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"I scored four goals this season," said Gavin from behind his dense playoff beard before Game 6. "He scored 86. So neither of us score when we're on together. I'll take that tradeoff."
All the attention got under the Great Brettzky's skin. Frustrated after tallying only one assist in the first two games, he wondered aloud: Where were his teammates to pick up the slack? His main set-up man, center Adam Oates, joined the squawking by publicly questioning the quality of St. Louis's goaltending.
Taking their example from behind the bench, the North Stars presented a more unified front. Gainey will talk privately to players who err, or send a nonverbal message—like holding them out of a game for one period. His methods are in distinct contrast to those of his predecessor, Pierre Page, now the general manager of the Quebec Nordiques. Some North Stars say it was not uncommon for Page to unload on players. "You stunk out there tonight," he once screamed at his goaltender. "You let the whole team down!"
If a guy has stunk up the ice and let his teammates down, Gainey figures, he'll probably be down in the dumps without prompting from a coach. "We're less likely now to get tight and make another mistake," says center Neal Broten. "Pierre had guys so nervous they'd squeeze the sap out of their sticks."
Amazingly, Gainey did not permit himself the luxury of a crack in his demeanor all season, though no North Star would have blamed him if he had. Gainey has been his usual serious, soft-spoken self, despite bearing a cruel, personal burden for the past five months.
Early on the morning of Dec. 1, as Gainey deplaned from a charter flight from Winnipeg, where Minnesota had won 4-2, he was met by general manager Bob Clarke. "When I saw Bob, I thought it was kind of strange," Gainey recently told Jay Weiner of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "Bob said to me, 'Cathy is sick, and it's serious.' I knew what it was."
Cathy Gainey, Bob's wife of 15 years and the mother of their four children, had collapsed at home. Doctors diagnosed a brain tumor. Bob had immediately guessed what was wrong because Cathy's father and a brother had died of brain tumors. On Dec. 5, she had surgery. Shortly after the operation, she underwent 35 days of radiation treatment. The news so far is good: Though Cathy has suffered the loss of some memory, her doctors have been sufficiently encouraged by recent CAT scans to allow her to attend home playoff games. The doctors tell her it will be a year before she fully recovers.
And Gainey's off-ice troubles were only exacerbated by his team's on-ice failings. The new-look North Stars won just 11 games from October through December. "We were a good team—on paper," says Minnesota center Dave Gagner. "It just took time for Bob to get to know our strengths." Fortunately for the Stars, the six-month regular season allows plenty of time for fine-tuning. Being in the Norris Division didn't hurt Minnesota either. Four of the division's five teams make the playoffs, and one of the Norris teams is the woeful Toronto Maple Leafs.
Even as the North Stars improved in the closing months of the season, attendance remained embarrassingly low. By serving up mediocre hockey and chaos-six coaching changes from 1980 to '90—the North Stars' previous owners, George and Gordon Gund, had thoroughly alienated Minnesota's hockey fans, which is no small accomplishment in a state that is transformed, every winter, into the land of 10,000 frozen lakes.
In January 1990, the Gunds ensured they would live in infamy in the minds of Minnesotans. That's when they appeared before the state's Metropolitan Sports and Facilities Commission and said, in effect: Give us $15 million to renovate the Met Center, and sell 6,000 additional season tickets in the next three weeks, or we'll relocate the team. The response from the citizenry was overwhelming: Don't let the door hit you in the butt on the way out.