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THE NHL : For North Stars, Won Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

The Minnesota North Stars beat the Kings Tuesday night at the Forum.

But off the ice, it was a different story. North Stars Won is lost.

Confused?

It’s really pretty simple. Minnesota owner Norm Green, seeing the success the Kings and other teams have had with private jets, decided to get one, too.

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That was the simple part. From there, it got difficult.

While King owner Bruce McNall bought his jet, Green leased his. And while the Kings have a 727 aircraft with reconfigured seats to allow more comfort, Green got a DC-9 and left the seats as he found them, tight and cramped.

Minnesota’s plane was named North Stars Won, but it soon became a losing proposition.

The primary purpose of a team plane is to avoid the long delays that can plague winter travelers, particularly in the Midwest. But the North Stars found themselves no better off. And maybe a little worse in what became the not-so-friendly skies.

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Because of airport problems, one trip from Calgary to San Francisco, normally no more than two hours, took nearly seven.

The worst nightmare came, fittingly, on Halloween. After a night game in Pittsburgh, the North Stars boarded their plane for the flight home.

But weather had tied up their airport in Minnesota. And the North Stars discovered that charter flights in such trying circumstances get sent to the back of the line.

Hockey team or no hockey team.

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So the North Stars waited in Pittsburgh where they sat and sat and sat.

Finally, at 3 a.m., it became obvious they weren’t going home. The North Stars found an all-night coffee shop, checked into a hotel and tried again the next morning.

Still more delays.

The North Stars eventually made it back to Minnesota. At 3 p.m. the next day, nearly 24 hours after their game.

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For this I need a private plane? Green started thinking.

Finally, when North Stars Won was grounded because of an engine problem, Green decided enough was enough and gave the order: “Lose North Star Won.”

The North Stars came to Los Angeles on a commercial airliner. And that’s the way they will travel, from here on.

No News Is Bad News: Things have been quiet on the labor front, but that’s not because of any movement by either the NHL Players Assn. or the league. The next meeting on a new collective bargaining agreement won’t happen at least until mid-January in Philadelphia at the All-Star Game.

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Neither side reports much progress on replacing the old CBA, which expired in September.

Rumors persist that the players are considering a strike at the end of the regular season.

That wouldn’t hurt them since their playoff money, in most cases, is minuscule compared to their salaries.

But it would cripple the owners, who bank heavily on playoff revenue.

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Many players doubt that enough of them would actually vote to go out at that point, especially those who feel they have a shot at the Stanley Cup.

But they don’t mind keeping the rumors afloat to perhaps scare the owners into making someconcessions on such key issues as free agency and the pension plan.

One thing seems certain: In the midst of a deep recession with more and more people losing their jobs, their homes and their chances for a decent future, there would be little sympathy for millionaire athletes going on strike.

On the contrary, all the strides the league has made in popularity could be decimated.

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There’s a time to talk and a time to walk.

For the sake of the league, the powers that be better know the difference.

Flameout in Calgary: In his last season as coach of the Calgary Flames, Terry Crisp had a minor revolt on his hands.

Players whispered to the media that they couldn’t play for him, that he had become too overbearing.

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Just help get rid of him, they said, and watch what happens.

All Crisp had won in his three seasons at the helm was three division titles and the only Stanley Cup in franchise history.

A Calgary newspaper called for Crisp’s resignation during the 1989-90 postseason in the middle of a series against the Kings.

The critics had their way, Doug Risebrough took over and is now both coach and general manager.

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The result?

A second-place finish for the Flames in the Smythe last season and a first-round playoff elimination.

And, so far this season, fifth place in the Smythe wouldn’t even qualify for the playoffs.

But at least the players are happier.

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Add Crisp: He’s temporarily employed as an assistant coach on the Canadian Olympic team and loves it.

“I was diagraming a practice drill at rinkside one day,” he told the Toronto Star, “and I suddenly realized there were 18 pairs of eyes riveted on me. I was dumbfounded because nothing like this had happened since I’d (coached junior hockey). These guys were paying attention because they wanted to learn.

“What I realized at that moment was, ‘I’m finally coaching again.’ For me, that’s fun and satisfying.

“With a pro club, hey, you’re just a glorified baby-sitter.”

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Quotebook: The Chicago Blackhawks have color pictures of themselves above their lockers.

“That’s so when I forget how to spell my name,” Stu Grimson said, “I can still find my clothes.”


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