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North Stars alumni look forward to outdoor game

by Dan Myers

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota North Stars still have plenty of fans, as evidenced Friday by the first public appearance of the North Stars and Minnesota Wild alumni who will skate against a team of former Chicago Blackhawks at TCF Bank Stadium on Feb. 20, one day before the Coors Light Stadium Series game between the Blackhawks and Wild.

The North Stars and Wild alumni participated in a "Skate with the Stars" outdoor event at the Wells Fargo Winterskate in downtown St. Paul that offered fans a meet-and-greet with former players from Minnesota's two NHL teams.

Many young fans waited patiently for former Wild players Wes Walz and Antti Laaksonen. Steps away, numerous parents chatted up a number of former North Stars, including goaltender Don Beaupre, forward Neal Broten and defenseman Brad Maxwell.

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Although the North Stars left for Dallas after the 1992-93 season, Minnesota is still well-connected to its first NHL team. Hats, sweatshirts, jackets and flags with the team's distinctive logo were plentiful among the fans who showed up.

"This is what it's all about," said Maxwell, the president of the Minnesota NHL Alumni Association. "Back when I played, people actually paid money to see me play a game that I loved. Getting on later in life, I want to give back to people. They still bring us in and talk about us, so it's fun."

Beaupre's job in the alumni game figures to be a little more difficult.

While the skaters will have normal shift changes and can determine the pace of the game, Beaupre's task is to stop the puck. He's a little out of practice.

"I haven't done it for five years," Beaupre said. "I've only started putting the pads on the last couple of weeks. It's a challenge, there's no doubt about that. It's kind of like muscle memory, only there's no muscle and the memory is gone."

Luckily for Beaupre, he has some experience in outdoor alumni games. He played for the Washington Capitals alumni before the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic in Pittsburgh.

"You [put the pads] on and you stand there wondering what you're doing," Beaupre said. "But there's something in you that you kind of remember. You move around, try and get behind it. Some of them hit you and some of them don't."

This experience will be a little bit different: Beaupre said the weather that day in Pittsburgh was balmy. Temperatures in Minnesota in late February are not expected to reach the low-50s as they did at Heinz Field.

"I think the weather is going to be a little bit colder," Beaupre said. "We'll be OK as players, but more so the fans are going to come out there. They'll be the ones standing in the cold. Talk to the Vikings fans that were out there last Sunday [for an NFL playoff game]; it was tough going."

Former North Stars forward Jack Carlson wasn't at a practice session Wednesday. But he was excited to catch up with his former teammates and fans again outdoors on Friday, although these meetings have been commonplace through the years.

"I have a real job," Carlson said with a laugh when asked why he missed practice.

A number of former North Stars, including Carlson, have made Minnesota their permanent home since their playing days ended. That has allowed many alumni to stay connected with fans.

"We've kept our alumni association going and we have a lot of participants in that," Carlson said. "Through charity games, golf tournaments, Christmas parties, stuff like that, we stay connected."

It also makes for a good time when all the guys get back together.

"Seeing some old guys, I'm absolutely thrilled to be playing in the outdoor game," Carlson said. "A lot of guys I played with and a lot of guys I played against.

"I don't know how many of these guys played in front of 55,000 or 60,000 fans. I know I haven't. That'll be fun."

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