Updated: March 09, 2020 10:20 AM
Though the rumors had been swirling, it still wasn't something Neal Broten expected to ever happen.
It just didn't seem possible that the Minnesota North Stars, his team for the first 13 seasons of a 17-season NHL career, would abandon his hockey-crazed home state for ... Texas?
"Why would you move a hockey team from Minnesota to Dallas," Broten said. "I didn't understand it. It didn't seem like a real possibility."
But, of course, it was.
And though it's been 25 years now, the news that broke on the evening of March 9, 1993, still stings for fans of Minnesota's first NHL team.
"It was really sad," recalls Wendi Rodewald, a season ticket holder who was in her mid-20s at the time and a member of the North Stars' Booster Club.
"In my heart, Minnesota was and always will be the state of hockey. So it was hard to see our pro team all of a sudden jump up and walk away."
The decision ended a process in which owner Norm Green was unable to reach a deal that met his satisfaction when it came to the franchise either remaining at the old Met Center in Bloomington, or moving to Target Center in Minneapolis or the old St. Paul Civic Center.
So it came to pass that the North Stars headed south after 26 years in the state, becoming the Dallas Stars at the start of the 1993-94 season.
"Being a Minnesota kid, and playing the first 13 years of my career here, it was a big deal to think about moving," said Broten, a former Roseau and University of Minnesota standout who was a member of the gold-medal winning 1980 U.S. Olympic team before joining the North Stars. "It wasn't something I wanted to do. But when you're a player, you kind of have to go with the flow."
Green, a former co-owner of the Calgary Flames, had purchased the North Stars three years earlier from George and Gordon Gund, who had themselves been exploring relocation.
He was there when the team made an unexpected run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1991.
But he cited low season ticket numbers and a challenging environment when it came to corporate sponsorships among the factors in why he came to see staying in Minnesota unfeasible.
"The North Stars had been in Minnesota since 1967 but ultimately lost the support of the community due to several years of poor performance. Finally, in 1989, the owners of the hockey club told the NHL that they wanted to move to California," Green wrote in a 2016 piece in Dallas Magazine.
"John Ziegler, president of the NHL, asked me, as the chairman of the NHL marketing committee, to buy the North Stars and make sure the team stayed in Minnesota as long as possible - which I did, for three years," he wrote.
"As one of the lead and original owners of the Calgary Flames - enjoying 10 years of financial success, including winning the Stanley Cup in 1989 - I was convinced that my experience in marketing could rekindle the support of the Minnesota fans," Green said. "But after renovating the old Met Center and producing a top team that almost won the Stanley Cup in 1991, the fans still didn't buy the critical season tickets, and attendance still fell under 60 percent. It was obvious we needed to move."
In that Dallas Magazine piece, Green named former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach as a key player in his decision to explore Dallas as a possible landing spot.
"Roger explained that Reunion Arena was originally built in 1980 for hockey and was being used only for basketball," Green wrote. "He confirmed that it had excellent sightlines, and with some improvements, it would be a perfect interim arena until a new building, with proper revenue streams, could be built. Roger was strategic in the process to introduce us to the community, and the City Council, and helped us make an acceptable deal with Reunion."
Once the decision was made, Green, who also faced a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by former employee Kari Dziedzic (now a State Senator), became public enemy No. 1 in the state of hockey.
That anger continued, even after he sold the Stars in 1996.
"It was just a crazy time all over," recalls Lisa LeMaster, then a partner in the Dallas public relations firm Green worked with at the time. "There was just so much going on. Everyone down here was wondering what was going to happen, and there was everything that was going on in Minnesota. I really felt for the people up there. I've started to understand what they were feeling even more as the years have gone on."
She added, "Just imagining losing the Dallas Stars now is so traumatic, so I know how tough that must have been for fans back then."
Broten said the decision was proof professional sports are a business first and foremost.
"That's what those guys are in it for," he said. "And if they're losing money, they're going to try and get people around the community to help build suites and create an atmosphere where they can start making profits. If that doesn't happen, then they're probably going to move the team. It's just the way it goes."
But the Stars did take root in Dallas, eventually winning a Stanley Cup in 1999.
"Hockey didn't exist here before the Stars arrived," said LeMaster, who is now president of the LeMaster Group, a communications firm. "Now high schools have it. Girls and boys both play it. It's become very popular. And the Stars get a lot of credit for that."
Minnesota, meanwhile, got a new NHL franchise when the Wild began play at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul in 2000. That helped salve some of the wounds left over from the North Stars' departure.
But for those associated with the state's original pro hockey team, a sentimental attachment remains.
"I'm still always so happy when I see someone wearing an old North Stars jersey, or I see a sweatshirt with that old logo on the front," said Broten, who played in Dallas until he was traded to New Jersey in 1995. "I played for a couple of years in Dallas, and the people down there were really supportive of the team. But, I spent the first 13 years of my career in Minnesota, so I'll always consider myself a Minnesota North Star."
Updated: March 09, 2020 10:20 AM
Published: March 08, 2018 12:00 AM
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