North Stars show Minny can be Maxi


The problem with the written word is it has a way of sticking around . . . and around. A broadcaster says something and, whoosh, it's gone. Write something and someone with a pair of scissors clips it and waits . . .

Maybe you saw "The Quote" in The Sun earlier this week: "The North Stars," wrote Minneapolis sports columnist Pat Reusse, "and the National Hockey League are finished in Minnesota."

The North Stars, be reminded, start a best-of-seven series for the Stanley Cup against the Penguins in Pittsburgh tonight and they're going bonkers in the Twin Cities. Uh, Pat, what happened?

"I think I wrote that sometime last November when things were in a mess around here," started the acerbic wit. "The team was just brutal, there was all this uncertainty about the ownership and no one was showing up to games. The team picked the quote up and included it in a press packet to illustrate how bad things were."

Even the casual observer has a pretty good idea of what has been going on the last six weeks. Minnesota, the next-to-worst team in the 16-team playoffs, suddenly caught fire. In consecutive series, it has dispatched the top two regular-season teams, Chicago and St. Louis, and the defending champ Edmonton Oilers, winners of five cups over the last seven seasons.

The North Stars' march past the stiffest possible competition has long since dispelled the theory that this whole majestic run is some sort of fluke. And no matter what happens in the finals, the season will always be remembered as the year Minny became Maxi.

Just how bad were things when the first puck got dropped last October?

"They drew 4,600 to the season opener," answered Reusse. "One game last November, the crowd was 4,400. Only 5,300 showed up for the Canadiens' only appearance of the season. They averaged 7,800 for the season. Worse yet was the ownership maneuvering; nobody had any idea what was going on.

"The Gunds [George and Gordon] sold the team to Howie 'The Hairdo' Baldwin and grabbed the expansion franchise starting up next season in San Jose. Part of the deal was the Gunds would get half the players on the Minnesota roster at season's end. Baldwin didn't last long, three weeks I think, because he had everything he needed but money.

"Anyway, he had a partner, Morris Belzberg, who had a buddy, Norm Green, and Belzberg asked Green if he wanted to finance the deal. To make a long story short, Green, who likes the limelight and has a lot of money, took the deal himself."

The franchise, no matter who owned it, had been going south for quite a while, noted Reusse. "Actually," he continued, "the franchise has been five minutes from going belly-up twice in 24 years."

Move ahead to April, past the 27-39 season, past the ownership business and the season-long ennui of the fans. An indication of great things in the offing arrived in the Stars' opening playoff game in hellacious Chicago Stadium. Minnesota, after going 0-25-4 during the regular season when trailing after two periods, came from behind to win.

Later, in the Campbell Conference final against the Oilers, the North Stars ended an 11-year losing streak in Edmonton (0-14-4) with not one victory but two. Suddenly, they're darlings again, season tickets are moving and Green is willing to spend $35 million to spruce up the Met Center.

"I'm kinda glad I missed on that one," said Reusse. Maybe you recall another one Pat "missed on" this time last year.

In town to take in the Preakness, he placed Cal Ripken as captain and cleanup hitter on his "All Washed-Up" team, with the notation "take a week or so off and think about that swing, Cal."

Broadcaster Jim Palmer, obviously unaware some things are done tongue-in-cheek, reacted angrily over the air. "Even got a call in the press box from Kevin Hickey," Reusse scoffed. "He invited me down to talk about it. Kevin Hickey, I thought he was playing softball somewhere."

Well, at least one of his predictions turned out right.

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