ST. PAUL (AP) -- After welcoming the NHL back to Minnesota, Jeff Nielsen and Darby Hendrickson couldn't agree whether it was more amazing that hockey ever left or that it had returned.
The native Minnesotans played a part in the Wild's 3-1 exhibition victory over Anaheim, the team's first game at Xcel Energy Center. An overflow crowd of 18,516, many of them North Stars fans before the team moved from Minnesota to Dallas in 1993, might have played an even bigger role.
"Guys have been asking me how hockey could have been away from here for so long," said Hendrickson, who is from Richfield, and received the loudest cheer during introductions. "As focused as you are on the game, you still have to be able to step back and see how special this is for Minnesota."
Nielsen, who like Hendrickson played at the University of Minnesota, doubted he ever would see this day.
"I didn't think anyone would ever play here," Nielsen said. "Not just me."
Keith Goldberg of St. Paul, a former North Stars season-ticket holder, said he always held out hope.
"It had to come back. It had to," Goldberg said. "Today is the day I'm no longer a Dallas Stars fan. Today, that changes."
Beau Siegel of Minnetonka, a season-ticket holder in each of the North Stars' 26 seasons, said it took his wedding day to break a string of 2 1/2 years without missing a game. He even watched the North Stars play on the day his son Brooks, now a teen-ager, was born.
Rob Sicora of Buffalo, was not a season-ticket holder when the North Stars reached the Stanley Cup finals in 1991, but he said he was able to purchase tickets anyway because he called the administrative offices soon after they won the Western Conference. The man who picked up the phone identified himself as Norm Green, the owner who would move the team to Dallas.
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