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The rise and fall of the Minnesota North Stars

The team’s twenty-nine-year residency in the state produced two trips to the Stanley Cup finals.

photo of hockey game
The Minnesota North Stars hockey team in action against the New York Islanders, 1981. The North Stars played in their first Stanley Cup finals against the New York Islanders in that year and lost the series 4-1.
Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

The Minnesota North Stars were one of the teams created during the National Hockey League’s first expansion in 1966, which finally brought an NHL team to the “state of hockey.” Their twenty-nine-year residency in the state produced two trips to the Stanley Cup finals, but their sudden departure to Dallas in 1993 shocked fans throughout Minnesota.

After the NHL announced that they would expand from six teams to twelve in 1965, a group of investors put together a bid for a franchise. Although the sports market in Minneapolis-St. Paul was smaller than others, the NHL chose Minnesota on February 9, 1966. As a condition of their successful bid, investors were required to build an arena that could hold at least 12,500 spectators. This led to construction of Bloomington’s Metropolitan Sports Center, which was built in just over a year.

The North Stars played their first game on the road against the St. Louis Blues on October 11, 1967. It ended in a tie. On October 21, the North Stars hosted their first home game against the California/Oakland Seals—which ended with the North Stars’ first win. However, tragedy soon struck the team. Bill Masterson, a center, hit his head in a legal check on January 13, 1968, at the Met Center. His injury was severe, and he died of his injuries two days later in a hospital. His death is the only direct death resulting from gameplay in the NHL. It precipitated regulations for mandatory helmets, though they weren’t required until 1979. Even with this tragedy, the North Stars ended their inaugural season with a trip to the playoffs, losing to St. Louis in the semifinals.

The decade that followed was less successful. The team’s second season ended with the North Stars in last place for the entire league. In 1978, Lou Nanne became the team’s general manager, and the Cleveland Barons merged with the North Stars, bringing new ownership and players to the team. On January 7, 1980, the North Stars played the Philadelphia Flyers in front of a record crowd at the Met Center. At that time, the Flyers held the record for the longest winning streak in the NHL — that is, until the North Stars beat them 7-1. This momentum led to a successful postseason, but the team lost to the Flyers and were denied their Stanley Cup debut. The following season, however, was their chance: the North Stars met the New York Islanders in the Stanley Cup Finals. While they lost the series to the Islanders 4-1, their 1980-81 season was proof that the North Stars were a formidable franchise.

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In 1987, Lou Nanne hired Minnesota hockey legend Herb Brooks to coach the team, but he was unable to relight the spark of his 1980 Olympic “Miracle on Ice.” The North Stars ended the season in last place, Brooks wasn’t rehired, and Nanne resigned as GM. In 1990, the team was eventually sold to Norm Green, a Canadian investor. With new coaching and personnel, the North Stars had another successful year in 1991, reaching the Stanley Cup finals once again. However, the Pittsburgh Penguins beat them in a 4-2 series—denying the North Stars Stanley Cup glory.

When the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission denied Norm Green the opportunity to improve the Met Center and connect it to the new Mall of America, he decided he would find another city to house the North Stars. On March 10, 1993, in the midst of the season, he announced that the team would move to Dallas for the 1993–94 season. As the North Stars’ tenure in Minnesota came to a sudden close, they lost their last game at the Met Center on April 13, 1993, against the Chicago Blackhawks and lost their last game ever against Detroit a few days later.

The Met Center was demolished in December 1994 and Minnesota was left without an NHL team. Fans blamed Norm Green — under the moniker “Norm Greed” — for harming Minnesota’s proud hockey tradition. However, the state wouldn’t be without an NHL team for long. The NHL expanded again, and the Minnesota Wild debuted in 2000.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.