From the desk of Adam Raider: Honoring the North Stars

The following contribution comes from Adam Raider, author of Frozen in Time: A Minnesota North Stars History (Nebraska, 2014). Raider covered the NHL for more than a decade for magazines including The Hockey News and Hockey Digest. He is the coauthor of 100 Ranger Greats: Superstars, Unsung Heroes and Colorful Characters.

AdamRaider_2When the Minnesota Wild closes out its home regular season schedule today against the Carolina Hurricanes, captain Mikko Koivu and his teammates will be wearing replica North Stars jerseys during pregame warmups. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that this will be the first time the Wild has worn the North Stars logo in any official capacity.

It’s part fan appreciation event—a limited number of the jerseys will be given away to spectators selected randomly during the game—and part fundraiser. Proceeds from sales of the remaining jerseys will go to the Minnesota Wild Foundation and the Minnesota NHL Alumni Association.

Since joining the NHL in 2000, the Wild has tactfully struck a balance between establishing its own identity while honoring the state’s NHL past. You see it in the team logo, which blends the rugged Minnesota wilderness with the silhouette of a wild animal (A bear? A wolf? A cat? Nobody’s quite sure). The “eye” of the beast is the North Star–a subtle, tasteful homage to the team whisked off to Dallas in 1993.

Before the Wild played a single game, the club’s marketing gurus were out forging community ties to drum up fan interest throughout the state. They made it a point to target youth, high school and collegiate hockey organizations and built excitement by tapping into something primal: Minnesotans’ pride in the contributions their state has made to hockey in the United States. They’ve never pretended that another NHL team didn’t occupy that market for twenty-six years. In fact, on more than one occasion, the Wild have honored North Stars alumni individually and as a group.

Despite the Wild’s best efforts to honor their predecessors, though, there are still fans bitter about the North Stars’ departure—a departure engineered by former team owner Norm Green. Green has long argued, somewhat fairly, that Minnesotans never really supported the Stars as passionately as they should have. . . or, at least, didn’t show up in sufficient enough numbers as to have made the venture profitable. Season ticket sales at the old Met Center in Bloomington were never strong, despite having some of the lowest prices in the league.

How, in a hockey-mad place like Minnesota, could the North Stars not sell out every home game and make it impossible for Green to move the team? Some blamed the new casinos and the Mall of America for giving fans too many other places to spend their discretionary income. Or maybe it was Met Center itself, a great building for watching hockey but one lacking the revenue-generating amenities that are standard in today’s arenas.

Some have argued that the entire North Stars identity–logo, colors, uniform, team records, etc.—should have stayed in Minnesota, the same way Cleveland retained the Browns’ name, colors, and history of the franchise when Art Modell moved his team to Baltimore. They’ve been lobbying for the Wild to wear the North Star for years, either on select nights or permanently. When the Wild emerge from the tunnel for warmups tonight clad in the jerseys made famous by the likes of Bill Goldsworthy, Dino Ciccarelli, Mike Modano and local legend Neal Broten, those North Stars loyalists—the ones who still chant “Norm Green Sucks!” and have nightmares featuring Al Secord—are unlikely to be satisfied. To them, it’s just going to feel like the ultimate tease.