MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota's hockey legacy was on full display Saturday afternoon during a picture-perfect day in the State of Hockey.
A crowd of 37,992 turned out at TCF Bank Stadium for the 2016 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series Alumni Game between a Minnesota North Stars/Wild team and the Chicago Blackhawks, the appetizer for the 2016 Coors Light Stadium Series game Sunday between the current Blackhawks and the Minnesota Wild (3:30 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports).
The home team on this day was an amalgamation of retired players from the North Stars teams that called this area home from 1967-93 before moving to Dallas and the Wild, which has played in St. Paul since joining the NHL in 2000.
"This is our history and this is our culture and we were all here today," said former North Stars player, coach and general manager Lou Nanne, one of the coaches of the Minnesota alumni team.
The celebration of that culture topped the actual hockey, although the 6-4 victory by the home team was filled with quality play and compelling moments.
Nanne played a decade for the North Stars, briefly coached the team and served as GM during the franchise's glory days, including the run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1981. But he does not see a difference between his North Stars and the Wild team that has filled the NHL hockey hole in the state.
He said he made that point to the players during the game. The Minnesota alumni were leading 5-2 late in the game when one of the players on the bench, recently retired from the Wild, turned around and told Nanne to put out five players from the North Stars to finish out the game.
"I said no, no, we're all one, we're not different," Nanne said. "We are all part of the North Stars."
On this night, they all were part of the green-and-gold heritage.
There was center Mike Modano, the franchise icon who took the region by storm when he joined the North Stars as the No. 1 pick in the 1988 NHL Draft, returning as a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
"It's nothing you wouldn't have expected," said Modano, who received the loudest ovation during the pregame player introductions and an even louder cheer when he scored an empty-net goal to make it 6-3 with 1:02 remaining. "They are great fans, passionate, loyal about the game and the history of the organization. Combining the two [teams] was a great idea, and we all felt pretty fortunate to be a part and get the turnout we did."
There was Dino Ciccarelli, the combative right wing who played the first nine seasons of his Hall of Fame career with the North Stars, scrapping and scoring his way into the hearts of Minnesota fans. Ciccarelli said he looked down at the green-and-gold logo before the game Saturday, much in the same way he did before his first game as a rookie.
On his first shift this time, Ciccarelli playfully pushed Blackhawks center Denis Savard into the boards in front of the Chicago bench. All of sudden, Ciccarelli and Savard were creating a playful ruckus that looked like it might boil over.
"It was a lot of laughs and a lot of memories," Ciccarelli said
There was 65-year-old goaltender Gilles Meloche, who threw himself all over the ice in the first period while trying to keep the Blackhawks at bay after not skating at all during the past three years and wearing equipment he was donning for the first time. In the end, he allowed a goal to Eric Daze, who dominated the game when he was on the ice, as well as a penalty-shot goal by Troy Murray. But Meloche made several memorable saves as well.
"That was the fun part, to see all the young guys," said Meloche, who wore a replica of the legendary form-fitting mask he sported when he first landed with the North Stars in 1978. "You know what; you get in the dressing room and you don't feel like you are 65. Everybody feels the same age."
There were countless others with similar stories.
Dennis Maruk opened the scoring with a laser beam of a shot in the sixth minute, bringing the crowd to its feet. Brian Bellows, a huge part of the franchise's history, scored a put-back goal off a shot by Modano. Andrew Brunette, now an assistant coach with the Wild, showed an NHL-caliber shot on his goal.
There were memories being created on a shift-by-shift basis as afternoon turned into night; each feat followed by a huge smile from the player and a cascade of applause from fans happy to celebrate their hockey culture.
It was a night none of the players would ever forget, said goalie Don Beaupre, who made 23 saves, including 17 in the second period.
"A lot of times for us hockey players, after we retire, the lights go off and don't come on for a long time," said forward Wes Walz, who retired from the Wild in 2007 and now does television work for the team. "Some guys struggle with that throughout their retirement. So for the lights to come back on for three or four more hours; for a lot of us, that was a lot of fun."