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Nanne bristles at suggestions that his team's character is suspect. It is an understandable reaction from a man who, as a player, survived 11 years in the NHL on the strength of a good head and a big heart. Nanne was a gutsy, if not gifted, player, a fact that may explain his admiration of pure talent. Nanne once told Bobby Orr, "It's guys like me who made you what you are."
"I'd like to have had [superior ability] just one time" Nanne says, "just to see what it's like."
It may be that reverence for talent which causes Nanne to confuse potential with performance. Or as the general manager of another NHL team, one that will probably double Minnesota's point total by season's end, puts it, "Louie thinks everybody on his team could make mine and nobody on my team could make his."
Minnesota does have talented players, but instead of supporting its scorers with more foot soldiers like big Willi Plett (Minnesota's only heavyweight enforcer), Nanne last season tried, unsuccessfully, to bend his players to a new system.
When Sonmor stepped down in 1983, Nanne hired Mahoney, a former Washington assistant, as coach with the idea that he'd turn the Stars into a tight-checking two-way team a la the Islanders. But you can't turn racehorses into plow horses, and, when the players rebelled this season—they complained that Mahoney wasn't "relating" to them—and the team got off to a 3-8-2 start, Nanne fired Mahoney and put Sonmor back behind the bench.
Several players say the team is struggling with the transition from checking back to Sonmor's freewheeling game. "We're a team that should give up a two on one to get a two on one," says Broten, "but right now it seems like the puck's always going one way while we're going the other."
Sonmor may soon be going one way (to another job with the North Star organization) while the team goes another. Brooks is, according to the grapevine, signed and sealed as coach of the Stars for next season. Brooks and Nanne co-captained the 1968 U.S. Olympic team, and in 1978 Nanne offered the Minnesota coaching job to Brooks, who preferred to coach the '80 Olympic squad. How Nanne and Brooks will deal with each other's ego and fiery temperament is another matter entirely.
As coach of the North Stars, Brooks would have the scorers and need only the role players and a moratorium by Nanne on wholesale personnel changes to get the team back to where it can once again "taste it."
But until then the North Stars,