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Alumni for North Stars, Wild prepare for outdoor game

by Dan Myers

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Players for the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild have plenty of time to prepare for next month's Coors Light Stadium Series game at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Feb. 21.

For the Minnesota North Stars alumni, who will play against their Chicago counterparts the day before, it seems as if the game is approaching quickly.

"It comes fast," said Brad Maxwell, the President of the Minnesota NHL Alumni Association and former North Stars defenseman. "It seemed like it was three months ago and now it's going to be a month away."

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In preparation for the game, a group of North Stars and Wild alumni gathered for their first practice at Xcel Energy Center on Wednesday. For Maxwell, who said he still gets on the ice once a week, it's just another day at the rink.

For others, getting out on the ice has become a little less habitual.

That includes Neal Broten, a native of Roseau, Minn. and a former Hobey Baker Award winner at the University of Minnesota. Broten played 13 seasons with the North Stars and two more with the club after it moved to Dallas in 1993.

He won the Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 1995, spent time with the Los Angeles Kings and had one final stint in Dallas in 1997 before calling it a career.

Since leaving the NHL, Broten said he hasn't spent much time on the ice, choosing to spend more time taking care of things on his ranch in western Wisconsin.

"The rec leagues are too serious, especially when they find out you were a pro hockey player," Broten said. "It ended up being a lot like a Stanley Cup game, a lot of whacking and hacking and I said 'I've had enough of that.' I've pretty much stayed away from hockey. I have a couple of grandsons that are starting to skate, so I've skated a couple of times, but not too much."

Broten and Maxwell were joined on the ice by fellow North Stars alums Don Beaupre, Dave Christian, Reed Larson and Tom Younghans, as well as former Wild players Andrew Brunette, Darby Hendrickson and Wes Walz. Former North Stars defenseman Tom Reid, who will serve as a coach, was also on hand.

Reid said he is looking forward to seeing what kind of shape guys will be in for the game. There is certain to be varying levels of fitness, based largely on the age of the player and the amount of time one has spent out of the game.

Walz, who is the boys hockey coach at East Ridge High School in Woodbury, Minn., is on the ice every day. He said he recently started to do conditioning drills with his players at the end of practices to be in his best shape as possible.

"It's pretty neat for those guys to see that. Obviously we're all very excited about it," Walz said. "I don't want to get in great shape right now because I could get in and out of shape four times before the game starts. I want to just kind of ramp it up a little bit, and just make sure that when we're ready to play on the 20th, my heart doesn't fail me.”

Word in the dressing room on Wednesday among several players was that Mike Modano looks like he could still play.

For others, a training regimen is a little simpler.

"I just think it is more beer," Maxwell said with a laugh.

In addition to skating once a week, Maxwell said he's getting to the gym and drinking protein shakes.

"It's scary," he said.

Broten said he will start heading to the gym and try to get on the ice in order to round into shape.

"I'm going to go on the elliptical a few times and try to drop a few pounds and probably get on the ice a few hours just so I have a little balance and don't look like a fool out there," Broten said. "I always said when I was playing pro I wanted to weigh about 192, and I played at about 170. Now I'm 192, so we'll see what it feels like."

For many in Minnesota, especially the older crowd, the alumni game is expected to be as exciting as the main event.

Visions of an intense rivalry that grew stronger because of several Stanley Cup Playoff series in the 1970s and 80s will return as soon as the Minnesota alumni, clad in the old North Stars 'N' jerseys, step on the ice.

"Getting together once again brings back a lot of war stories, a lot of fun stories. And the rivalry with Chicago has been terrific over the years," Reid said. "I think the game might be a little bit slower. But I'm sure these guys will cherish the moment back on the ice together."

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