In the Beginning

I n the beginning someone must of thought it would be a good idea to bring a major professional hockey club to Minnesota. Of course this idea was obvious one to many. Where better to place a team, but in a region known to be the cradle of U.S. hockey? The NHL had been a six team league for 25 seasons, but expansion to the U.S. became the new goal of the ambitious league. Fourteen applications were formally submitted.

The key players behind Minnesota's effort were Walter Bush Jr., a lawyer who co-owned Minnesota's Central league team, Minneapolis Bruins; Gordon Ritz, a former Yale hockey player who made his money in the construction business and Bob McNulty, a popular broadcasting personality. Bush lured in additional investers from both Minneapolis and St. Paul to form a eight man team.

With fierce competition from other bidding cities, including a rival bid from their home state, Bush and his team set out to convince the NHL's Board of Governors to hand over one of the six expansion franchises. Despite the fact that the Twin Cites owned the smallest sized television market among the major applicants, the NHL must of felt that they couldn't pass up on a community so rich in hockey tradition. On February 9th, 1966 they officially granted Minnesota an expansion team scheduled to begin play in the fall of 1967. Eventually, five cities St. Louis, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Oakland were also welcomed into the NHL.

Where to house the club was the big question. The largest arena at the time was the St. Paul Auditorium, but it seated only 8,500 which was well short of the 12,500 capacity that the league demanded. Building a new state of the art arena was the only option and Bush's deal with the NHL strictly depended on it.

Talks began with the Metropolitan Stadium Commission on premise that an arena strategically placed between Minneapolis and St. Paul in the suburb of Bloomington , where the Twins and Vikings had already been successful, would be ideal for hockey as well.

The commission was sold on the idea and agreed to the construction of the building, which would later be named Metropolitan Sports Center.

Not long after the announcement, a season ticket drive got things started. Two groups of businessmen, one from St. Paul and one from Minneapolis held a contest of sort to see which city would sell the most tickets. Nearly 6,000 season tickets were sold before it would end. Another contest was conducted to determine what the new team should be called. Among the suggested names were the Blades, Norsemen, Muskies, Lumberjacks, Mallards, Muskies, Puckaroos and the Voyageurs. The winning name of course, "The North Stars", came from the State's nickname, the North Star State.

While the contests were in progress, Wren Blair was hired as the new team's coach and general manager. Blair or "Bird", as he was called, had come from the Bruins organization and had once served as coach and GM of the Minneapolis Bruins in the CPHL. He been a very successful in Junior hockey and at the Minor pro level, but Blair was probaly most recognized for being the man who discovered Bobby Orr.

On June 6th, 1967 a first of a kind expansion draft was held. The new teams could select players from the rosters of the established clubs. Each established club was allowed to protect eleven skaters and one goalie.

The goaltender round was conducted first and Wren decided to go with Cesare Maniago who played in the New York organization and was known by locals from his stay with the St. Paul Rangers in the CPHL. Wren's building strategy was defense, but he would later discover that his team's offense was a strength. Players like Wayne Connely, Dave Balon, and young man named Bill Goldsworthy would prove to be solid big league scorers.

Workers were still putting seats into the new building on the day of the October 21st home opener. Nearly 13,000 fans were on hand along with NHL president, Clarence Campbell, to witness the Stars first ever game at Met Center as they hosted the Oakland Seals. Bill Goldsworthy opened the scoring and the two teams skated to a 3-3 tie.

The quality of play from new team did not disappoint the fans. Blair's biggest concern was his defense, but Maniago was sharp. So sharp in fact that for a time in mid December Maniago pulled off a remarkable record when he went 188 minutes and 38 seconds without a goal against. At the season's midway point the Stars were in a close race with Philadelphia and Los Angeles for first place in the Western Division.

Tragedy struck on January 13th in a game against the Seals. Center Bill Masterton was checked and fell awkwardly, striking his head hard against ice. Two days later Bill died of his head injuries. The team was on the road in Montreal when they got the news. The death of their teammate no doubt shook up the squad. They lost six straight games.

The North Stars finished the season in a solid fourth place. One point behind St. Louis.

  Final Standings 1967-68

  West Division
                  W   L   T   GF   GA  Pts
  Philadelphia    31  32  11  173  179  73
  Los Angeles     31  33  10  200  224  72
  St. Louis       27  31  16  177  191  70
  Minnesota       27  32  15  191  226  69
  Pittsburgh      27  34  13  195  216  67
  Oakland         15  42  17  153  219  47

  East Division

                  W   L   T   GF   GA  Pts
  Montreal        42  22  10  236  167  94
  New York        39  23  12  226  183  90
  Boston          37  27  10  259  216  84
  Chicago         32  26  16  212  222  80
  Toronto         33  31  10  209  176  76
  Detroit         27  35  12  245  257  66


The first round of the playoffs matched the Stars against the Terry Sawchuk and Los Angeles Kings in a best of seven series. The Kings took the first two games and then took a 3-2 lead, but the North Stars rallied and evened the series with Milan Marcetta's overtime goal in game six. They won again in game seven by scoring a club record nine goals.

A Showdown in the West

Fresh from the victory against the Kings the Stars next faced the St. Louis Blues to determine who would play in the Cup Finals. The North Stars took the initiative by winning two of the first three games. The fourth game was a disappointment. Minnesota led 3-0 midway in the third before Jim Roberts and Dickie Moore scored a minute apart. Then with only eleven seconds left, Roberts scored again to tie and force the contest into overtime. Gary Sabourin scored in the second minute of O.T. to win it for the Blues.

The Stars lost the next game in overtime, but their frustrations were relieved when they crushed the Blues in Game Six, 5-1. Their success up to this point came despite that fact that they were forced to play four of the six games on the road because the Ice Follies had been booked at the Met Center. Now the Stars had to travel back to St. Louis one last time for Game Seven.

The final game was a classic. Ceasar Maniago played superb in goal, but St. Louis' Glenn Hall was equal to the task. With only four minutes remaining the Star's Walt McKechnie scored the first goal of the game and it looked like Minnesota would advance to the finals. However, less than one minute later the vetern Moore scored to force the game into yet another extra period.

The first overtime was scoreless. Three minutes had passed into the second overtime before the Blues' Ron Schock drilled one past Maniago to win it and end a truly physically and emotionally draining series for both teams.

The Blues would then go on to lose to Montreal in four games in the finals. Many blamed their quick exit on the fact that they were drained from the Minnesota series. When it was over, Bill Goldsworthy stood atop the playoff leader board with eight goals and seven assists.

Among fans, players and coaches there were few who could deny that this season had been a success. Everyone looked forward with much enthusiasm to the seasons ahead.

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