The 1990-91 North Stars finished the season in a memorable way, playing for the Stanley Cup. But people might not remember where that campaign started.
The Stars, along with the Montreal Canadiens, were part of the Friendship Series, an eight-day trip to the Soviet Union that featured games in Moscow and Kiev.
As it turns out the tour was anything but friendly, with teams being subjected to lengthy searches they considered harassment. Relations between the NHL and Soviet officials were not good because of player defections to North America.
“Next year we will not be having these exchanges,’’ NHL President John Ziegler said at the time.
Added Canadiens coach Pat Burns, “We’ve been stalled, we've been lied to, we’ve been shafted in every corner and nearly every place we’ve been.’’
Rachel Blount was the Star Tribune’s North Stars beat writer at the time, and she shares some of her memories of the tour:
“To be honest, I don’t remember much about the four games on the Friendship Tour. The North Stars went 1-3 against opponents loaded with NHL-ready players. There was some bloodshed (including a Link Gaetz fight that could’ve come from a “Rocky’’ movie). The fans weren’t really into the whole friendship thing; in the waning days of the Soviet Union, they didn’t hold back their disdain for North Americans.
“Being in Moscow and Kiev at that time, though, was an unforgettable experience. It was a grand adventure in some ways, paying taxi fares with packs of Marlboros and illegally changing money in the dark corners of bars. It was sobering, too, especially for a young American.
“Moscow was a gray, joyless place, where people lined up outside stores and fought over the last cartons of milk or eggs. There were listening devices in our hotel rooms—you could hear the static—and police everywhere. Yet there were hints of the cultural upheaval to come. While older Soviets seemed to view us with suspicion, young men flocked outside the North Stars’ hotel, desperate to trade whatever they had for our jeans and sneakers.’’