Sting of North Stars departure remains 20 years later
Many believe the 1992-93 NHL season was among the finest staged in the League's history. From the addition of two teams through expansion, to the sudden prominence of European players, to the heroics of Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux, to the crowning of Montreal as Stanley Cup champions, the season was full of memorable moments. On its 20th anniversary, NHL.com will spend the year looking back at the key moments of that '92-93 season to see if it may indeed be the NHL's Greatest Season.
An eight-year old boy named Zach Parise sat in the stands at Met Center 20 years ago watching in amazement as adults around him started tearing apart the seats following another loss, the 969th in the history of their favorite team.
"They were either keeping them or throwing them onto the ice," Parise, now a 28-year-old superstar in Minnesota, told NHL.com.
That was April 13, 1993, the final home game and second-to-last game in the history of the Minnesota North Stars.
After 26 seasons as the home to a mostly middle-of-the-road franchise, the State of Hockey closed its doors on the National Hockey League in 1993.
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North Stars owner Norm Green made it official on March 10, 1993 that the trucks would back into Met Center and pack up the franchise for a move down south down to Dallas beginning as soon as the 1992-93 season was over.
A generation of cold-weather hockey fans were left with nothing but rage, memories and a piece of furniture, provided they didn't toss it onto the ice.
"It was sad," Parise said. "It stunk losing an NHL team at that time. There was a lot of 'Norm Green sucks' chants going on in the stands, and a lot of people in the stands with signs saying bad things about Norm Green. People were upset. By no means were the fans sending the North Stars off with good spirits."
The death of the North Stars came 26 years after they were born with six other franchises in 1967. In between, they went to the Stanley Cup Playoffs 17 times and the Stanley Cup Final twice (lost both in 1981 and 1991), but they didn't capture a championship and won only 758 of their 2,062 games played.
Shrinking attendance despite low ticket costs and the inability to move the team into a new local arena were two of the reasons Green gave for relocating the franchise to Dallas.
"College hockey in Minnesota was unbelievable and they should have supported a team," former North Star and Hockey Hall of Fame member Dino Ciccarelli told NHL.com. "It was a great hockey team and it's too bad because so many fans were in love with the game and the team. It's too bad, but it's nice to see the League back there again."
The blow of losing the North Stars was indeed softened seven years later, when the NHL returned to Minnesota in the form of the Minnesota Wild.
However, the North Stars were not and still aren't forgotten. They never will be.
They meant more to the die-hard fans in the Minnesota market than just wins and losses and playoff appearances. They were an attraction in the winter, when hockey buzzes in Minnesota like basketball does in Indiana.
Met Center, located on Cedar Avenue in South Bloomington, Minn., was a cold, old barn that they could call their own.
"I liked Modano, Broten, Ciccarelli, Basil McRae -- those were my guys, my favorite players," said Parise, whose father, J.P. Parise, spent 14 seasons with the North Stars as a player or an assistant coach. "I remember going to games when they had the white and the green seats. I remember quite a bit of it."
His affinity for the franchise did not travel down to Dallas.
"I was young at that time and I was so mad that the North Stars left that I wouldn't cheer for the Dallas Stars," Parise said.
It was a bitter pill for so many to swallow.
"It's really sad," former North Star Dave Gagner told NHL.com. "We had probably a group of 8,000 loyal, real loyal fans at that time and it's difficult when you see those people that have put so much faith in the organization have to see the team go. It was difficult from that standpoint. It probably wouldn't have happened if there were more [fans] than that, but those people got a bad deal."
Especially because the 1992-93 team gave them nothing to like after Green ripped out their hearts in mid-March.
The North Stars, once considered contenders to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs, finished their final regular season in Minnesota with only 82 points by going 3-11-1 down the stretch. They lost their last three games of the season, including their final home game, 3-2, to the Chicago Blackhawks.
"It was distracting and as a group we just tanked it at the end," Gagner said. "We were in a playoff spot until the announcement was made and then it was very distracting after that. Obviously getting support from anybody was not going to be possible anymore. Our team was in a free fall after that and it was difficult to take because none of us wanted to go out like that."
It hurt even more because the players always felt they got a good deal in Minnesota. For many it felt like home, even if home was actually Ontario or British Columbia or Massachusetts or Michigan.
"I played for seven different teams, but I always consider myself a North Star. That's where my best years were. That's where my best memories were." -- Dave Gagner
"I really enjoyed the lifestyle there," Gagner said. "My wife and I had our first daughter [Jessica] there. We all really enjoyed it. We had good friends outside the game as well as inside the game. It was a great place to raise a family. We thought we'd have a long future there. Nobody wanted it to end like it did. We were all disappointed.
"A lot of us, because of our feelings about the community, wanted to go out on a positive note but we weren't able to do it."
Gagner said his son, Edmonton Oilers center Sam Gagner, was supposed to be born in Minnesota, but he was early so his wife gave birth to Sam in an Ontario hospital.
"I played for seven different teams, but I always consider myself a North Star," Gagner said. "That's where my best years were. That's where my best memories were. I always enjoyed going back to Minnesota. For our family it was high quality of life and we thought we'd never leave at that time. We even considered going back to it, but being from Toronto we decided to go back there."
Brendan Shanahan never played in Minnesota, but he heard enough talk around the League to get a feel for the fondness players had about the area.
"Minnesota was one of those places that I always thought was similar to St. Louis in that there were players that would play their whole careers in places, spend one year in Minnesota and never leave," Shanahan told NHL.com. "We all knew it was a place that people loved to live."
And play, too.
"I thought it was the best rink in the league," Gagner said. "The quality of the ice was second to none at that time. The last two or three years we were a very good home team. I always loved playing at the Met Center."
The arena was demolished in 1994 and 10 years later an Ikea was erected on the site.
"I pass that and just, you know...," Gagner said, trailing off. "Almost everybody that talks about that arena talks about opening of the door to the tunnel leading out of the rink, how the wind would just blow. Anybody that I talked to that I played against they stayed across the street at the Marriott and that was the only way out of the rink, so you'd open that door and it would just be 25 below blowing in there.
"That is a vivid memory of the Met Center."
So is his final game inside the old building -- but for all the wrong reasons.
"The whole last month or so we had just an empty feeling," Gagner said. "None of us wanted it. We all enjoyed being in Minnesota and to a certain extent some of us had grown there together.
"I don't know if I have lost that feeling. I just always loved playing there."