North Stars Alumni

Technically, the North Stars franchise is alive and well, taking the ice in Dallas. But you'd never know it in Minnesota, where hockey fans celebrate the team as one that died an early death -- not one that simply moved south.

Of course, for any fans whose seen their favorite sports team leave town, there's distinction between relocation and closure. But though their team may be gone -- and a new one, the Minnesota Wild, installed as its replacement -- fans of the North Stars abound in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

That was never more apparent than on a historic day in NHL history, when the league delivered a first: It resurrected a former team to the ice.

Sure, that game action was only the alumni game, played between the Chicago Blackhawks and a roster comprising former Wild and North Stars. But it was a stunning sight nonetheless, mostly because the Minnesota alumni team wore throwback North Stars jerseys from the early 1980s.

State of Hockey

Meanwhile, some of the franchise's greatest stars in recent memory took the ice for reasons beyond just remembering their own heroics. The game served as a reunion between those former players and the fans.

Even Mike Modano, a guy who started his career in Minnesota but enjoyed his prime in Dallas, appreciated being back in the city where his NHL career got its start.

"It's nothing you wouldn't have expected," Modano said of the fan turnout and reaction. "They're great fans, passionate people and loyal."

The North Stars jersey was a welcome sight by fans, who came nearly 40,000 strong to watch an exhibition match between NHL retirees. The blending of Wild and North Stars histories was so seamless and natural that it was easy to forget one small detail: These two teams are in no way related.

The North Stars and Wild are separate NHL franchises -- and active ones, too, since the former now compete as the Dallas Stars. I didn't find one Dallas jersey in the stadium, and I doubt I would find many positive sentiments for that franchise, either. When the team left the state, fan loyalties stayed behind.

Mike Modano

But even as a new NHL team moved in and took root, it didn't crumble the foundation of support that still existed for the North Stars. The Wild have been embraced, but they've done nothing to replace the North Stars.

Similarly, Saturday was a triumph of sports supporters and identities over the larger, money-hungry machines behind the logos and teams people love. The Stars in Dallas may claim its history, but the North Stars are owned by the fans. Lou Nanne, a legendary coach and general manager of the team, said he hopes similar events take place in the future to remember and appreciate the North Stars legacy in Minnesota.

"I keep hoping that we see the North Stars more," Nanne said. "It's such an integral part of the local hockey culture. People love it."

Minnesota's hockey culture is a patchwork of influences. The North Stars and Wild are different chapters of that story, but Nanne insists it's the same story -- and that these teams, despite the technical degrees of separation, represent the same soul.

That was never more apparent than at the end of the alumni game. With the Wild/North Stars team firmly in control, a Wild player came over to Nanne and asked to be subbed out, and for Nanne to finish the game with an all-North Stars lineup on the ice.

Nanne wouldn't have it.

"I said, 'No, no, we're all one, we're not different," he said. "We are all part of the North Stars."

Technically, that's not the case. But in spirit, the State of Hockey stands united.

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