Today’s a day that doesn’t happen all that often: it’s the first day of a new pro sports franchise in Minnesota. Tonight, PWHL Minnesota - the Cougars? - plays its first game, visiting Boston.
I presume that there will not be 406 penalty minutes and a coach punching a fan, but you never know in Minnesota-Boston games, I suppose.
A recap of other first-days-of-franchise for Minnesota’s pro teams:
November 1, 1947: Lakers 49, Oshkosh All-Stars 47.
Jim Pollard had 10 points in this game, and Dean Carlson scored the winning basket in the final ten seconds.
I went and looked up the Minneapolis Tribune for the following day, in order to get the above information, and I cannot describe what a non-event this seemed to be for the Tribune; the Lakers game got approximately the same coverage as a 4-4 tie between the Buffalo Bisons and Springfield Indians in the American Hockey League, which did not have a team in, or any connection to, Minnesota.
November 1 was a Saturday, so the paper is page after page of college football reports, plus a 400-word bowling column titled “Bowler’s Bazoo,” by Bill Hengen.
The Lakers were still a month away from getting George Mikan, who was then playing for the Chicago American Gears in a short-lived league called the Professional Basketball League of America (which, incidentally, included a team called the St. Paul Saints). When the league folded, the players were dispersed to the National Basketball League; the Lakers got first pick and took Mikan.
The Lakers won the NBL title in 1947-48, jumped to the Basketball Association of America in 1948-49 and won that, then won the first NBA title in 1949-50 after the BAA and NBL merged. This is “1990s American pro soccer” levels of confusion.
In conclusion: the Oshkosh All-Stars.
April 11, 1961: Twins 6, New York 0.
Pedro Ramos tossed a three-hitter in Yankee Stadium and also singled home two runs in the seventh, outdueling Whitey Ford. Bob Allison and Rene Bertoia homered for the Twins. The Yankees, fresh off a World Series loss to Pittsburgh, went on to win the World Series in 1961.
September 17, 1961: Vikings 37, Chicago 13.
This is the most famous first game in Minnesota history, as the Vikings were godawful while the Bears were coached by the legendary George Halas. The Purple finished 3-11 that year, but Fran Tarkenton - inserted mid-game on one of coach Norm Van Brocklin’s usual whims - threw four touchdown passes and ran for another one. According to legend, upon hearing the final score, Halas’s relatives called a radio station to chastise them for a silly hoax.
October 11, 1967: North Stars 2, St. Louis 2.
Bill Masterton scored the first goal in North Stars history, in the second period in St. Louis; you probably know that, later that season, he was the only player in NHL history to die as a result of an on-ice injury, after slamming his head on the ice in a game of January that year.
October 13, 1972: Winnipeg 4, Fighting Saints 3.
Duke Asmundson scored the winner for the Jets with 1:29 to go; the Minneapolis Star noted that Asmundson didn’t have a name sewn on the back of his jersey or his picture in the team program. Wayne Connelly, Fred Speck, and Mike McMahon - all former North Stars - scored for the Saints, who blew a third-period lead in front of 7,892 at St. Paul Auditorium. Bobby Hull did not play for the Jets, as he was still waiting for a court decision regarding his jump from the NHL.
The Minneapolis Star story appeared on the front page, next to a story about a “varsity-reserve” football game between Minnesota and Iowa, in which the Gophers apparently lost 43-0 and turned the ball over eleven times (six fumbles, five interceptions, and they seem to have fumbled 12 times but recovered six; this must surely be one of the worst football games ever played).
Also noted in the story was the fate of defensive back Tim Alderson, who was “hospitalized yesterday after suffering a damaged artery from a hunting arrow during some horse play at his campus home Thursday night.” I remind you that this was the SECOND graf in the story.
Also appearing in both the Minneapolis Star and the Minneapolis Tribune that day: a note that seconds would be barred from the 9pm wrestling match between Verne Gagne and Nick Bockwinkel at the Minneapolis Auditorium.
November 3, 1989: Seattle 106, Timberwolves 94.
It was tied after three quarters, and the Wolves bench outscored the Sonics bench 62-16, but 33 points from Dale Ellis was enough to take down Minnesota, which was led by Tyrone Corbin’s 20 points.
June 12, 1999: Lynx 68, Detroit 51.
Tonya Edwards scored 20 for Minnesota. The Lynx won their first two and four of their first six, but eventually fell to 15-17 and missed the playoffs.
October 6, 2000: Anaheim 3, Wild 1.
Looking down the roster, it’s amazing that the Wild managed to win even 25 games that season. Marian Gaborik scored the first goal in Wild history, but Guy Hebert stopped 35 of 36 shots for the Mighty Ducks.
Scott Pellerin led the Wild with 39 points that season, and I’d just like to heartily congratulate any true Minnesota hockey die-hards that could have told you anything about Scott Pellerin, before reading this sentence.
March 3, 2017: Portland 5, Loons 1.
I’m a one-franchise, one-lineage guy, so by rights this should be the Minnesota Thunder’s first game in 1995 in USISL Pro… but let’s make it easy on ourselves here. Christian Ramirez scored the first MLS goal for the Loons, in the 79th minute, cutting the Timbers’ lead to 2-1; as a harbinger of what was about to come, Minnesota then gave up three goals in the final ten minutes of the match.
I mention all this because none of this has anything to do with PWHL Minnesota. And yet I pulled out all of those random newspaper items, about the first day of the Lakers and the first day of the Fighting Saints, to note something that I think is important: we don’t have any idea which franchise first days are going to matter, not really.
As a devoted fan of niche sports, I’m pretty used to teams coming and going. If you’ve been around long enough, you can probably remember a few other pro, or pro-ish, franchises that have graced the fields and rinks of Minnesota - the Fighting Pike! The Moose! The Lightning! Most relevantly for what we’re talking about here, the Minnesota Whitecaps!
If you’re not a women’s hockey die-hard, you’re probably wondering why you should care about a team that doesn’t even have a name, in a league that started about eight minutes ago, in a sport that’s had so many leagues and stops and starts over the past twenty years that simply to list them all would give you acronym fatigue.
All I can say is that, historically speaking, this is normal. It’s normal to wonder if a league is going to make it. It’s normal to wonder if a team is going to be around for the future. It’s normal for there to be total chaos in the lead-up to the inagural season; PWHLMN is no different, having hired a new coach, Ken Klee, a week before the season began.
That same edition of the Minneapolis Tribune that I mentioned - the one from November 2, 1947, which barely noted the first day of the Minneapolis Lakers dynasty? It included a half-page of coverage of the eighth consecutive win for the Minneapolis Millers, a hockey team in the United States Hockey League. The Millers went on to lose to the Houston Huskies in the finals that year. The league folded in 1951. I didn’t even know it existed, until today.
The Fighting Saints played for four years, and struggled to pay their players for the entire time. The Lakers won titles in three different leagues in their first three seasons and eventually became the NBA’s marquee franchise.
There’s just no telling what’s going to last and what’s going to matter, in sports.
I’m delighted to note, though, that this team at least seems to be getting plenty of coverage. Rather than summarize it all, I will link to it here:
- Star Tribune: Minnesota’s new PWHL franchise ready for a whole new women’s hockey era // Six things to know about the new Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL)
- Pioneer Press: Minnesota women open PWHL play Wednesday with familiar roster, new, top-level coach (Note: this includes notes about the prospective lines and pairings for the teams, which I haven’t seen elsewhere)
- The Rink Live: What to expect from PWHL Minnesota’s first game on Jan. 3 in Boston // PWHL Minnesota makes coaching change a week before season opener
- Minnesota Hockey Mag: PWHL: Klee Comes In
- The Athletic: PWHL Minnesota 2024 season preview // Six teams, one draft and loads of Ikea furniture: How the PWHL was made in six months // How to choose a bandwagon for the PWHL’s original six teams
It’s a new day for pro sports in Minnesota. There’s no point in trying to see the future; all we can do is pay attention to what’s happening now.