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It was like hearing from an old flame who'd dumped you the instant something better came along. Now she was calling to invite you to dinner...to meet her fianc�.
It had been 3� years since Norm Green bought the Minnesota North Stars, 3� years since he swept into the Twin Cities as the savior of professional hockey, criticizing the previous owners for threatening to uproot the team and take ii to another state.
It had been six months since Green uprooted the team and took it to another state. Now the Dallas Stars were in Minneapolis for a neutral-site game against the Ottawa Senators. Banners were forbidden at the Target Center last Thursday night, but plenty of jilted Minnesotans found ways to express themselves. The medium varied—from T-shirts to caps to a cathartic chant—but the message was the same, summed up by a slogan on a button: UPON FURTHER REVIEW...NORM STILL SUCKS.
The game, in which Dallas dispatched the dreadful Senators 6-1, was the first of six NHL contests to be played this season in the Target Center. The driving force behind getting those games is Dana Warg, the Target Center's executive director, who is courting Edmonton Oiler owner Peter Pocklington, a man seeking a new home for his team.
A serendipitous scheduling conflict with the NHL's Board of Governors meetings in Southern California gave the 59-year-old Green a good excuse to skip Thursday's game, which he did. After all, a choice between soaking up verbal abuse and soaking up rays in Laguna Niguel isn't much of a choice.
But will Green soon be looking for excuses to avoid Dallas fans as well? Texans have yet to join their Minnesota brethren in obscene chants directed at the Stars' owner, but Green's Dallas honeymoon was nonetheless fleeting. On Oct. 1 the Stars sued the city of Dallas for the right to advertise beer inside the arena at home games, a right now held exclusively by the NBA Mavericks. Then, 37 days after his team's Dallas debut, Green was quoted uttering his first threat to pull the team out of Big D. The club denied that Green had issued such a threat, but given his history in Minnesota, the quote seemed to have the ring of truth.
While Green was busy wearing out his welcome in Dallas in record time, Minnesota was waging a curiously halfhearted battle to regain an NHL franchise. Pocklington, who is desperate to get his team out of Alberta, has been speaking of the Twin Cities in glowing terms, which has made some Twin Citians nervous. One of the league's most-cash-strapped owners, Pocklington has systematically unloaded the team's best players. The Oilers have won just six of their 32 games this season; only the Senators are worse. Most Minnesotans don't see a Norm-for-Peter Puck swap as much of a bargain.
"It's a moral dilemma," said Mary LeTourneau, editor of the Minnesota North Stars Booster Club newsletter. "Of course we want NHL hockey back. But we're afraid Pocklington will present us with a lousy team, fan support won't be there, and he'll take the team somewhere else. If that happens, we'll never get another chance. People aren't sure how to feel about it."
They do know how they feel about their departed team. In the 18,700-seat Target Center, the disappointing turnout on Thursday was announced as 14,058, but it looked more like a crowd of about 12,000. The impossible had happened. The team had gone, and some of its most loyal fans actually lived happily ever after. "I'm speaking now as a private citizen, not as president of the North Stars Booster Club," said Doug Rausch, lowering his voice to avoid being overheard by fellow boosters, "but I don't miss [the Stars] as much as I thought I would. Plus, with the money we saved on season tickets, we bought a house." Chimed in another former season-ticket holder, Tom Saari, "I paid off my cabin."
The Star players, too, are surviving quite nicely, thank you. They enjoy the temperate Texas climate (translation: year-round golf). They appreciate the absence of a state income tax. They even like flying into and out of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. They are only occasionally weirded out by the odd geographical twist their careers have taken. In filling out a lineup card before a preseason game against the Florida Panthers, Star head coach Bob Gainey found himself writing, " Dallas vs. Florida." Says Gainey, who played 16 seasons for the Montreal Canadiens, "Once in a while, it hits you—this is different."