MINNEAPOLIS—In what had to be the shortest, calmest encounter of a fractious rivalry, the Minnesota North Stars snowshoed past the Blackhawks, 6-4, at the Stadium Series Alumni Game before 37,922 on a clear, crisp late Saturday afternoon.
Jack O’Callahan thought he had it all figured out by arriving in the morning, all the wiser to avoid a marathon Friday evening reunion at an establishment owned by Tom Reid, who toiled for both franchises and served here as co-coach for the North Stars.
“Everybody else is playing on guilt, the way we used to play, but I’m the healthiest and most rested guy on the ice,” reasoned O’Callahan. Alas, the 1980 Olympian did not preside over another “Miracle on Ice” as he and the outmanned Blackhawks venerables succumbed at TCF Bank Stadium, an outdoor football facility that normally belongs to the University of Minnesota.
Fittingly, this goodwill exercise included referee Bryan Lewis, who officiated the March 21, 1983, tiff at the bygone Met where a bitter brawl between the Blackhawks and North Stars lasted 20 minutes and delayed the game by almost an hour.
“I gave out 223 penalty minutes that night,” Lewis recalled. “I’m back today to see if we can play quicker. Or at least faster.”
Certainly it was more peaceful, as combatants who once grabbed throats posed for pictures after the North Stars burst for three straight goals to unravel a 2-2 tie. Don Beaupre excelled as the second Minnesota netminder. His counterpart, Jimmy Waite, was the “losing” masked man, but the Blackhawks’ current goalie coach authored a couple absolute robberies in broad daylight.
As the Blackhawks’ historian, it is my duty to propose that Saturday’s alumni game was not a fair fight. The Minnesota roster included not only former North Stars, but a few Wild guys, such as their assistant coach Andrew Brunette, who played briefly with the Blackhawks. Also, it must be noted that the North Stars in 1978 partook of a rare amalgamation when the Cleveland Barons folded. And the star-crossed Barons were in Cleveland only after moving from Oakland, where they were the Golden Seals.
“So, what’s your problem?” groused North Stars co-coach Lou Nanne, trying to be serious. “They’re the Chicago Blackhawks. We’ve drawn from four teams. We’re the Minnesota Mergers.”
The Blackhawks were coached by Hall of Famers Tony Esposito and Pat Foley, the latter donning a vintage Billy Reay black chapeau. They thought their grizzled men of winter were ready and, by gosh, 25 seconds into the fray, Denis Savard bear-hugged Dino Ciccarelli. They attempted to re-enact past hostilities without laughing too hard. Savard claimed a TKO victory. Ciccarelli said he was surprised Savard would dare engage without Al Secord by his side. Touché.
Troy Murray’s penalty shot achieved a 2-2 situation after 20 running minutes against Gilles Meloche, who played for the Blackhawks, Golden Seals, Barons and North Stars. Eric Daze also scored his first of two for the hated visitors. But Brunette’s penalty shot made it 3-2 for Minnesota late in the middle period against Waite, who relieved Murray Bannerman. He said he hadn’t put on the pads in 12 years. Waite is on the ice all the time with pupils Corey Crawford and Scott Darling, who promised to watch their mentor closely. Darling even attended the Alumni fest.
“We might have a video session with Jimmy depending on what happens,” warned Crawford earlier in the day after the current Blackhawks conducted a brisk practice. They are fixtures at outdoor games, and staples of another worthy event—a “scrimmage” against the USA Warriors. Saturday’s contingent featured 28 members of the team based in Washington, and six from a more recently formed squad in Chicago.
The format, aptly described by Crawford as “fun chaos,” pits the aforementioned 34 against the 23 Blackhawks. Each side included some Warriors and some Blackhawks, all competing to do something productive with two pucks in play.
“Our three-on-three format is pretty difficult on goalies,” noted Crawford. “But this one is really another level. Lots of traffic out there.”
No franchise in the National Hockey League has been more involved with or more supportive of the USA Warriors than the Blackhawks. After Saturday’s free-for-all, the final was 10-9. But all that means is one side had 10, and the other 9.
“Unbelievable,” Crawford went on. “We do this every year with them, and every year you realize what they’ve been through, what their families have been through. You see a guy out there, he’s lost both his legs fighting for his country, and he’s out there skating. Kind of puts everything in perspective.”
In the locker room, Andrew Desjardins was about to dive into a salad when he reflected on the just-concluded bonding.
“We enjoy it as much as they do,” he said. “Heroes. Those people are heroes.”