In 1967 the National Hockey League decided to expand it’s league from six to twelve teams. It’s first choice for expansion happened to be what was then Hockeytown, USA: Minnesota. The North Stars adopted their name from the State’s motto “E’toile du Nord.” Translated from French it means Star Of The North. The Metropolitan Sports Center was built in 1967, finishing up construction during the first few games of their inaugural season. The Met Center boasted the best lighting and fastest ice in the league.
The Stars played their first ever NHL game on the road against another expansion team, the St. Louis Blues. After a loss to St. Louis, the Stars opened up their season at home 6 days later. Facing the Oakland Seals (later renamed California Golden Seals), the Stars mustered their first win, 3-1.
Midway through the first season in January 1968, the Stars were once again facing the Seals. With four minutes gone in the first period, Larry Cahan and Ron Harris of Oakland checked Minnesota’s Bill Masterton. As Masterton fell, his head snapped back and hit the ice causing severe hemorrhaging. Fans stood in horror as blood gushed from his nose and mouth. Masterton died two days later in hospital and to date is still the only player in NHL history to die because of an on-ice injury. The NHL named an award after him in rememberance. The “Bill Masterton Memorial” trophy is awarding annually to the player who exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
The Stars lost six straight games following the loss of their friend and teammate. Recovering at the latter half of the season, Minnesota finished fourth in the Western Division. In the first round of the playoffs they faced the Los Angeles Kings. The Stars forced a game 7 and scored 9 goals on route to the Western Division Finals. Facing elimination against the St. Louis Blues, the Stars forced another game 7 before St. Louis proved stronger after maintaining a win in double overtime.
1968-1969 was not as victorious as their inaugural. Minnesota finished dead last in the West Division with a record of 12-43-15, failing to make the playoffs. Things weren’t all gloom and doom though as rookie Danny Grant won the Calder Trophy. Continuing to struggle in 1969-1970, the Stars managed to land third in the standings, making the playoffs. Optimism didn’t last long as St. Louis gave them the early exit in 6 games.
The Stars faired out a bit better in 1970-71. Finishing with a record of 28-34-16, rookie Jude Drouin led the team in scoring and to the fourth place in the standings. Making it all the way to the semi finals, the Stars found their hands tied with the Montreal Canadians. They would split the first four games and Montreal would take the series winning the next two.
Optimism was high for 1971-72 after their semi finals run. The Stars felt that and finished with 2nd place with their first franchise winning record of 37-29-12. However once again Minnesota exited in the first round to St. Louis after 6 games.
More of 1970′s Minnesota North Stars hockey in the next installment.
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