Monday, December 13, 2010
When it was announced in 1965 that the NHL would finally expand after over 20 years of operating as a six team league, Minnesota was a natural location for one of the new six franchises to be granted.
The Minnesota North Stars began play on October 11, 1967 and played their first four games on the road, tying two and losing two, before returning to Minnesota for their first ever regular season game at the brand new Metropolitan Sports Center on October 21st, a 3-1 win over the California Seals, the first victory in franchise history.
After a second win over the St. Louis Blues, the North Stars lost two before putting together a nice run of four without a loss, three wins and a tie, prior to a rugged part of the schedule which featured seven of eight games against established Original 6 clubs. Predictably, they lost six and tied the two others to finish all eight winless.
The final game of that rough stretch was a 1-1 tie versus Montreal, which gave the North Stars a needed boost of confidence, which they used to begin their best stretch of hockey all season. They thumped St. Louis 5-1, earned their first win over the Chicago Black Hawks 4-3 in Chicago before a close-fought 1-1 tie with the defending Stanley Cup champion Toronto Maple Leafs.
A narrow 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at home was only a temporary setback, and they returned the favor in spades the very next night in Pittsburgh by retaliating with a 7-4 win. Then on this date in 1967, Minnesota's Cesare Maniago earned the first shutout in North Stars history with a 4-0 blanking of the Los Angeles Kings in Minnesota.
The two teams then traveled to Los Angeles where Minnesota reiterated it's dominance with another shutout, this time 3-0 with Maniago again in goal. After traveling up the freeway to play Oakland the very next night, Maniago's shutout streak was extended to three consecutive games as the North Stars continued their fine defensive run with a 1-0 victory over the Seals, evening the North Stars record at the time to 11-11-6. He would eventually record three more shutouts in the North Stars first season to set the franchise's benchmark at six.
Maniago made his debut with seven games for Toronto back in 1960 before being claimed by the Canadiens. He would play 14 games with Montreal in 1962-63 but spent several years toiling in the minors waiting for an opportunity to return to the NHL while the Canadiens were winning Stanley Cups on a regular basis with Charlie Hodge and Gump Worsley in goal.
A trade to the New York Rangers provided little opportunity, 34 games in two seasons, before the NHL expanded for 1967-68, creating approximately 140 new NHL jobs, a dozen of those for goaltenders.
The North Stars made Maniago their first choice, instantly changing the course of his career. The notably tall (6' 3") goaltender would spend the next nine seasons in Minnesota, compared to playing for 12 different clubs, including four different ones in both 1960-61 and 1962-63, over the previous seven seasons.
That first season with the North Stars saw Maniago establish what would stand up as his career hight with 22 wins thanks to his quick reflexes and acrobatic style. The following seasons he set another career high with 64 games played. He was traded to the Vancouver Canucks in 1976 and played there for two years before retiring.
He completed his NHL career with 568 games played, 190 wins and 30 shutouts. At the time of his retirement, Maniago was in the top 25 all-time in shutouts and 12th in games played as well as leading the North Stars in every meaningful category.
Today's featured jersey is a 1970-71 Minnesota North Stars Cesare Maniago jersey. The very first North Stars jerseys looked very muchlike this one, only with a lace-up collar and without the white shoulders. The lace-up collar vanished almost immediately during the North Stars first season and the white shoulder yoke was adopted for the North Stars second season of 1968-69. This style would remain in use until 1975.