some of the catering, some of the other suppliers, it was just 30 days.  Then, of course, when they dropped “North” and put “Stars” on their jerseys, that was really the first clue.  And no one really thought about that, I don’t believe, but that was the first clue that said, “Norm, you’re going somewhere if you don’t get your way.”  And when it all happened, of course, it was all “Norm Green sucks!”  
So when they decided to leave, yeah, I was really disappointed.  And even today, even though the Wild have been really gracious and helpful and want to include us in their plans... but we’re the North Stars.  We’re not the Wild.  My hat is off to the Wild for allowing us to be a part of their plans, promoting hockey in Minnesota.  But it would have been nice for a lot of us older guys who were part of the North Stars to have the North Stars here.  Maybe that’s a selfish kind of a way to look at things, but hey, I’m a little selfish in that way.  When the building went down over at Mall of America, and they imploded that thing and three walls dropped and the one didn’t, and you know, you second guess.  Don’t drop, don’t move.  Of course the old saying was that John Mariucci was there holding it up.  Anyway, the disappointment was there.

Autographed 1979-80 Topps card.
NSPS: On a more positive note, the North Stars Reunion weekend is coming up, which should should be a blast.  What are you most looking forward to during the reunion?

TY: Well, you know, I haven’t seen a lot of these guys for over twenty years.  So it’ll be interesting just to see what they look like.  Since we’re all getting old, you know?  It’s kind of frightful, but that’s the way it is.  And then find out what they’re up to.  It’s like any reunion.  We all had a special time with the North Stars and not many people get to do that.  To be able to sit back and talk with Greg Smith, who’s coming to town... we’re buds.  You know, just trading stories.  The one thing we can’t do is lie to each other because we all know the truth!  But we might try to embellish it a little!  
So I’m looking forward to that.  And back to more of a selfish thing, I’m in the hockey business.  I’d like to promote what I’m doing.  It helps me since I coach and I teach and I sell hockey sticks, and it’s always good to be able to promote my business.  That's my world and I want to be in it.  I like it!  So I’m happy to be a part of anything they’ve got going.

NSPS:  Absolutely.  And that leads right into the next thing I wanted to do here, which is to give you the opportunity to tell North Stars fans about Trinity Hockey.  

TY:  Trinity Hockey came about from my son, who is 31 years old and had the vision of starting his own company.  I’ve been in the sporting goods business for over 20 years, being a rep for CCM, Christian, and a number of other lines.  And of course my son saw me with all the samples and all that kind of stuff.  
Well, go down the line, he gets a job with Polaroid, becomes a product development guy for TVs and cameras.  When he decides to leave there, he has contacts and he comes to me about two and a half years ago and says, “Dad, I want to import hockey sticks, but they’re too expensive.  We can make sticks that are less expensive, and good products, and make sure the sport keeps going.”  It’s just so expensive.  
And I said, “Uh, no, I don’t want to do it.”  Because I didn’t want to be a rep in the sporting goods business, working under the same constraints that I worked under before.  And that was being a rep, working the dealers.  The dealers kind of tie your hands.  And now you’ve got a new product here, it could be the best thing since ice cubes, but you gotta get it out there.  You gotta promote it.  And we didn’t have a lot of money to do that.  So what he did, in his business plan he said, “No, Dad, we’re not going to do it that way.  We’re going to go from grassroots up.  We’re gonna do tournaments.  We’ll do demos.  We’ll be at practices.  We’ll do these kinds of things to connect with associations.  And then we’ll offer them special pricing.”  
Because we’re not in the retailers, first look, we’re at least 35% less cost for a similar product that those name brands like Reebok, CCM, Warrior, etc. are on the retail side.  Because we don’t go to retail.  That’s one price you’ve always got to pay, is the retail.  Well, we’re not paying the retail.  We basically are the retail.  And I know there’s a down side to that, because you’ve got to get your name out, but actually this last year went pretty well.  There are mistakes we made, but we know what we need to do.  
So, anyway, I’m on board.  We’ve got a whole year under our belt.  We’ve sold quite a bit of our product.  We had three models of hockey sticks, composites.  But, we learned.  Now we’re going to have about 14 models.  We’ll take care of the youth, the intermediate, and the adults.  Our market is really going to be the Bantams and girls and we’ll start to reach out to the seniors as well.  But we’ll be able to cover the whole sphere instead of just one or two spots.  All the other manufacturers are doing that as well, it’s just that we’ll have similar product in a lot of ways, with the curves and the texture and the flex.  
You know, people want to buy something less.  There’s always the player that’s going to go after the name brand, and hey, go ahead.  If you come our way, great!  There is at least 80% of the market out there that says, “Geez, I just spent $200.  My kind broke his stick in two weeks.  I can’t afford this.”  So now we’re selling a stick that they really like for a hundred dollars, and it changes the way they look at how they buy.  Our big deal is just getting out there.  And we’re making our way.  My son started it and we work really well together and now I’ve decided to come on full time and really get myself into the business.

NSPS: That’s really cool.  Great that you get to work with your son, too.  I know we’re running short on time, but is there time for one or two more fan questions?

TY:  Yep.

NSPS:  Jessica from Detroit Lakes wants to know, “Who was your sports hero growing up?”

TY:  Well, Bobby Orr.  Of course, who can’t name him?  I grew up in St. Paul, over at Blair & Snelling, and I would always sit with my buddy Pat Dill.  His dad Bob Dill, was Shorty Dill who played for the Rangers, played for Chicago, and was a scout for the North Stars.  So I’d always go down to the basement, it’d be 2:00 in the afternoon, and would be watching the Blackhawks play somebody.  Bobby Hull was my favorite.  And then I had a chance to play against him a few games when I first jumped on.  So he’s one of my favorites.  Bryan Trottier as well, just being a fan of the game while I was playing the game.  He was a guy who was probably about 180 pounds and he could do everything.  He was a leader, he was a goal scorer.  He could do it all and I always thought he was just fabulous.  So those are the two guys I kind of looked at and thought, you know, it would be cool to be them.  Of course we all sit in front of TV set thinking, “Oh, I’m Bobby Somebody... Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr.”  We all do it.  And it’s funny, some of the people I’ve run into actually in the last couple of weeks at the state high school hockey tournament.  One guy came up to me and said, “Yeah, we always fought about who could be you.”  So I thought that was real interesting.  Here I’ve come full circle.

NSPS:  Justin from Minneapolis asks, “You played your last NHL season with the New York Rangers.  What was it like playing home games at Madison Square Garden as opposed to the Met Center?”

Younghans with the Rangers (1981-82).
TY: When I played with the Rangers it was totally different.  Playing there was pretty cool.  But I would walk into Madison Square Garden as a North Star and I’d always wonder, “Why do you want to play in New York?”  The fans were really bad.  They were bad to the (Rangers) team we played because they were horse... you know... crap.  
But then by the time I got there, Herbie Brooks was the coach and he got them going in the right direction.  So now you’ve got 18,000+ fans just going crazy for the Rangers!  It was really cool walking onto the ice.  You look up and it was an enormous building.  It seemed so much bigger than the Met.  I always reflect back to the Frank Sinatra song, “If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere,” and I thought that was pretty special.  Here I am, in New York, playing in Madison Square Garden with some really great players.  It was very exciting.  It was a little sad that it had to come to an end.  Herbie brought me in, they had a lot of injuries, and I was a third-line utility player.  I was cool with that.  He brought me in to fill gaps and once people got healthy again... you know, I was at the end of my career anyway, so I was okay.  
I would have loved to have stayed a little longer because what a great place it was.  My wife and I didn’t really get a full chance to experience New York as we’d all like to.  We had a nine month old son, and it’s just tough to get around with a baby and a car.  And we lived out in Greenwich, Connecticut.  But it was cool.  I’d love to go back to visit New York, and I love Chicago, too.

NSPS:  Chicago’s a great town.  I think a lot of fans are just craving a rivalry like the Blackhawks and North Stars had.  Hopefully they can get this realignment figured out so that we can start to see that developing with the Wild a little bit.

TY: Well it sounds like it’s going to happen.  It just sounds like there are some other things going on with the players association, but when that happens, it’ll really help the Wild.  We all want rivalries.  And you develop those over time, and we already have those with the Blackhawks, and now with Winnipeg.

NSPS: Yes, it’s amazing how fast that one has heated up.  Two games against the Jets, and they’ve been unbelievable.

TY: And I hope to God they keep sending fans down here.  Because you know what?  It was very exciting.  To have that, at least 25% of the stadium was for the Jets.  It was cool.

Thanks to Tom Younghans for his time.  Thanks to Brad & Lori Maxwell and the Minnesota NHL Alumni Association for facilitating the interview and for putting together the Reunion.  Hopefully readers of this can join us for some of the awesome events taking place next week.

Trinity Hockey
Tom Younghans fan page on Facebook
Minnesota NHL Alumni Association
North Stars Reunion