The Wild saw the 2019-20 schedule shut down on March 12 and returned to the ice for a second, brief training camp on July 13. The team will arrive in Edmonton next Sunday, play an exhibition game vs. Colorado on July 29 and start a best-of-five qualifying series against Vancouver on Aug. 2.
Very strange way to wrap up the Wild’s 20th year and 19th season as Minnesota’s second NHL representative.
Now that we’ve agreed on that, it can be added our skaters will be sequestered in Canada with fine accommodations, hearty meals and, in all probability, several beer choices when back at the hotel following a few hours on the ice, game or practice.
In other words, if the coronavirus can be kept away, the Wild athletes will have it much more comfortable as they embark on this great experiment than did the North Stars, as they were launching Minnesota into the NHL as an expansion team 53 years ago.
Wren (The Bird) Blair was hired as general manager and coach of the North Stars a year before they started play on Oct. 11, 1967 at St. Louis. Everything was being done on the fly, and Blair was able to convince his bosses that the Haliburton Hockey Haven in Ontario’s cottage country would be a perfect location for a secluded training camp.
As luck would have it, Blair was the co-owner of the Hockey Haven along with Jim Gregory. They had opened this summer camp for youthful hockey players in 1965. Wren was able to negotiate a deal with himself for the North Stars to use the facility in September, after said youth were back in school.
The North Stars used Blair’s camp and trained in Haliburton from 1967-1969.
“We were in a barrack with 30 cots made for kids — 3 feet wide, 5 feet long,” said Tom Reid, North Stars defenseman turned Wild radio analyst. “We were adult hockey players. We couldn’t fit. Most of us slept on the floor.
“Didn’t make much difference. You couldn’t sleep anyway. The snoring … unbelievable. And mosquitoes would get in there, and they were the size of birds.
“There was also a cafeteria with almost the same menu they had fed the kids.”
Blair had sold a vision of a training camp in Nirvana, through the Twin Cities media to the public. A headline in the Minneapolis Star in early August 1967 read: “Oh! For Life of North Stars,’’ with the subhead, “To swim, golf, fish at training camp.”
The first weekend in Halburton was going to be all about developing camaraderie with those recreational activities, Blair told the Star’s Mike Lamey.
A month later, on the night before the Stars were to leave Toronto for Haliburton, Blair ordered veteran wing Claude Larose out of the team hotel because he was reluctant to sign a lowball contract offer. Camaraderie, Bird-style.
“We all rode the bus to Haliburton; no cars for the players,” Lou Nanne said. “We had an old yellow school bus to take us to the arena in town. Other than that, we were supposed to stay out of town.
“If you managed to get to town to have a beer … Blair knew everyone in Haliburton, and he had spread the word to turn us in to him if players were seen in a bar.”
Stir crazy and thirsty, select players would call the town cab. The driver would pick them up “down the hill” and they would head into town, The Bird and his village rats be danged.
“You could only keep down Goldy [Bill Goldsworthy] for so long,” Nanne said. “He had gone to town, and Blair knew it, and he had his assistant coaches and other staff line up their cars, sort of hidden, on both sides of the path.
“When the cab dropped off Goldy, he came walking up the hill, and they all turned on their lights and Blair shouted, ‘This is going to cost you, Goldsworthy.’ Goldy was standing there in the spotlight like one of Hogan’s Heroes caught breaking out of the prisoner of war camp.”
Reid and Nanne were in Haliburton for the 1968 and 1969 camps. The North Stars spent a couple of weeks there, playing an exhibition game — Kingston, Ontario, was a favored location — in the second week.
“We got the cab to take us to town one night and Bill Orban was bringing back a case of beer,” Reid said. “The cabbie stopped at the gas station. He’s filling up and Blair pulls up to the next pump. Orban lays on the seat, trying to hide himself and the beer.
“The next day, we’re up in the woods, drinking the beer, and we hear this crashing coming through the branches. We thought it was a bear.
“It almost was. It was [defenseman] Moose Vasko, and he appeared and said, ‘I know there’s beer in here, and I need some.’ ’’
Needing beer vs. facing The Bird’s wrath. These were hockey players sequestered in Haliburton, Ontario. Beer won in a landslide.
Write to Patrick Reusse by e-mailing email@example.com and including his name in the subject line.