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North Stars alums still part of Minnesota hockey community

Friday, 02.17.2012 / 1:27 PM / Hockey Weekend Across America

By Dan Myers - Correspondent

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North Stars alums still part of Minnesota hockey community
Minnesota North Stars alums are remembered fondly in the State of Hockey, and they'll celebrate Hockey Day in America by taking part in a 3-on-3 game against local media members.
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- With Hockey Weekend Across America in full swing, the people of Minnesota go about their business as usual.

That's because in Minnesota, hockey is the business.

"It's not just a sport -- it's a way of life," said Reed Larson, a Minnesota native and member of the United States Hockey Hall of Fame.

Larson played three years for Herb Brooks at the University of Minnesota and was named one of the 50 greatest Gophers of all-time. Drafted by the WHA's Minnesota Fighting Saints in 1974 and the Detroit Red Wings in 1976, Larson chose to go the NHL route. Between 1976 and 1990, he played in more than 900 games with five NHL teams, including his hometown North Stars.


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Minnesotans have an unusual relationship with the North Stars, who have been gone from the Met Center in Bloomington for almost 20 years now. Head to Xcel Energy Center for a Wild game and you're just as likely to see an old green and yellow North Stars sweater. It's almost a cult-like following, especially among veteran fans of Minnesota hockey.

"I think there are a lot more people rooted in with the North Stars than people realize," Larson said, as he listed the names of a dozen or so Stars alumni of all eras. "Huge names, still remembered. The list goes on and on."
"We did a fan-fest last year in St. Paul, had lots of guys come back and sign autographs. We had a line out the door that was about 150 yards long," said former North Star Brad Maxwell, now president of the Minnesota NHL Alumni. "Everybody was so sad to see the North Stars leave. We've been working more and more with the Wild. I think they have realized we're kind of an icon in the area."

Maxwell and Larson are among a group of former North Stars that will take part in a special event Sunday in conjunction with Hockey Day in America, where North Stars alumni will face off against local media all-stars in a 3-on-3 game at Landmark Plaza in St. Paul.

Other North Stars set to appear include Neal Broten, Steve Payne, Don Beaupre, Steve Jensen and Chris Dahlquist.

The alumni vs. media game will be just a part of the festivities from St. Paul that day as NBC will be basing its national coverage of the day's festivities from Landmark Plaza, led by host Liam McHugh and analysts Ed Olczyk, Mike Milbury and Pierre McGuire. Other events include autograph sessions, several USA Hockey clinics and plenty of great hockey action.

"Hockey Day in America is a great idea," Larson said. "It brings out the love of the sport, the appreciation for the people who play it and the fans."

NBC will air three regional broadcasts starting at 12:30 p.m. ET -- Pittsburgh at Buffalo, San Jose at Detroit and St. Louis at Chicago.

The Wild then will host the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins at 3:30 p.m. ET on a game broadcast nationally by NBC.

The day will finish with NBC Sports Network showing the New Jersey Devils and Montreal Canadiens at 6:30 p.m. ET.

For many fans of old-time hockey in Minnesota, though, the real event will be watching the North Stars alums. And while they should have an advantage in the contest Sunday, the media all-stars should provide at least a decent challenge.

Among the media members set to play is former Wild forward Wes Walz, now an analyst for the local Fox Sports affiliate. Also included are local TV anchors Jeff Passolt and Ian Leonard -- both former hockey players -- as well as City of St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.

"Heck, Ian is Canadian, he should be all right," Maxwell said. "It should be a really fun event."

The North Stars alums getting together for an event like this is not as uncommon as you'd think. Maxwell said the Minnesota alumni play 12-15 games a year for various events and organizations.

Each time, he says, it's a huge draw.

"We have a ton of great guys locally. We just want to give back to the community and give back to hockey," Maxwell said.

"It's a nostalgia thing. Anytime you can get back together with these guys and play a little 3-on-3, it's fun," Larson said. "Playing against Wes Walz, though, that won't be easy."

Quote of the Day

We've got to find a way to win a game. He's played well in the minors, now he gets his opportunity. We tried [with Jonathan Bernier]. The way I look at it, you get opportunities and you make the most of it. That's what [James Reimer] did. Now another opportunity is here and Sparks ... you gotta grab it. Is he ready? We'll find out.

— Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock to the Toronto Star on recalling goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL to start Monday in his NHL debut
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