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Judd Zulgad

A North Star Through and Through

Neal Broten reflects on the 30th anniversary of the day Norm Green signed the North Stars’ death certificate

Neal Broten enjoys a return to skating in front of adoring Minnesota fans in 2016's Stadium Series Alumni Game at what was then known as TCF Bank Stadium. (MHM Photo / Jeff Wegge)

The reality of what had happened on March 10, 1993 didn’t fully register with Neal Broten until five months later. That moment came as Neal, his wife, Sally, and their two little girls made the drive down Interstate 35 South to Dallas. “We’re looking at each other, my wife and I, and going, ‘Are we really driving to Dallas, Texas, to play hockey?’ It was insane.”

A pair of Norm Green “fans” walking the Met Center concourse. (Courtesy Vintage MN Hockey)

Friday will mark 30 years since North Stars owner Norm Green made it official that he would be relocating the franchise to Dallas. Broten, 33 at the time, was forced to leave the only hockey home he had known. One of the greatest American born players, Broten had played youth hockey in Roseau, became a star at the University of Minnesota, was on the 1980 U.S. Olympic team and then played 12-plus seasons for the North Stars.

Broten, fresh from helping the U.S. stun the Russians in Lake Placid, joined the North Stars in time to play a role in the team’s run to the 1981 Stanley Cup Finals and had nine goals and 22 points in 23 postseason games as the North Stars returned to the Finals in 1991 against Pittsburgh.

Two years later, the franchise was headed to Dallas. The Stars have been in Dallas (29 years) longer than they were in Minnesota (26 years). After losing in the Finals in each of their appearances when Broten was on the team, the Stars won the only Stanley Cup of their 55-year existence in 1999.

The void left by the move was filled in 2000 when the expansion Wild began play and many Minnesota hockey fans have only known that franchise. There is an IKEA store and parking lot where the Met Center once stood in Bloomington. Still, the North Stars departure remains one of the more remarkable relocation stories in professional sports. Minnesota — dubbed The State of Hockey by the Wild’s genius marketing department — lost its NHL team to a state known for its love of football.

(MHM Photo / Jonny Watkins)

The North Stars have not been forgotten. They are well represented most nights at the Wild’s home, the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Jerseys and apparel from the team remain popular and the Wild have paid tribute to the North Stars color scheme with their Reverse Retro jerseys in recent years. Bitterness about the move, at least from those who remember the team, has been replaced by the many pleasant memories that were established long before owner Norm Green started to hear his name used in derogatory chants in the late winter and spring of ’93.

Broten, now 63, recalled that tumultuous time this week as the anniversary of the North Stars announced departure neared. The biggest takeaway from the conversation was how surprised Broten remains about what happened.

“There was a lot of noise when Norm Green took over that he was going to move the team,” said Broten, who still holds the franchise marks he set in 1981-82 for most goals (38), assists (60) and points by a rookie (98). “I think a lot of us just thought that it was kind of talk, but when word came down that it was official that the North Stars were moving the team to Dallas, it was crazy, it was bizarre. It was like, ‘Hockey in Dallas, leaving Minnesota?’

“Does that sound legit or stupid or what? But it became real when the moving vans came and picked up our furniture and we headed down 35 towards Dallas. I look back on it, 30 years went by pretty fast. But it was just spending 10, 11, 12 years in Minnesota, or whatever the heck it was, and then just uprooting the team and moving it out of what they now call ‘The State of Hockey’ … Minnesota has always been hockey for me. So moving out to Dallas didn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense at that time. It was bizarre. Basically it was crazy.”

Norm Green peddling Met Center suites. (Courtesy Vintage MN Hockey)

There were many contributing factors in the decision. Green was sued for sexual harassment by a former North Stars employee that eventually was settled out of court. There also were issues involving attendance at Met Center (yes, that was a thing) and Green’s inability to work out a deal with the owners of the then-new Target Center to move the team downtown.

Green, a shopping mall developer from Calgary who bought the franchise in 1990, wanted major improvements at the Met Center and he wasn’t going to get them. The key thing was that Green was given NHL approval to move the franchise anywhere he wanted in 1992 as part of an agreement that he would not relocate the North Stars to a new arena in Anaheim, Calif. The reason being that the NHL wanted Disney to be able to put the expansion Mighty Ducks in that building.

In a piece he wrote for a Dallas magazine in 2010, Green said he had the deal done to move the Stars in January 1993. A year after losing to the Penguins in the NHL Finals, and Green hearing chants of “Norm, Norm, Norm,” as he walked the Met Center concourse, the North Stars lost in the opening round of the 1992 playoffs to Detroit in seven games. The North Stars appeared to be headed back to the playoffs the following season and had a 26-18-8 record by end of January 1993.

Young superstar Mike Modano was on his way to a 33-goal, 93-point season and the North Stars appeared to have a franchise player for years to come. That turned out to be the case, only it was Dallas who got to witness Modano’s development into a Hall of Fame player. A day before it became official that the North Stars would be leaving Minnesota, they beat the San Jose Sharks at Met Center to improve to 32-27-9. Minnesota played host to Vancouver the day after the news and beat the Canucks by a goal.

Moments before the final opening puck drop at Met Center (Courtesy Vintage MN Hockey)

But the North Stars’ season quickly came off the rails after that win. They lost eight of their next nine, mixing in a tie, before winning three in a row.

“It definitely caused some turmoil amongst the whole team,” said Broten, who had 12 goals and 33 points in 82 games that season. “You’ve got stuff in the paper and people are talking every day about, ‘OK, he’s going to move the team.’ It wasn’t a great situation for sure.”

It got worse as the North Stars ended its season with three consecutive losses to miss the playoffs. The penultimate game was the last one at Met Center, a 3-2 loss to Chicago, and the final game was a 5-3 loss on April 15, 1993 in Detroit. Ulf Dahlen scored the final goal for the North Stars.

If that evening felt strange, it was nothing compared to the atmosphere at Met Center as Minnesota’s two-goal rally in the third period fell short against the biggest rival in franchise history, the Blackhawks.

“That was pretty weird,” Broten said. “After the game we kind of saluted the crowd. A bunch of guys went back on the ice and raised their sticks or whatever. That’s about all I can remember from that. It was just a crazy time. I don’t know what to tell you. You kind of believed it and you kind of didn’t believe it. I had totally mixed emotions. I had never thought the team would move, or never thought they’d move to Dallas, or any other city, right? That last game at home was pretty emotional.”

Courtesy Vintage MN Hockey

Broten, a center, had a productive first season in Dallas, scoring 17 goals with 52 points in 79 games. He had only four assists in 17 games and was minus-8 the following season before he was traded to the New Jersey Devils for Cloquet native and fellow former Gopher Corey Millen.

That Devils team would go onto win the Stanley Cup — Broten had seven goals and 19 points in 20 postseason games — and Broten remained in New Jersey before being sent to the Los Angeles Kings during the 1996-97 season. Broten played in only 19 games for the Kings and was then claimed off waivers by the Stars. He retired after contributing eight goals and 15 points in 20 games with Dallas.

The North Stars had retired two numbers during their existence — Bill Masterton’s 19 and Bill Goldsworthy’s 8 — and Broten’s 7 became the first to be raised to the rafters with the franchise based in Dallas. Broten, however, would have much preferred that that 1998 ceremony could have occurred before a North Stars game in his home state.

Courtesy Vintage MN Hockey

“I’m a North Star through and through,” he said. “They drafted me, they gave me a shot to play in the NHL. I got a chance to play there for almost my entire career. Dallas was just a little diversion from the career. … But my whole time in Minnesota was great. Youth hockey was great, college hockey was awesome, the Olympic team (which was based in the Twin Cities) was great, the North Stars were awesome and to just kind of pull the rug out from underneath you and move to Dallas. Man, I wish I could have won a Cup (in Minnesota) but it didn’t work out.”

The final Minnesota North Stars team photo (Courtesy Vintage MN Hockey)

Judd Zulgad is co-host of the Mackey and Judd podcast and also Judd’s Hockey Show for SKOR North. Judd covered the Vikings from 2005 to 2010 for the Star Tribune before joining SKOR North.

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