MINNEAPOLIS -- Their first game in Dallas happened about this time 27 years ago, which means the NHL’s Stars franchise has now spent more time in Texas than the 26 years they spent in Bloomington as the Minnesota North Stars.
Still, there are certainly at least a few folks in Edina who never let a thing like franchise relocation make their original hockey allegiance wane, and are rooting for Dallas in the Stars’ Stanley Cup Final showdown with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Born more than seven years after the moving trucks left Met Center headed south on I-35, Minnesota Gophers junior defenseman Ben Brinkman was not raised as a Minnesota North Stars fan, but he is rooting for Dallas with a special interest this week, as he hopes to find work on the Stars’ blue line in a few years. Brinkman was a sixth-round pick of the Stars in 2019, and went to their development camp in Frisco, Texas, later that summer.
“It’s cool to see them playing in the final. Some of those guys have come through the system where I am now, drafted by the team and working with the player development coaches, now playing in the NHL,” said Brinkman. “It’s really cool to see the guys who worked with the (development) guys that I work with now doing well. It’s exciting to hopefully one day have a future with that organization.”
While NCAA rules strictly prohibit wagering of any sort, Brinkman and Gophers forward Sammy Walker -- former teammates with Edina High School, and current teammates at the U of M -- will be pulling hard for opposing teams during this best-of-four series, played in Edmonton. Walker, the Gophers’ junior captain, was a seventh-round pick of the Lightning in 2017 and has been to their development camp in Florida twice.
“They’ve had a couple of heartbreaks, but I’m hoping this is their year,” Walker said, referencing the Lightning getting upset in the opening round of the 2019 playoffs. “Some games I’ve had homework and haven’t been able to see them, but every game I’ve been free, I’ve been watching. They’re so fun to watch.”
A little over a year ago, Walker was in Florida playing on a line in 3-on-3 drills with Lightning center Anthony Cirelli. While Walker was at the U of M studying last week, Cirelli was scoring the overtime series winner for Tampa Bay in game six of the Eastern Conference Final versus the New York Islanders.
Their status as teammates does not prevent some good-natured ribbing during the NHL playoffs between Brinkman and Walker, who hope to be on-ice rivals in a few years.
“When Tampa lost in game five, (Ben) was like, ‘Hey Walks, you getting nervous?’ and saying stuff like that,” Walker said. “He said, ‘My team’s already in the final.’ I’m hoping Tampa wins just so he can’t say anything more. It’s all about bragging rights.”
The Stanley Cup Final between Dallas and Tampa Bay marks the first time that teams from two Sun Belt cities are facing off for hockey’s top trophy.