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Green a hockey pioneer in Dallas

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

There he was, standing against the glass watching the Stars practice just like many others around the rink, but this slight, white-haired man was far more than your average hockey fan.

It was Norm Green, the man who defied convention by moving an NHL hockey team out of ‘the State of Hockey’ and into a football-crazed city where the only ice you could find was in your drink.

Norman Green
On Monday afternoon, Norm Green casually stood near the door where the players skated off the ice at the Dr Pepper StarCenter in Farmers Branch, inside a rink that wouldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for him. As he bumped fists with several Stars veterans as they finished practice, Green, the Stars’ former owner, indicated that he just dropped by to check up on his old team and see how things were going.

“I do this occasionally, just come down and watch practice, just see how the kids are doing,” Green said. “And it’s still a pretty major part in my heart, the team. And I go on a road trip with the team from time to time.”

Green, who sold the Stars to Tom Hicks during the 1995-96 season, was the driving force behind uprooting the floundering Minnesota North Stars in 1993 and heading down I-35 to a Metroplex that has embraced hockey beyond everyone’s hopes and dreams.

“That was a pretty exciting time to come into this market, but boy, they’ve been well-received,” Green understated. “I remember when we first came down at Valley Ranch, the only ice that was available was in bad shape, there was a couple of big bumps in it that people couldn’t afford to fix, and now, there are how many thousand teams in the area? Quite incredible, that’s a pretty exciting thing. 

“And I think a lot of people in Dallas are quite surprised at how well hockey has been received, because when we came, of course, they always said there were three sports only - football, football and football. And we came just around Super Bowl time, (when the Cowboys won it) in ’93, but it’s a great game to watch, by far the best, and the image of the team, quality guys like Mike Modano, a first-class young guy, and the quality of all of the team’s players, really first-class, and they’ve made an important contribution to the community, charity-wise. They’re involved in the community, and I think that’s why they’re so popular.”

Green is a pioneer, the man who grew hockey in Texas. As he noted, since the Stars arrived here, an area that had just three ice sheets in 1993 now has about 25, which has corresponded with a youth (and adult) hockey participation explosion. The Metroplex is now even starting to produce elite young players like former Cornell (and current Iowa Star) goaltender David McKee and Colgate University winger Austin Smith, a fifth-round draft choice of the Stars in June. Green’s impact on this community has been incalculable.

“I love Norm Green,” said Stars broadcaster Ralph Strangis, who also moved down to Texas with the club in ‘93. “He brought us here. He had the vision to bring us here, and I’ll tell you, it took a lot of guts, but he brought us here and then he made sure that we made it. He’s the man.”

Leaving Minnesota was a highly unpopular move at the time and Green was vilified there for many years for daring to take the NHL out of such a thriving hockey hotbed and into the Sun Belt. But as he points out, the team wasn’t being very well-supported and in the end, things worked out very well for the hockey fans of Minnesota anyway.

“I don’t blame them, because the North Stars, even though they weren’t being supported, were part of their culture,” Green said, acknowledging he is still not likely to win any popularity contests in Minnesota. “And the bottom line is, it needed a shot in the arm.  In reality, what happened is, they lost interest in the North Stars because the (University of Minnesota) Gophers were doing all right, and for $5, they could go see the Gophers and $25 they could go see the North Stars lose, and they kind of lost interest in it. 

Former Stars owner Norm Green and former Dallas Mayor Steve Bartlett answer questions following the announcement of the franchise move to Texas in 1993.
“And we didn’t plan this - we had to do this because there was not support - but in retrospect, they needed to have a little shot in the arm. And what happened? Amazingly, when we left, the government did a great thing. They built a great building, they got a new team, and now there’s a waiting list for season tickets. Quite incredible. We couldn’t fill our 16,000-seat with 7,000 people. But it was a good process in the final analysis.”

One of the issues before the North Stars moved was that they tried to get a new arena to replace the Met Center where they played in suburban Bloomington, but could not get the either of the Twin Cities or the state to help finance it. Several years after leaving town, though, they built the new Xcel Energy Center in downtown St. Paul and then attracted the Wild as an expansion team, which enjoys far more support than the North Stars ever got. 

But even though Green is right, the people of Minnesota probably had to lose their team before they realized how integral the NHL was to their hockey community, it’s doubtful fans there would see it that way.

“I haven’t been back since ’92 and I’m not going back,” Green laughed. “Well, I may one day, I may go sit in a box with (former North Star GM) Lou Nanne and put a mustache on.”

Of course, after arriving in the Metroplex, there was a lot of hard work to do to promote and market the team in a city that didn’t know the game very well and Green made sure it succeeded.

“Mr. Green remains a great friend, we wouldn’t be here without Norm Green,” Stars President Jim Lites said. “Norm recruited me to Dallas, he was my partner, hired me in ’93 to come here and I thank him every day for that whenever I see him. He was only the owner for three seasons (in Dallas), but they were integral seasons.  He worked his tail off to move the team here. He hired me and then he gave (original GM) Bob Gainey and myself all the tools we needed to build a good staff, to do the right thing. He was tireless in attracting season ticket holders, he went to a million parties, to Rotary Clubs, spoke wherever he could. 

“He was really fun to work with. We had a lot trying times, a lockout in the second year, lots of financial difficulties and those kinds of things, but he overcame all of it.”

As the team’s marquee player since arriving in Dallas 14 years ago, Modano played a key role in helping the Stars establish themselves on the Metroplex sports scene and helping sell the game.

“It was a novelty for a while, people were intrigued by it,” Modano said. “The interest level was really high at the time, coming down, but we were really able to get people into hockey, once they watched it.”

“He was always a superstar, he was a first overall draft choice,” Green said of Modano. “You know, I brag about him, because, when people talk about the quality of hockey players being such good guys, I use Mike as an example. Mike was 19 years old in Minnesota when we were there and he was just getting started.  His first year, his parents were at every game. And they were often on the road trips with him, so he had incredible parental involvement, and I think that’s one of the main reasons that he’s such a good, solid guy. He’s an image for the team, he has phenomenal style, and as good as he is and as stylish as he is, that’s how nice he is. He’s just a really, wholesome, good young man.”

As much as Green likes Modano, the feeling is clearly mutual.

1994-95 Dallas Stars Team Photo
“He’s really a great guy, one of those guys that I enjoyed playing for, and he took care of the players and a real professional guy,” Modano said of Green. “He was a real players’ type owner.”

And every single person who works for the club or has a job because of the Stars’ presence, plays hockey at one of the Dr Pepper StarCenter rinks, or is a fan of NHL hockey here has had their lives transformed because of the will and vision of Norm Green.

“Norman really gave me a chance as a National Hockey League broadcaster,” Strangis said. “Without Norman Green, I wouldn’t have the job that I have today, and in fact, Norm Green is the guy who brought me to Dallas, by the way, against what might have been other executives’ ideas. I love him, he’s a great owner, he’s always wanted this team to be successful. He’s done whatever it took as an owner, and even now, after the fact, he’s a great friend of the organization’s, and I think it’s a real bonus to have a guy like that around, because he’s just a great hockey fan. In my opinion, he’s the number one Dallas Stars hockey fan, period.”

To see how involved and excited Green was watching his old team skate around on Monday in Farmers Branch, there’s no question he still enjoys hockey. 

“He loves the Stars, he loves Dallas, he’s committed to us, he stays in touch with the team in a lot of ways,” Lites said. “He’s a suite-holder and a season-ticket holder, he’s been a great emissary for us. He and Mr. Hicks have a good relationship, they’ve maintained it. We have always told Norman whatever he wants from us, he gets, and he’s reciprocated in any number of ways with our players, with our management. He’s a great friend of the Stars.”

And any fan or player of hockey in the Metroplex should consider Norm Green their friend and thank him if they ever get the chance.

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