When Dino Ciccarelli steps on the ice tonight at Xcel Energy Center, he’ll be greeted with thunderous applause of fans, many of whom never saw him play, but undoubtedly heard some Dino stories.
There’s no doubt that many of those stories and memories will be flooding the mind of Dino himself as he returns to the state where his Hall of Fame NHL career began with the Minnesota North Stars. As the crowd chants of “Dino! Dino! Dino!” echo through the arena as they once did in Met Center, perhaps the Sarnia, Ontario native will think back to one particular night on March 22, 1981, when he accomplished a feat never duplicated by an NHL team in Minnesota. “Ciccarelli’s Four Goals Lead Stars to 9-3 Victory” was the headline on Charley Hallman’s St. Paul Pioneer Press game story the following day. Those four goals stood out among 608 in a career spanning 19 seasons and four teams other than Minnesota: Washington, Detroit, Tampa Bay, and Florida.
It’s not like four goals have never been scored in an NHL game before, but let’s go back a bit earlier before we revisit “the feat.”
Ciccarelli had begun the season at Oklahoma City of the CHL when he was recalled on February 6 as the North Stars were on the verge of a run to earn a berth in the Stanley Cup Finals. Heading into this game against Detroit, he had scored 11 goals in 20 games, but those numbers would increase dramatically this night.
According to Hallman, “Ciccarelli started Minnesota’s assault by canning his own rebound 11:18 into the game…(His) second goal at 17:28 came on a rebound of a Curt Giles slapper. “…Ciccarelli’s hat trick goal (was) 2:08 into the middle period. Bobby Smith worked his way over the Detroit blue line, threaded a pass back to Gordie Roberts at the left point and Roberts put a low bullet right on net. Before the puck reached Detroit goalie Larry Lozinski…Ciccarelli turned the blade of his stick to deflect the shot between Lozinski’s pads into the Red Wing net. “Ciccarelli’s fourth goal increased the lead to 8-2 at 8:56 of the third…”
The 5-foot-10, 181-pound right wing would later summarize his night’s work to Hallman by commenting, “(Goal three) was typical of my goals today. Two were rebounds, two were deflections. The farthest I was away from the net on any of the goals was five feet.” He was the quintessential natural goal scorer as redundant as that expression is in the great ice sport. His coach, Glen Sonmor and teammate Bobby Smith seconded that cliché with the latter putting it best, not only for Dino’s game, but for his career:
“Baby, he’s there when the puck is, and that’s the name of the game. He has that great ability to put the puck away. He scores goals because he’s got good control of his body around the net, has a good backhand and has an excellent shot. He may be scoring most of his goals from five feet now, but he has a heckuva shot from 35 to 40 feet, and he’s eventually going to score a lot of goals from that distance.”
We’ve seen four goal performances in Minnesota. Many of us will not soon forget Marian Gaborik’s five-goal game against the New York Rangers. But Gabby was a veteran, and Ciccarelli was a rookie when he turned on the lamp four times. His four tallies were one short of the NHL rookie record established by Howie Meeker in 1947 and matched by Don Murdoch in 1976. But Dino is in the NHL record book now for scoring the most points by a rookie in Stanley Cup playoffs, racking up 14 goals and seven assists as the Stars fell in the Finals to the New York Islanders.
Ciccarelli had a memorable career far beyond his rookie accomplishments. He followed up his rookie year with a 55-goal outburst. He enjoyed a spectacular season in 1985-86 when he was matched on a line with a couple Minnesotans, Neal Broten and Scott Bjugstad. He finished that season with 44 goals among 89 points. And then nearly reached his age in goals by scoring 35 at the age of 37 while playing with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Stanley Cup may have eluded him, but he has a place in the Hockey Hall of Fame, the NHL Record Books and the hearts of Minnesota hockey fans past and present.