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Franchise Best: 1980-81 Minnesota North Stars

1980-81 Minnesota North Stars

Last season, our Franchise Best series talked about the best season in each team’s respective history. However, what about some of the teams that don’t exist anymore? There have been plenty of memorable teams that are no longer with us. Today we look at the Franchise Best season for the 1980-81 Minnesota North Stars. 


The North Stars came into existence as part of the 1967 NHL expansion and almost made the Stanley Cup Final but lost to the St. Louis Blues. Minnesota made the playoffs four of the next five seasons before hitting a rough patch in the mid-1970s. They only made the post-season once between 1973-74 and 1979-80. 

The North Stars beat back the challenge of the Minnesota Fighting Saints of the WHA for the hockey dollar in the state. Things got so bad that the team was merged with the Cleveland Barons in the 1978-79 season in an unprecedented move. The Gund family took control of the franchise and brought in Lou Nanne and an infusion of talent from the Barons to the North Stars. 

1980-81 Minnesota North Stars

Previous Season and Pre-Season Acquisitions 

Nanne had started to lay the foundation for a winner as the North Stars stunned the defending champion Montreal Canadiens to get to the semi-finals. Bobby Smith won the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year 1979 and Steve Payne recorded 42 goals. 

Al McAdam helped complete the improbable series victory with the Game 7-winner. The North Stars lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in the semifinals, but things were looking up after a dark period. 

Minnesota got Alex Pirus from the Detroit Red Wings in a trade in early June but was flipped to the New York Islanders on July 4. The North Stars picked up Bob Nyrop from the Habs on Sept. 1.  

Second-round pick Don Beaupre came in and split time with Gilles Meloche in the net. First-round selection Brad Palmer also made the team as a rookie. 

Key Storylines 

Mid-Season Additions 

Minnesota got an infusion of talent with Dino Ciccarelli and Neal Broten to the lineup. Ciccarelli came into the fold and played 32 games for the North Stars. He provided 18 goals and 12 assists for 30 points and was a welcome addition to the lineup. 

Broten joined late in the season with three games to go and scored twice. The former member of the Miracle on Ice team added a goal and was a big part of their playoff push. 

Both players would have long careers in the league, but the North Stars would get them at the earliest point of their career. They each would be long-time members and Broten was part of the team made the Stanley Cup Final 10 years later. 

The Brawl with Boston 

The North Stars and the Boston Bruins had one of the biggest brawls in hockey history om Feb. 26, 1981. That night’s brawl set a record with 392 penalty minutes and saw 12 players ejected.  

The nastiness started seven seconds into the game and never stopped. All the penalties caused the game to be played at a snail’s pace. Most of the ejections happened with 11:02 left in the second period. Via The New York Times. 

In the same fight, Minnesota’s Al MacAdam was given 27 minutes, Gordie Roberts 15, Greg Smith 15, Craig Hartsburg 10, Payne 10, Jack Carlson 12, Tom Younghans 12, plus 2 to the goalie, Meloche, for leaving the bench. 

Boston ended up winning the game, 5-1. It would be a precursor to the post-season series between the two of them. 

Start of a Strong Run 

This was the second year of a run that saw the North Stars make the post-season for seven straight seasons. Nanne was able to plug in the right holes and keep things going.  

Minnesota would win a playoff series in three of the next five seasons. The North Stars would pull off a huge move to get Brian Bellows and would be willing to roll the dice to keep them as a contender. 

Scoring Leaders 

Payne would score 30 goals and add 28 assists for 58 points. Smith supplied 29 goals and 64 assists to get 93 points and be the unquestioned points leader for the North Stars. 

Tim Young was the next-highest point-getter with 25 goals and 41 assists while MacAdam had 21 goals and 39 assists for 60 points. 

Beaupre and Meloche split time in net with the former going 18-14-11 with a 3.20 goals against average in his rookie season. 

Playoff Performers 

Payne continued his hot scoring with 17 goals and 12 assists while Smith was the main distributor with 17 assists to go with eight goals. Ciccarelli immediately paid dividends with 14 goals in his first post-season campaign. His 21 points set a rookie record since tied by Ville Leino in 2010. 

Hartsburg was the top scorer for a defenceman with three goals and 12 assists for 15 points. Brad Maxwell added three goals and 11 assists for the North Stars. 

The more experienced Meloche took the lion’s share of games in net and went 8-5 with a 3.53 GAA. 

First Round vs. Boston 

The two teams were tied on points with 87 in the Adams Division, the Bruins had the tiebreaker to get home ice. Payne’s overtime-winner in Game 1 powered the North Stars to sweep, including a wild 9-6 Game 2 victory. Minnesota swept the best-of-five series, 3 to 0. 

Quarterfinals vs. Buffalo 

Payne started off this series like the last one with an OT-winner in Game 1 against the Buffalo Sabres. Minnesota won all three games at the Memorial Auditorium to win the series four games to one. 

Semifinals vs. Calgary 

The North Stars won all three games at the Met Center to beat the Calgary Flames to book their first Stanley Cup Final berth in history. Calgary and Minnesota had split the teams four regular-season meetings. Palmer sealed the clinching game with two goals in Game 6. 

Stanley Cup Final vs. New York Islanders 

Minnesota ran into the dynastic Islanders in the Final and New York took the first three games. The Isles netted at least six goals in the first three games. 

The North Stars would get a home win with a 4-2 victory to stave off elimination, but the Islanders depth was too much in the end as they closed the series in five. 

What Happened to the Minnesota North Stars? 

A round of ownership moves saw the Gunds end up with a stake in the San Jose Sharks franchise. Part-owner Norm Green of the Flames swooped in and got 51-percent interest of the club. 

The writing was on the wall and the club was moved to Dallas due to low attendance, the lack of a new arena and other factors. Green is still reviled in the Twin Cities for his move. 

However, the State of Hockey would get a new team in 2000-01 when the team was awarded an expansion franchise in the Minnesota Wild. Minnesota had flirted with bringing the original Winnipeg Jets to won, but that fell through. The Wild have taken off and will be a fixture in the league for years to come. 

 UNIONDALE, NY – 1981: Minnesota North Stars’ Neal Broten #7 skates against Bryan Trottier #19 of the New York Islanders during a game at the Nassau Coliseum circa 1981 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Focus on Sport via Getty Images)


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