"Sorry," Blair said. "I never get involved with tickets."
On Tuesday night at the Civic Center, Leahy was ready. A 29-year-old plastic-bag manufacturer, he works in Minneapolis but lives in the town of Minnetonka. "It's 40 miles from Minnetonka to the Civic Center and 30 miles from Minnetonka to the Met," he said. "I probably put 10,000 miles a year on my car just driving to hockey games. The ecologists would say I'm driving too much, but they're not hockey people. Besides, I bought myself a little economy car that is good on gas." As usual, the bearded Leahy was wearing his Wallabee boots and his maroon windbreaker with a "Larry Dee's Liquors" patch over the left breast. "That's the team I play for in the hatchet league," he said.
As Leahy had predicted, most of Minnesota's hockey nuts had remained at home to watch the Philadelphia-North Star game instead of driving to the Civic Center. Only 5,151 persons, most of them teen-agers who idiotically kept calling Bobby Hull "marshmallow," watched the Saints tighten their playoff series by shutting Hull off and beating the Jets 6-4. Some of them cheered when the public-address announcer reported that the North Stars had lost to the Flyers in overtime. "I guess not everyone in town likes both teams," Leahy said with a grin.
Sitting near Leahy was Don Ferroni, a 27-year-old financial analyst in Minneapolis who has mixed emotions about his allegiances. "I have season tickets for both teams," he said. "My uncle, Johnny Mariucci, is an official for the North Stars, but I own stock in the Saints. In fact I just paid $293 for 200 shares. If the leagues ever merge, the team will definitely increase in value and I'll probably make a lot of money. I guess if it ever comes down to having to make a decision between the Saints and the Stars, I'd be with the Saints. But don't tell my uncle." Although the Saints expected a crowd of at least 10,000 for their game against the Jets on the following night, only 6,982, including three North Star players, turned out to see Hull lead the Jets to a 3-2 overtime victory. Midway through the third period the P.A. announcer said: "We extend a cordial welcome to Doug Mohns, Dennis Hextall and Barry Gibbs of the North Stars and wish them well tomorrow night against the Philadelphia Flyers." By that time, though, the three North Stars had left the building in order to make curfew. Leahy remained until the bitter end. "I'm afraid that we won't be seeing the Saints again until next year," he said. "No way they'll win in Winnipeg. I'll be calling them next week. My wife really liked the game last night and wants me to get her a season ticket."
Abandoning his favorite boots and jacket, Leahy was dressed like a junior ad executive Thursday night when he arrived at the Met for the North Stars game against the Flyers. The North Stars were trailing 3-2 in their best-of-seven series. "Do you realize that if the Stars lose tonight the hockey season ends until the summer hatchet league begins in June?" he asked. "What am I going to do?" Studying the pregame warmups, Leahy noticed that Philadelphia Goalie Doug Favell seemed to hurt his right knee while making a save. "He did the splits and smashed the knee against the post," Leahy said. "If he can't move too well maybe it won't be such a long spring after all."
Sure enough, Favell limped around his crease as the national anthem was played, and all during the first period he acted as though he would collapse any minute. Every time he went down to make a save one of his defensemen helped him back onto his feet. Spurred by the prospect of extending the series, the Stars pelted the disabled Favell with 13 shots in the first period but beat him only once. Then, in the second period, the North Stars' old legs began to tire, and the Flyers ripped three goals past Minnesota Goaltender Cesare Maniago. In the final period the North Stars assaulted Favell again, but he was impenetrable, and when Ross Lonsberry scored for the Flyers into an open net with just 12 seconds to play, Leahy finally resigned himself to the inevitability of defeat.
"I can't say much for the refereeing tonight," he said in a grumpy tone. " Favell was good, sure, but the problem with the North Stars was old age. And no muscle. I hope that Wren Blair spends the summer getting some guys with some muscles. We've been getting pushed around too much."
As he got up to leave, he said, "Oh, well, the summer hockey league begins soon, and I'll be playing softball four nights a week, too. And, hey, next year is only six months away."