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By Dan Cook, WCCO Radio
October 5, 1993 was the first time the franchise formerly known as the Minnesota North Stars would play a home game somewhere other than Bloomington, Minn.
That night, the Stars beat the Detroit Red Wings 6-4 in Reunion Arena in Dallas, Texas – officially, and for the foreseeable future, to be known as the “Dallas Stars.”
Though Minnesota hockey fans would count on the promise of a future franchise from the NHL, they had to wait seven long years to get it.
In that time, they had to watch a Dallas Stars club – which included former North Stars Mike Modano, Derian Hatcher, Richard Matvichuk, Craig Ludwig and Shawn Chambers – win a Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history.
Needless to say, it left a bad taste in the collective mouths of the State of Hockey.
Then came the 2000-01 season, the inaugural campaign of the Minnesota Wild. NHL hockey had returned to Minnesota and found a new home base in a fantastic new facility in St. Paul.
As one might expect, it was a bumpy first year for the expansion franchise, but one that came with a sweet, sweet highlight for Minnesota hockey fans.
On Dec. 17, 2000, the Wild welcomed the Dallas Stars to the Xcel Energy Center for the first time. For many, that was the night that the North Stars were officially retired as Minnesota’s team and the Wild really took hold of fans’ hockey-loving hearts.
It began with former North Stars Captain – and to this day, the franchise’s second leading scorer – Neal Broten doing “Let’s Play Hockey.”
Though, in truth, many fans may not have heard him say those three famous words.
That’s because Broten took to the Fox Sports North stage wearing a “Stars” jersey – one he promptly tore off to reveal a Wild sweater underneath. The ovation was so loud that it drowned out the PA for several minutes.
And with two goals within a minute of each other in the first period, the party kept right on rocking. Jeff Nielsen got it started, and then rookie sensation Marian Gaborik tipped home the Wild’s second goal of the night.
Four goals later, the Wild had completed a 6-0 rout of the Stars and for one night at least, all was right in the State of Hockey.
But while there was certainly a sense of rivalry in Minnesota, it was really a one-sided affair. The folks in Dallas really had no reason to hold any animosity towards the Star of the North state. After all, Minnesotans had provided them with their chance to experience the great sport of hockey, as well as the chance to experience a Championship. What did they have to feel mad about?
Over the intervening years, Wild fans’ blood has cooled somewhat. Oh sure, you’ll still hear the occasional die hard try to get a “Norm Still Sucks” chant going, but it never seems to have much staying power.
This brought us to Saturday night at the Xcel Energy Center.
Why was this game a little different? Because for the first time in the 14-year history of the Wild, they now occupy the same division as Dallas, the newly-minted “Central” Division of the Western Conference.
Two things create rivalries in sports: familiarity and epic playoff clashes.
Now that the Wild and Stars are in the same division, they’re playing each other four times during the regular season (once in October, twice in January, and once in March). And perhaps more importantly, they’re competing directly against each other for a spot in the playoffs.
And with the new playoff format, if both teams make the post-season, there’s a solid shot that they’d meet each other in the first round.
So Saturday night, the familiarity at least, began. At the start, it felt a lot like that Dec. 17, 2000 game.
Justin Fontaine opened the scoring with the first NHL goal of his career.
“I mean that’s a good way to start a night,” Fontaine said. “Definitely gets you in the game. We wanted to take it to their top line all night and starting with a goal was huge.”
Matt Cooke continued his offensive hot streak midway through the first with his third goal of the season.
“Thank God they don’t ask how,” Cooke said after the game. “Nothing pretty about it. The one I that have a chance to do something fancy, I miss. What’s most important to me is the team wins.”
Matt Dumba was the beneficiary of a pretty tic-tac-toe play with the main advantage in the second for his first as an NHL’er. Nino Niederreiter continued a night of firsts with his first goal as a member of the Wild to make it 4-0.
But the Stars weren’t going to allow it to keep going that way. A power-play goal at 12:40 of the 2nd got the goose egg off the board for Dallas.
Fortunately for the Wild, Zach Parise salted it away in the third period with a power-play marker of his own, making the final 5-1.
Goaltender Josh Harding stopped 18 of the Stars 19 shots on goal, but wasn’t too sure it felt like a rivalry just yet.
“They’re a great club. You can’t play too many games that aren’t a rivalry anymore,” Harding said. “There’s bad blood between everybody, because everybody wants to win.”
There weren’t any fights and the physicality was average for your standard NHL game. So perhaps the rivalry isn’t reminiscent of North Stars/Blackhawks just yet… but given where both teams are trying to get to, it may only be a matter of time.
Oh, and Norm Green still sucks.