Original Stars Neal Broten and Shane Churla were hopeful that hockey would succeed in Dallas, but nobody involved with the relocation was certain the sport would be embraced in the Deep South.
|Neal Broten |
Minnesota-born Broten had personal reasons for reservations about leaving his home state. His teammate, Churla, was also comfortable in Minneapolis-St. Paul, having played his first five sea sons there with the North Stars.
But after a short time in their new city, Broten and Churla had already become two of the best salesmen for the NHL in Big D.
“You could tell after the first three or four months,’’ Broten said. “You’d be driving to a game and kids were out playing street hockey and rollerblading on the sidewalk. It’s a great sports community and you knew hockey would succeed here.
“Being a Minnesota boy, I was at first disappointed, definitely. I played most of my career there, 13 years with the North Stars. But it was an opportunity and it was out of our control because the owner decided to move the team. The fans here were unbelievable. It was a great place to come and play. I enjoyed every minute of it.’’
Broten scored the franchise’s first goal, one of 274 for his career. Churla, Broten and Mike Modano soon became the most popular players with the new fan base.
“We had some tough times in Minnesota so something had to be done,’’ Churla said. “There was some nervous anticipation on the part of the players at the move. We really didn’t know what to expect. But it didn’t take long for us to warm up to the fans and they really embraced us with open arms. It was a great experience.’’
Broten and Churla were back in Dallas on Friday for the team’s regular-season opener, joining fellow original Stars Craig Ludwig and Andy Moog for pregame ceremonies as the franchise marked the 15th anniversary of the first game in Dallas.
None of the Texas transplants could have anticipated how successful the franchise has been in Dallas. Since the move, the Stars have captured seven conference titles, reached the playoffs 12 times, and participated in two Stanley Cup finals, winning the most famous trophy in professional sports in 1999.
Ludwig was still a player on the ‘99 team, and he remains associated with the Stars as a broadcaster. Ludwig served as master of ceremonies for the on-ice commemoration of that inaugural game at Reunion Arena, and he remarked to the crowd about the fantastic growth of the sport in North Texas.
“When we started, there were 500 players here in adult and youth hockey,’’ Ludwig said. “Now there are 8,000. We’re proud to be a part of that.’’
One of three North Stars to have his number retired, Broten was a franchise mainstay from 1980-95, and then re-joined the team in 1996-97, his final NHL season.
Broten was the team's most honored U.S.-born player until Modano took over that distinction by becoming the greatest U.S.-born goal-scorer in NHL history. Broten also was the last member of the U.S. Olympic “Miracle on Ice’’ team to play in the NHL.
For a while, Broten worked for the Minnesota Wild, the expansion team that eventually replaced the North Stars. These days he lives on a ranch in River Falls, Wis., 45 minutes from Minneapolis, raising quarter horses.
|Shane Churla (and Jeremy Roenick) back in 1993 |
“We live a quiet life,’’ Broten said. ‘‘My wife does a lot of horse shows. We’re settled down, peaceful. Nobody bothers you. We enjoy it. Both our children are in their 20s, one is married with a five-month-old baby so I’m a grandpa.’’
Churla calls Flathead Lake, Mont., his home, but he doesn’t see much of his house during hockey season. That’s because Churla is now a scout for the Stars.
“The year after I retired, I did all those things we weren’t allowed to do when we played hockey,’’ Churla said. “I spent most of a year hunting in Alaska. But I got through with that and realized I needed to get back to the real life. I decided I wanted to stay in the game.’’
Churla first scouted for the Phoenix Coyotes, then re-joined the Stars.
“I cover the world, so I’m not home a whole lot,’’ Churla said. “I go to Europe three times a year, then all over North America. Wherever the players are, that dictates my travel.’’
Churla’s willingness to use his fists made him a fan favorite, and he was greeted warmly by the crowd when he was introduced at the opener.
The cheers brought back fond memories.
“Looking back at what kind of city it is, typically a football, smash-mouth, rough-and-tumble type of city, they embraced me pretty quickly,’’ Churla said. “I got treated like a rock star from the time I was here, which was kind of unbelievable at times. But you look back at what they like, it didn’t surprise me.’’