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Long May You Run

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

Even though he spent less than two full seasons in Dallas, his jersey hangs from the rafters of American Airlines Center because he was one of the greatest players to ever suit up for the franchise. While the best years of his career were spent in Minnesota before the North Stars moved south, Neal Broten has had a tremendous impact on the club and not just because he still ranks near the top of every important category in franchise history. 

In addition to his 16 years of exemplary service, Broten’s contributions to the club are still being felt today, as he helped mentor a young offensive star by the name of Mike Modano back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.

“Certainly, he was a guy when I was young that I really migrated to,” Modano said. “I followed him and watched him and how he reacted to certain things and how he played. Some things I still do that I watched him do.”

Thus, it was fitting that it was Modano who ended up breaking Broten’s club scoring records several years ago. Broten still stands second on the team’s all-time list for points (867), assists (593), and games played (992), while ranking fourth in goals (274) and sixth in game-winners (30). Broten still holds the club mark for most assists in a single season (76 in 1985-86) and amassed the third-most points by a Star or North Star ever in a season (105, also in 1985-86).

Of course, it is a testament to how successful an NHL career he fashioned that sometimes people forget that he also played a key role in one of the most significant sporting moments in US history. As a fresh-faced 20-year-old, Broten scored two goals and three points over seven games for the 1980 ‘Miracle on Ice’ U.S. Olympic team that defeated the overwhelmingly-favored Soviet Union along the way to a Gold Medal. 

The North Stars’ second-round draft choice (42nd overall) in 1979, Broten was one of the NHL’s first American stars, leading the club in scoring three times and when he scored 105 points in 1985-86, he became the first US-born player to breach the century mark. Broten was a winner at every level of hockey, with three Minnesota high school state championships, an NCAA title at Minnesota, the Olympic gold medal, two Stanley Cup Finals appearances with the North Stars (1981 and ‘91) and a Cup championship with New Jersey (1995). He retired as the second-leading scorer among Americans with 923 career points, and still sits 10th on the list that Modano now tops. He was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2000.

“Just a great player, a great guy, really well-liked,” said Stars assistant coach Ulf Dahlen, who skated alongside Broten in Minnesota and Dallas from 1990-94. “Good two-way player, great passer, won the Olympic Gold medal, won a Stanley Cup, a true winner. He had a lot of records here, and certainly one of the legends of this franchise throughout the years. It was an honor to be his teammate.”

Even though he returned to his native Minnesota upon retiring in 1997, Broten enjoys the occasional trip to Dallas. He was back in town last weekend for the Texas Tornado’s Pros vs. Prospects IV charity game, despite having barely laced up the skates recently.

“I only skated a couple of times in the last year or two, just pass the puck around a little bit, just have some fun,” admitted Broten, who still looked pretty good, earning an assist in the contest. “It brings back a lot of good memories, so I think it’s fun for all the guys to come back here.”

Broten now spends most of his time on his farm and is happy to be disconnected from the sport that consumed so much of his life.

“I just kind of like to get away from it,” he noted. “I started playing when I was four and played until I was 37, so just taking a little break from it now. I’m back in Minnesota. We own a horse facility and raise quarter horses and pretty much just work on the farm and do a lot of traveling.”

Of course, as much as he enjoys visiting Dallas now, Broten was not all that thrilled to be leaving his home state back in ‘93, where he played his entire career until then, especially coming to a place that had no history of top-level hockey. 

“There was disappointment,” he acknowledged. “As most people know, Minnesota’s a big hockey town and you couldn’t comprehend why a team would move from Minnesota to Dallas. But coming down here, the people were nice and it was a good place to play and I enjoyed coming down here, but yeah, it was disappointing moving the team from Minnesota.”

The fans picked up the new game pretty quickly and Broten gradually became more comfortable here and enjoyed the enthusiastic atmosphere.

“It was great, the people around here, the fans were awesome,” he remembers. “They accepted us great and we had a pretty solid team. It was a lot of fun playing here and most of the guys really enjoyed it.”

Broten’s contentment in Dallas wouldn’t last long, however, because he was traded early in the second season here, in Feb. 1995, to New Jersey in exchange for center Corey Millen. Even though Broten became a key offensive cog on the defensive-minded Devils, helping them win the Stanley Cup that season, he never wanted to leave the only NHL franchise he’d ever played for.

“When I got traded, I was real disappointed,” he said. “I wanted to play here. It made it nicer to win a Cup, but still, it isn’t the same feeling.” 

He returned to Dallas in Jan. 1997 when he was claimed off waivers and played well down the stretch, totaling eight goals and 15 points over the season’s final 20 games. He wanted to return the next year, but the Stars chose not to offer him a new contract and Broten decided to call it quits rather than join another organization. 

“I still thought I could play another year,” he said. “I finished off pretty strong. I knew this team really had a good chance to win a Cup and I wanted to be a part of it.”

Of course, Broten was right - the Stars would go on to win the Presidents’ Trophy for compiling the league’s top regular season record that next season, and then capture the Cup the year after that in 1998-99.  But he’d already established his legacy with the club by then, and the Stars honored him on Feb. 7, 1998 by raising his jersey to the rafters.

“It’s a huge honor, something that I’m extremely happy about,” Broten said of his number 7 hanging at American Airlines Center. “It’s fine right there.”

It certainly is a well-deserved honor, after everything he has contributed to this franchise.
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