Twenty years ago, after a loss in Detroit, the players trudged out of the visiting locker room at Joe Louis Arena and the Minnesota North Stars were finished.
With the Wild drawing big crowds and vying for a playoff spot, pause for a moment to remember that Monday is the 20th anniversary of the North Stars’ final game, a 5-3 loss on the road that came with moving vans poised to leave Met Center bound for Dallas.
“For me, that’s when it really sunk in,” said Trent Klatt. Now a scout for the New York Islanders, Klatt was a rookie wing on that North Stars team who had grown up playing for Osseo High School and the University of Minnesota, idolizing North Stars players the whole time. “I just remember that moment being very sad.”
The Stars had started the season strong, then faded, a process perhaps accelerated by owner Norm Green’s announcement March 10 that the franchise was moving. Minnesota went into its final two games with a shot at a playoff spot. But a 3-2 loss to Chicago in the final home game April 13, followed by that loss in Detroit, ended a painful season on the worst possible note.
“We were in shock, like everybody else,” said Neal Broten, who played his first 13 NHL seasons with the North Stars, meaning he played in exactly half of the franchise’s seasons. “It was a little uncomfortable. It was weird. I’d never been in such a situation. A Minnesota kid, moving to Dallas?”
“If I were to drop dead tomorrow,’’ North Stars announcer Al Shaver said at the time, “it would be from a broken heart.”
The last home game was an amazing scene. The 15,455 fans came to pay tribute to the players while at the same time castigating Green. The team had hired 50 extra security guards to make sure things didn’t get out of hand and had locked down anything that could be moved. The fans gave the players a four-minute standing ovation before the national anthem.
“I never felt it would end,” said Jim Johnson, a native Minnesotan who is now an assistant coach in San Jose. “I always felt bad for the people in Minnesota. I couldn’t believe the league was willing to pull a franchise out of a nice hockey state. That was sad for me, a guy from Minnesota. Just sad.”
Against Chicago, down 3-1, Russ Courtnall scored with 22 seconds left, and Mike McPhee had a chance to tie it in the final second. Two days later in Detroit, Minnesota took a 2-0 lead, then allowed the Red Wings to score the next five goals.
And then it was over.
“I can tell you, 20 years later, that I was proud to be a part of it,” Klatt said. “Even if I was just a minuscule piece. I have kids in high school and junior high. It’s all Wild, Wild, Wild — which is great. It really is. But every once in a while I see an old North Stars jersey and I think, ‘I was a part of that.’ ”
It didn’t hit home for Broten until the moving vans came to his house that summer to move his family to Texas. “To have the realization that we were packing up and we were out of here? It was hard,” he said.