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For The First Time, Wild, Stars To Meet In Playoffs

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

Growing up, Rhonda Smed wasn't a hockey player. When she attended Prior Lake High School, it didn't have a girl's hockey program. Her passion for the game was cultivated from watching it.

"I just liked the pace of the game, and how fast it was," Smed said. "I thought it was exciting."

Exciting enough that watching on television could no longer quench her thirst. She attended a North Stars game, fell in love with the experience, and eventually became a Season Ticket Holder, estimating she was for the last 11 years the franchise was in Minnesota.

"I started going to the North Stars games, and I met some people there, and we got together, and got season tickets by each other," Smed said. "That's kind of how it all really started."

Where it ended, seemingly, was when the North Stars relocated to Dallas in in 1993.

"You looked so forward to Fall coming for the training camp, and then the preseason games come, and then hockey season," Smed said. "It's like, 'What am I going to do all summer long?'

"It was hurtful was what it was. It hurt; it hurt."

Twenty-three years later, the Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars, two franchises tied by geographical roundabout, relocation, and an expansion franchise, will meet in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time.

The maiden postseason voyage holds different meanings to different characters.

"I’ve had a lot of playoff series with Dallas, some of them in that arena, some of them in the old one, Reunion, when we won the Cup," said Wild assistant coach Rick Wilson.

On the Minnesota North Star's staff in its final season before the team moved to Dallas, Wilson went on to hold a position with the Stars, before coming back to Minnesota to work for the Wild.

"Preparation for any playoff series is always a little more intense, there’s more focus, there’s more digging around, and trying to find little things that might help you," he said. There is more preparation but it doesn't have anything to do with playing Dallas, it’s prepping for any playoff series, regardless of what team.”

For Smed, who has been a Wild season ticket holder since the franchise returned to Minnesota, this isn't just another playoff series.

"Just because you remember what you went through back then," Smed said. "It's like, 'Ok, now this is a time where I want to really (want to win)' — this is a way to kind of get back at them.

"I know a lot of the management that was there in the first place is no longer involved as much, so that's what I want to do, is just get revenge."

Wilson has seen those transformations. He's been involved in plenty of Wild-Stars games over the years.

"I’ve been gone from there quite awhile and pretty much everything has changed," he said. "All the players, coaches, managers, there isn’t a lot of things left from when I left.

"The building is familiar, the security people and all those kind of things are familiar, but other than that, it’s a new organization."

Smed also has a deeper connection. She was a member of a fan club for the North Stars that helped fundraise for various local charities. When the Wild expansion franchise was announced, her mother Ruth, who passed away two years ago, put down the $100 deposit for season tickets as a surprise birthday gift.

"This is kind of really a part of her that will always be with me as long as I have tickets there," Smed said." I just think of her and say, 'Wow, she really got me here, and got me back involved in all of this.' It's been a fun ride for 15 years so far."

It was 15 years to the day earlier this regular season that marked the anniversary of the first Minnesota Wild-Dallas Stars game, a 6-0 Wild victory in Saint Paul that sticks out to both Smed and Wilson.

"It was an impressive place to come to the first time we came in here," said Wilson, who was a Stars assistant at the time. "The arena, the facility, the crowd, just the whole atmosphere in here was extremely impressive. It was like ‘This is good, this is all good.’"

Smed began to laugh when recalling the game.

"That 6-0 blast?" she said. "That is one I don't think any true hockey fan would forget."

There have been 61 regular season games in all, including the very first one between Minnesota and Dallas. Now meeting for the right to advance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the stakes are higher.

"I'm excited about this; I really am," Smed said. "I hope we just annihilate them. I want to see a good beat-down as they say. It's just exciting. If you ask around the arena, a lot of people have the same feeling. It's kind of like a revenge thing. This is our opportunity now to really shine it, and maybe do like a little payback if we can knock them out."

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