An historic night awaited the North Stars, Met Center, and its loyal fans on the night of January 7, 1980. Minnesota was scheduled to play the rough and tough Philadelphia Flyers, better known as the Broadstreet Bullies. The Flyers came into Bloomington sporting the NHL’s (and all major league sports) longest undefeated streak ever, going 25-0-10 over a 35-game stretch.
An all-time record Met Center crowd of 15,962 squeezed into every nook and cranny of the arena, which was the largest crowd to ever witness a hockey game in Minnesota to that time, and would remain the highest total in all 26 seasons of Minnesota North Stars’ hockey.
They packed the arena to see the team of Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber, Andre “Moose” Dupont and other assorted aggressors who caused other teams to come down with mysterious cases of the “Philly Flu,” so as not to have to deal with certain bruises. After this night, the Flyers would ultimately go on to face the New York Islanders in the Stanley Cup Finals.
|Gilles Meloche was the goaltender that helped snap Philly's 35-game unbeaten streak. |
While the attainment of hockey’s top prize was not to be theirs this season, they intimidated various and sundry opponents along the way, carrying on a reputation created in the mid-1970’s with their back-to-back Stanley Cup victories over the Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres. The Flyers also carried a bit of the State of Hockey on their roster, though that term was long in the offing, in the persons of former Gophers, Tom Gorrence and Paul Holmgren (Philly’s current General Manager).
During the streak, Gorrence had one game-winning goal, while Holmgren had come up with three. Holmgren would distinguish himself in the aforementioned Stanley Cup Finals by becoming the first American to record a hat trick in playoff action when he accomplished that feat in an 8-3 Game Two victory. But that came after the Stars game, which took place just over 30 years ago.
“It was a playoff like atmosphere,” recalled John Maher, a former North Stars employee and current Vice President of Brand Marketing for the Minnesota Wild.
That observation was echoed by St. Paul Pioneer Press beat writer Pat Thompson, who described the crowd as being thrown “into a state of delirium on several occasions.” The delirium wasn’t there at the start as the visitors took a 1-0 lead on Bill Barber’s goal 3:49 into the first period and it looked like the streak would continue. Thereafter, it was all North Stars as goals by Mike Eaves (now Wisconsin’s head coach), Greg Smith, and Steve Payne put the home team up 3-1 by the period’s end.
The North Stars survived a two man shortfall early in the second stanza as “the crowd went into its biggest frenzy” when Craig Hartsburg nearly scored during the shorthanded situation. “Never have I heard so much noise in this building. What a feeling.” said defenseman Fred Barrett. Hartsburg then made it 4-1 on a power play tally at 15:33, and that was soon followed by a goal from Hibbing native Mike Polich.
Coach Glen Sonmor, later a Wild scout, described Hartsburg’s goal as “…the turning point. We had ’em right there.
Ron Zanussi and Bobby Smith had third period tallies to make the final 7-1 and close the books on the Flyers’ record run. Philadelphia coach Pat Quinn, now Edmonton’s bench boss, summarized things succinctly when he said, “We ran into a hockey team that not going to be denied.”
Nonetheless, Quinn would have the last laugh, when before bowing four games to two to the Islanders in the Finals; his team eliminated Minnesota four games to one in the Semi-Finals.