By Richard Kamchen
Retirement has brought peace and stability to Brad Maxwell’s life.
After seven solid seasons with the Minnesota North Stars to start his NHL career, Maxwell bounced around with four clubs in four years after his All-Star Game appearance in 1983-84. At the 1987 trade deadline, Rangers GM Phil Esposito brought him to New York and Maxwell felt like he’d finally found a place to stick. But he only played nine games before being dealt again, though it wasn’t due to poor play.
Esposito and North Stars GM Lou Nanne were childhood friends and neighbors in Florida. The pair enjoyed playing the occasional game of chance, with some high stakes. “They were writing players’ names down on a piece of paper and gambling them,” Maxwell says. “Phil said he was gambling with Louie and he lost me in a card game. He said, ‘I lost you to one of your old bosses.’ I said, ‘Which old boss? I’ve had a few.’ ”
That’s how Maxwell was traded back to Minnesota, where he finished his career after 17 games. But it wasn’t the first bizarre transaction he was involved in. Minnesota traded him to Quebec – after he scored a career-high 19 goals and 73 points while racking up a personal-best 225 penalty minutes – because his first wife didn’t get along with the other players’ wives.
Best remembered as a North Star, Maxwell returned to Minnesota after his playing days were over and started Brad Maxwell Cabinets & Construction. He’s now far removed from his rookie season, when he was one of the few bright lights on a struggling and financially hemorrhaging franchise.
Maxwell established a club record in goals scored by a rookie defenseman with 18, which still stands. But he was also one of the only physical players on a meek team, a weakness hammered home one night in 1977 during a visit to Boston Garden.
Terry O’Reilly and John Wensink had already wiped the ice with a couple North Stars and Wensink, still feeling feisty, skated over to the Minnesota bench to challenge anyone to take a swing at him. When his dare went unanswered, Wensink threw up his hands in disgust and skated away.
“That’s always been such a controversial thing with what he did, but if you look at Wensink, he wasn’t really much of a player,” said Maxwell, who watched the drama unfold from the Minnesota bench. “To jump onto the ice, get suspended because you’re coming off the bench, and do that for a guy like that, it didn’t make much sense.”
Saloon-like brawls became the norm once the North Stars joined the now defunct ‘Chuck’ Norris Division and they weren’t always limited to the ice. Going back 30 years, Maxwell can recall one playoff game at the old Chicago Stadium where the crowd became the evening’s entertainment. From the ice, he heard the whistle blow and then a gasp from the crowd, which reacted to a wild melee erupting behind North Stars goalie Don Beaupre. “Two fans started fighting and pretty soon the whole lower section from behind our goal all the way behind the players’ bench was fighting,” Maxwell said. “I don’t know how it started. It wasn’t like there were Minnesota fans there. The women were fighting, the guys were fighting. Both teams just kind of stood there in awe and watched this. It was an incredible thing.”
Maxwell is president of the Minnesota NHL Alumni and the action has quieted down any time he puts on the green and gold. He and his second wife Lori stage charity golf tournaments, hockey games and other fundraisers. Last March, former North Stars were introduced at a Wild home game. Nostalgia for the old club remains so strong that a North Stars page on Facebook has nearly 55,000 fans. “It would be great if they would flip the name back to the North Stars,” said Maxwell. “There are so many people here that are still great supporters of the North Stars.”
For more great analysis, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.