Thursday, October 21, 2010
The Minnesota North Stars were granted a franchise in the NHL expansion of 1967 and their name was chosen following a name the team contest, with 608 different names submitted from 1,536 entries, which was inspired by the Minnesota state motto "L'Etoile du Nord", which is French for "The Star of the North".
Other suggested names were Blades, Norsemen, Muskies, Lumberjacks, Mallards, Voyageurs and the simply horrid Puckaroos!
The North Stars played their first four games on the road before returning to Minnesota for their first ever game in their brand new Metropolitan Sports Center on this date in 1967.
North Stars first game ticket stub
Metropolitan Sports Center
Their opponents that night were fellow expansion cousins the California Seals, who the North Stars defeated 3-1 for the first win in franchise history on goals from Bill Goldsworthy, Ray Cullen and Dave Balon.
Bill Goldsworthy scores the first goal in Met Center history
"Met Center", as it was more commonly known until 1982 when it became the arena's official name was built at a cost of $7 million and was known for it's great sightlines, excellent ice surface and distinctive colored seats, which at times during the North Stars history were all too visible.
Met Center's distinctive colored seats
The arena was a necessity in order for Minnesota to be granted one of the new franchises, as the largest arena in the area had a capacity of just 8,500, well short of the 12, 500 minimum for the NHL.
The arena was built across the parking lot from Metropolitan Stadium, home of the Minnesota Twins baseball club, in the suburb of Bloomington, as a compromise between the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The Met Center was also home to the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament from 1969-1975 as the best high school teams from all around Minnesota, from Rochester in the south to Warroad near the Canadian border skated on the same ice as the NHL stars of the day to determine annually who was the best in the state in front of sold out crowds of 15,000 screaming fans.
Other teams to call the Met Center home were the short-lived Minnesota Muskies and Minnesota Pipers of the ABA and the Minnesota Kicks and Minnesota Strikers indoor soccer clubs. Many concerts were also held there throughout it's history, ranging from Frank Sinatra to local superstar Prince.
Eventually the Met Center fell victim to it's outdated design, which lacked the essential number of private suites, although several remodeling efforts added a club at the upper end of one end and some jury rigged suites hanging from the roof at the opposite end.
Following their first home game, the North Stars alternated between hot and cold, going undefeated for four games at a time, but alternating with winless streaks of five or six games until finding themselves at 14-15-8 on the night of January 13th, 1968, when Bill Masterton, who had scored the first goal in North Stars history, was checked and fell backwards, hitting his head on the ice, knocking him unconscious. Masterton suffered a massive brain hemorrhage and died two days later at the age of 29, the only player to ever die of an on ice injury in the NHL.
Masterton's #19 was retired by the team and ushered in increasing use of helmets in hockey, which later became mandatory in 1979. The Bill Masterton Trophy, awarded annually in the NHL for dedication, sportsmanship and perseverance was created in his memory.
Following Masterton's death, the North Stars understandably lost five of six and regrouped to play near .500 for the rest of the season to finish at 27-32-15 in fourth place in the West Division made up of the six expansion clubs, four points back of the first place Philadelphia Flyers.
The North Stars were led in goals (35) and points (56) by Wayne Connelly while Andre Boudrias had the most assists (35) and Cesare Maniago led the goaltenders with games played (52) and wins (21). Goldsworthy led the team in playoff scoring with 15 points in 14 games.
The 1967-68 Minnesota North Stars
In the playoffs, the North Stars would eliminate the Los Angeles Kings in seven games, which included three victories on home ice, before falling to the St. Louis Blues on the road in Game 7 when the Blues scored with 11 seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime, costing the North Stars a chance to host a Stanley Cup Final in the Met Center's first year of operation.
It would not be until 1981 that the finals were played on Met Center ice when the North Stars attempted unsuccessfully attempted to derail the New York Islanders dynasty in progress. Ten years later the Pittsburgh Penguins would host Lord Stanley's Cup following Game 6 at the Met Center.
Today's featured jersey is a 1967-68 Minnesota North Stars Gary Bauman jersey. This jersey is from their first set of sweaters worn during the North Stars inaugural season, with a lace-up collar before being replaced by a v-neck collar early in the season.
The following season the sweaters would change again, with the addition of a white shoulder yoke and remain in use until 1975 when the single white stripe on the arms and waist would be broken into two parallel stripes plus the addition of highly attractive drop shadowed numbers.
Aside from the two sets of sweaters worn during their first season, our friends at VintageMinnesotaHockey.com have brought to light a different set of jerseys worn during the preseason, which featured a different logo and font used for the numbering, which you can read about here.
Bauman played two games for the Montreal Canadiens prior to being selected by the North Stars in the 1967 NHL Expansion Draft and then played 26 games during the North Stars first season. He returned for a second season and saw action in seven additional games before the end of his NHL career in which he won five games.
Today's video segment begins with the story of Bill Masterton.
Our next video is one of Met Center's most memorable games, a bench clearing brawl between the North Stars and the rival Chicago Blackhawks.