October 11, 1967
The Minnesota North Stars debut as a National Hockey League expansion team. The home of the North Stars, Metropolitan Sports Center in Bloomington, was built in 12 months (October 3, 1966, groundbreaking to October 25, 1967, first home game).*
Long before the age of modern ice hockey, with its’ leagues and franchises, Europeans enjoyed similar competitive games. Even authoritative Canadian sources, like the 2019 article by author Jean-Patrice Martel on the “Origins of Ice Hockey”, tip their hat to these bridge-building ancestors.
“Hockey developed from stick-and-ball games played in the British Isles, particularly hurling (Ireland), shinty (Scotland) and bandy (England). These games shared a very similar basic structure and have been documented from the 14th century.
But what about hockey itself? Unlike bandy, hurling and shinty, the term “hockey” is relatively recent. Its oldest known use is in the 1773 book Juvenile Sports and Pastimes, written by Richard Johnson. Chapter XI of the book is titled “New Improvements on the Game of Hockey,” which suggests that the name had been in use for some years already. The chapter details the game in over 800 words, using the term “hockey” to designate not the stick, but rather the object with which it is played: a “cork-bung,” or barrel plug.” **
Moving us closer to home, what clues to find to the development of ice hockey as sport in the North Star state during the 19th and early 20th centuries? Author and expert ice hockey historian Rodger A Godin states the following synopsis as Minnesota’s deep rooted attachment to the sport in his stellar book, “Before the Stars” (Minnesota Historical Society Press).
“In the early twentieth century, before the National Hockey League had established a presence in the United States, a team from St. Paul played at the highest levels of hockey in the country. Sports historian Roger A. Godin resurrects the story of the St. Paul Athletic Club team—the AC’s—and argues they were instrumental in turning Minnesota into one of the nation’s first hockey hotbeds and gave birth to what is now known as the “State of Hockey.” ***
Let’s explore the final iterations of farm teams and the foundations of Minnesota’s first professional hockey franchise. Two pivotal local teams caught the eye of Walter Brown, owner of the Boston Bruins; first, the Minneapolis Bruins, and second, the Saint Paul Rangers. This attention, along with the friendship of Minneapolis attorney and hockey booster Walter Bush Jr, cemented the viability of the Twin Cities in the minds of those seeking to expand the NHL brand while increasing TV revenues.
To this end, Bush applied for the expansion, and sought investors that could supply the contractually-necessary 13 thousand seat arena. A St Paul team of investors nearly clinched the deal using the existing Roy Wilkins Arena, but the funds to expand the facility required a public vote which cost too much time. Shortly after this failure, the two factions of owners, (from Minneapolis and St. Paul), decided to to go in together and build a new site for hockey in Bloomington; the Metropolitan Sports Center. This groundbreaking crew October 23, 1966 comprised the new ownership: John Ordway Jr., Walter Bush Jr., Gary Mc Neely Jr., Robert Mc Nulty, John Driscoll, Gordon Ritz, Robert Ritter. These locals paid approximately $2 million to the National Hockey League to add their franchise. *
But where did the first team of North Stars hail from; where did they assemble this first team, seemingly out of thin air? The short answer? They were enlisted from existing NHL teams. See the chart below:
Caesar Maniago New York
Dave Balon Montreal
Jean Guy Talbot Montreal
Ray Cullens Detroit
Parker Mac Donald Detroit
Bob Woytowich Boston
Wayne Connelly Boston
Bill Goldsworthy Boston
Andre Boudrias Montreal
Mike Mc Mahon Montreal
Bill Masterton Montreal
Elmer “Moose” Vasko Chicago
“The North Stars played their first game on the road against the St. Louis Blues on October 11, 1967. It ended in a tie. On October 21, the North Stars hosted their first home game against the California/Oakland Seals—which ended with the North Stars’ first win. However, tragedy soon struck the team. Bill Masterson, a center, hit his head in a legal check on January 13, 1968, at the Met Center. His injury was severe, and he died of his injuries two days later in a hospital. His death is the only direct death resulting from gameplay in the NHL. It precipitated regulations for mandatory helmets, though they weren’t required until 1979. Even with this tragedy, the North Stars ended their inaugural season with a trip to the playoffs, losing to St. Louis in the semifinals.”
Now, dear Father, we turn to You to reflect and pray on this history. What will we learn if we remain in Your Presence, and just think about the importance of hockey to Minnesota? How did this beginning of a much-loved sports team change the course of Minnesota? Before that, we remember the Master who created winter, ice, and the people groups who were designed to thrive in the cold. We remember that the Ancient of Days is the author of sport, and its underlying causes: to severely prove one’s ability, to test intensely one’s skills without risk of death, and to learn what Cain and Abel did not. For all these things, we adore You!
One thought that comes to mind is how perfectly hockey is suited to the Northern regions of North America in the last few centuries. We, at least historically, come from tribes and nations that are ready made to thrive in the snow. We remember that You conditioned the first hockey players and fans to play in the snow: Canadians, First Nations (Inuits, Nunavuts, Metis, Algonquians to name a few), and recent American immigrants from mostly Northern European origins: Norwegians, Swedes, Finns, Russians, etc.
Let’s put ourselves in their shoes as hockey leagues grew over 100 years ago, shall we? What kind of entertainment suits our very rugged ancestors who spent all day in a frozen logging camp, mining camp, railroad camp, or just homesteading a new farm in the wilderness? Would they relish tennis racquets, cricket bats, and white pants or a fast-paced, high-attention battle that could change at a moments notice, and wind up with blood on the ice? Lord, I guess I’m just pondering if our ancestors who day in and day out did high risk, cold, and dangerous work influenced them to enjoy the battle on ice which is hockey?
Under Your Authority and with agreement with the Council of Heaven, we remember all these formational years before hockey was a professional sport. We are grateful for those who built North America, in the bone-chilling winter, and did not lose their sense of play, but handed this game down to us and the world. Will You bless those of us in high risk professions to be faithful in our work, and vent our combative urges with the good sportsmanship of hockey?
Let’s add to the list of gratitude these specific things; dear Councilor of Heaven:
We remember to You the excitement created by the Saint Paul Athletic Club team of about 100 years ago!
We thank You for Walter Brown, the Boston Bruins, and the Minnesota Bruins!
We applaud the efforts and significant investment of these early hockey boosters:
John Ordway Jr., Walter Bush Jr., Gary Mc Neely Jr., Robert Mc Nulty, John Driscoll, Gordon Ritz, and Robert Ritter.
We thank You for the risk and enthusiasm of our first players:
Caesar Maniago, Dave Balon, Jean Guy Talbot, Ray Cullens, Parker Mac Donald, Bob Woytowich, Wayne Connelly, Bill Goldsworthy, Andre Boudrias, Mike Mc Mahon, Bill Masterton, and Elmer “Moose” Vasko.
We remember the contributions of the city of Bloomington, and all those who worked on the Metropolitan Sports Center.
Will You bless these names, spoken or unspoken, and their generations who contributed to Minnesota hockey? Will You forgive them their judgments of their detractors in roughly the 1920’s to the 1960’s, and those Minnesotans who judged them and failed to see the promises of professional hockey?
We thank You for at least two generations of young men and women who were inspired by the North Stars? We thank You for the impact these moments, whether playing the sport of hockey or participating as a fan, have strengthened the resolve of Minnesotans! So many of us have seen, at least in part, the lessons of an all-out battle, yet with rules!
We thank for the lessons portrayed in the game of hockey and in the North Stars franchise; it made our state better! We thank You that it taught what our ancestor Cain had not caught; we fight our life’s battle according to the rules of the game, and because our competition is made in G-d’s own image, we do not kill, but walk off the field of battle to shake hands with our brother. Is this not the heart of sportsmanship and brotherly love?
Conversely, forgive us Lord where we have prohibited our men and boys from sporting battles like hockey. How does one learn his limits as a man unless he has faced his own battles? Where will men be affirmed in their strength, valor, and leadership if they do not experience even a controlled danger?
Our current culture, dear Father, struggles to parse the meaning of masculinity. We rightly recognize that men need to temper their testosterone. There is something right when a hard as nails block layer holds his daughter’s hand like a butterfly! There’s something of Your efficiency in the moment an executive clears his schedule to give 100% attention and focussed time to his son!
Yet, we have failed to recognize that within ordinary men there is a hero because Your brave nature is in them! Who will fight those men who fight civilization? Who will oppose evil with good if men aren’t taught to sacrifice their safety for others? What is the lesson that Cain and Abel failed to teach us? Is it that the same wild and explosive masculine powers unleashed in the Creation of the Universe are the same masculine powers of self-control that sent our Messiah to the Cross?
A mature man is one who exhibits the self-control of his Eternal Father, his dad, and his coach. A fierce and effective hockey player is the man who retains both the wildest of his wild nature with discipline. What better image of power under control than a star? We thank You, the Most Dominant One of the Universe, for Your gift of the North Star, and the team that is its’ namesake! Let us deeply take in this image of exceeding power under control. Will You make us a State and people who neither fail to recognize Your Greatness in wild, masculine power, or Your Greatness to discipline that power through self-control! Amen!
“He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.”
- P.T.H. cites timeline formerly at this URL: mnhs.org/about/dipity_timeline.htm
** Martel, Jean- Patrice. “Origins of Ice Hockey” Internet. The Canadian Encyclopedia. February 6, 2019. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/origins-of-ice-hockey
*** Godin, Roger A. “Before the Stars Early Major League Hockey and the Saint Paul Athletic Club Team”. Minnesota Historical Society Press, October 4, 2004.
Want to go way deeper? Watch this incredible video series on the formation of ice hockey as an internationally acclaimed sport.
Internet. “Hockey: A Peoples History”. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0818640/
Dan Whenesota. YouTube. “The North Star State – Part 1: A Star is Born” September 7, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Mz-bB7MeUc&t=1575s
* Tieberg, Alex. “Minnesota North Stars”. January 6, 2020. https://www.mnopedia.org/group/minnesota-north-stars
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