|Marian Gaborik (photo from here)|
After leaving to sign a five-year, $35 million contract with the New York Rangers in 2009, the 17,880 fans at the Xcel Energy Center made sure Gaborik knew he is as beloved as the man who moved the North Stars, Norm Green.
Minnesota's all-time leading scorer, who scored his first goal against his former club in the Rangers' 3-2 win Tuesday, was given a Bronx cheer by the State of Hockey.
"I heard boos," Gaborik told reporters after the game about his goal. "Doesn't surprise me."
With that, it's fitting and appreciative to see the Minnesota Wild move on from the Gaboriks of the past and honor another sore subject in our hockey history Thursday. This weekend sees the current franchise bringing together over 30 former Minnesota North Stars players back to the Twin Cities for the first reunion since Norm Green moved the team in 1993.
And I think it's something that has been long overdue.
Hockey fans, maybe more than any other fans of sports, embrace the history of its sport. There's a nostalgia that hearkens back to growing up skating on an outdoor pond or watching a league with only six teams that is never seen from football. It's the same nostalgia that has hockey fans want to see the game played in a regional footprint or revise history. Cities which would not come close to being considered for an expansion team in 2012 are spoken like lost relics.
But most of all, hockey fans embracing history allows for players and teams to never be forgotten...unless they want to be. While the end of the North Stars era is one of the dark moments in Minnesota hockey history, they've also been shown an indifference up until recently. A new generation of fans which didn't or barely knew the team when they were playing in Bloomington have embraced the green and gold "N" sweater more than when the team played in front of half-full Met Center crowds. It's common to see a nameless North Stars jerseys among the Iron Range Red Wild sweaters at the Xcel Energy Center and no one blinks. However, that's not the case if a "Secord sucks" chant is started.
Simply put, the North Stars name is as hot as ever but that's just it. The name. When Neal Broten came back with Dallas in 2000 for the first Wild-Stars game, he didn't wear a North Stars sweater underneath. The Wild organization has spent years of time and effort to try to brand themselves as Minnesota's NHL team alongside a patchwork of grassroots hockey (which is honestly smart) before bringing back up the North Stars' relevance in Year 12.
That's the most disappointing part of North Stars night. Although I know North Stars players have been calling for the team to do something like this and get a reunion, at this point it almost feels like another marketing gimmick. Minnesota scheduled the night for when the Wild play a team that hasn't made the postseason since 2000 and it's not like the franchise is having trouble making sure it remains relevant at the end of its fourth consecutive season missing the playoffs.
As the year goes on more and more of Minnesota's focus seems to be heading away from the ice - look at the number of Minnesota natives spotlighted in games - it would be wrong to put the Minnesota North Stars in the same box. They aren't a marketing gimmick to be trotted out when things go south and the Wild are no longer the hottest ticket in town.
The North Stars players deserve better.
Those guys, the J.P Parises and Jack Carlsons and Brian Bellows of the world, gave their blood, sweat and tears for Minnesota the same way the Wild do today. While that franchise may reside in Dallas thanks to that (insert your own cuss word) Norm Green, it's not like a Marian Gaborik where the superstar left and the team went on. The exact opposite happened.
In a year that has seen the Atlanta Thrashers relocate to Winnipeg and take on the Jets name (the original Jets franchise still exists in Phoenix - for now - as the Coyotes), the call for the Wild to embrace nostalgia - even change their name to the North Stars - has never been higher. They shouldn't go in that direction but I'm happy to see the former players finally get their chance to be recognized because they deserve to have history tell their tale and a moment in the spotlight.
And for both the old fans and a new generation who may have embraced a fallen team, the history lesson that comes from the Wild having North Stars night is worth every penny.