A forgotten Midwest rivalry (guest post)
While USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale looks at a ‘new’ baseball rivalry between the Cubs and Pirates, I prefer looking back at some of the classic ones that, over time, have faded – or even vanished – due to various reasons (such as realignment, relocation, teams being mediocre, etc.).
Here’s a look-back at an old rivalry involving Chicago’s hockey team, one that was at its peak during the 1980s – the forgotten Black Hawks-Minnesota North Stars rivalry.* Fantasy Sports insider Drew Farmer, guest posting again today, provides us with the history lesson.
*The Blackhawks were known as the ‘Black Hawks’ (ie. two separate words) until 1987.
The Forgotten Minnesota North Stars – Chicago Blackhawks rivalry
By Drew Farmer | Twitter: @DrewMFarmer
The Minnesota North Stars and Chicago Blackhawks had one of the most intense hockey rivalries the NHL has ever seen. The sad truth is that the games that produced so much hate between players and fans is nearly forgotten. It has been almost 25 years since the Minnesota North Stars relocated to Dallas and took the franchise’s legacy with it.
Not only were thousands of North Stars fans left without a team, ripped from their hands by owner Norm Green, but future generations knew little to nothing about the team that once called Minneapolis home. The departure left fathers only stories to tell their children about the great games between the North Stars and Blackhawks. The tales of Minnesota overcoming the top seeded Blackhawks on the way to the Stanley Cup finals is just a memory and one that is a part of the forgotten rivalry between the two NHL teams.
In the beginning
The rivalry between the Minnesota North Stars and Chicago Blackhawks began in 1981. Despite both hockey clubs being in the NHL for some time, Chicago since 1926 and Minnesota since 1967, it took years for the rivalry to take shape. By 1981, it was ready and for the next decade the two clubs put on exciting games in the regular season and playoffs.
The games between the two teams were considered wars, and former Blackhawks player Denis Savard has claimed he never slept well the night before playing Minnesota.
In the 1981-82 NHL season, Minnesota finished atop the Norris Division. The team accumulated 94 points under coach Glen Sonmor, while Chicago came fourth with 72 points. The two teams met in the first round of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs. It was a series of goals as 28 goals were scored in four games.
The Blackhawks 3-1 win in the best of five series stung the North Stars. The team had never won the Stanley Cup and its diehard support craved the trophy more than anything else. Chicago’s dominance in the first round of the playoffs was officially the start of every fight, hateful word and bloody lip. There would be more to come.
In the middle
A year after Chicago dumped the North Stars out of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the two teams reignited hostilities. This time, the hockey teams met in the second round of the playoffs. Unlike the previous season, in 1982-83, Chicago topped the Norris Division with 104 points. Minnesota finished in second place with 96 points.
The series was once again filled with goals from both teams. Thirty-eight goals were scored and incidents on the ice made it a must-watch series. The series was dominated by the home team as four of the five games went to the home side. The one game that wasn’t won by the home team was Game 5 and it proved to be pivotal. Chicago defeated the North Stars in Minneapolis, 4-3 in overtime. The Blackhawks then put five goals past Minnesota goalkeeper Gilles Meloche at Chicago Stadium in Game 6. Minnesota was out again.
The 1982 and 1983 playoff series between the North Stars and Blackhawks had been so good, why not do it all again? That is exactly what happened in 1984. The teams met once more in the postseason’s first round. Minnesota had won the Norris Division while Chicago just made the playoffs. The series went back and forth, but after losing Game 4 in Chicago, things looked all too familiar for the North Stars. Remarkably, Bill Mahoney’s team recovered at home for Game 5 to win 4-1. The North Stars had finally registered a punch in the fight.
The win changed the face of the rivalry. Prior to Minnesota’s win in 1984, the feud had been one sided. Chicago was the bully beating up on the North Stars. Now, revenge had been found and Chicago no longer had the edge on Minnesota.
Minnesota’s revenge was short lived. A year later, meeting for a fourth straight season in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Chicago put the North Stars to the sword. The six games series featured 61 goals as the teams once again showed their unique style of attacking ice hockey.
Looking back on the rivalry, the 1985 playoff series between Chicago and Minnesota marked the end. The games between the clubs had become the best thing on ice for the NHL, but in 1986, the two teams were eliminated from the playoffs in the first round. For some fans, it was an anti-climactic way to end the season. How could the two teams not play each other after four epic battles in four years?
Off the ice things were changing for Minnesota. The franchise’s owner Norm Green, who took over the club in 1990, was looking into moving the team. Unhappy with a number of things in Minnesota, including falling attendances due to poor results, Green worked behind the scenes to move the North Stars. He attempted to move the team to Los Angeles, but his efforts were stopped when the NHL gave the go ahead for the expansion Anaheim Mighty Ducks.
However, just before the North Stars left Minnesota, there was a glimmer of hope in 1990 and 1991. The NHL was about to make changes never before seen in the league and usher in a new era. It was only fitting that one of its best rivalries from the past would be renewed briefly.
The first round of the 1990 playoffs witnessed the Blackhawks once again pulling their magic over Minnesota. It took seven games, but Chicago was on its way to the Stanley Cup semifinals.
In 1991, the North Stars found redemption. As seemed the case for so many years, the teams met in the first round of the playoffs. It was back and forth hockey with the teams displaying their attacking styles. In Game 5, after years of anger and frustration at the hands of Chicago, the North Stars exercised their demons. Minnesota throttled Chicago 6-0 in the Windy City. It was an earthshattering result and it led to a 3-1 Minnesota win in Game 6.
Minnesota’s new-found belief led it past the St. Louis Blues and mighty Edmonton Oilers to reach the Stanley Cup finals. There, the dream was ended, however. Despite winning Game 1, the Pittsburgh Penguins destroyed Minnesota in the series. Most humiliating was the 8-0 Game 6 clincher that saw the North Stars’ Stanley Cup dreams shattered.
The North Stars had missed the playoffs the next season, and in 1993, Green finally moved the franchise to Dallas. The move south ended what was one of the greatest NHL rivalries ever produced on ice. Today, the playoff series the teams contested are just a memory to hockey fans of a bygone era.