Underrated Nation: Neal Broten
Friend of The Hockey Guys, Bill Kellet, breaks down the career of an underrated and unsung hero, Neal Broten. We hope you enjoy the latest installment of “Underrated Nation”.
by Bill Kellet
In Canada we are very proud of our hockey heritage. It is almost the God given rite for young children to grow up skating on frozen ponds and spending countless hours adoring the game we love. So it is very encouraging when there is American children who share the same passions and same desires as their Candadian counterparts.
This would describe Neal Broten.
Neal Broten was born November 29, 1959 in Rousseau, Minnesota, USA. Like a Canadian kid, he grew up with a great love for the game and spent hius childhood, along with younger brothers Aaron and Paul skating their cares away on various rinks around the state.
All three would eventually make it to the NHL, but none would have a career as satisfying as that of the oldest Broten brother, Neal.
Neal Broten would have a career that had him considered to be the best player to ever come out of Minnesota, and for good reason. His College career with the Minnesota golden gophers was nothing short of spectacular. In 1978-79 alone Broten recorded 71 points in 40 games, enough for scouts to stand up and take notice.
At the NHL draft in 1979, the hometown Minnesota North Stars would select Broten in the second round, 42nd overall and neither him nor his family could have been happier. In fact all three Broten brothers spent time with the Minnesota/Dallas organizations at various times in their careers, but Neal Brotens hockey journey was just begining.
Later that year, in 1979-80, Golden Gophers coach Herb Brooks selected Broten as one of his skaters for the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York. No one gave Team USA any shot at qualifying, much less garnering a medal. Instead, the team went on to an unprobable run, knocking off the heavily favored Russians and going on to capture gold in those Olympics. That year, history was made through a miracle. And while Brotens contributions were overshadowed by the likes of Jim Craig‘s superb goaltending and Mike Euriziones heroics, it was no less significant. Whereas the latter two failed to make impacts in the NHL, Neal Broten was just begining to prove his worth.
After another successful season with the Golden Gophers, this time scoring 71 points in only 36 games, the North Stars decided to bring Broten in for their playoff run. He would play 3 regular season games and record 2 goals, and 8 points in 19 playoff games as Minnesota would make it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals that season before being defeated by the powerhouse of the New York Islanders.
Brotens career began in earnest the next year as he got off and running with a spectacular 98 point campaign and for many years to follow would be the man most relied upon by the North Stars organization for production. They would see great contributions from the likes of Bobby Smith, Mike Gartner and Dave Gagner as well, but Broten always seemed to be the glue that kept things rolling forward.
Broten is even famous for having one of the very few fights in his career where he battled against Wayne Gretzky. Neither one really knew what they were doing, but Neal Broten will always be remembered for taking down The Great One, at least in one respect.
After 12 spectacular seasons in Minnesota the hockey landscape was changing. The economy, as far as sports franchises was concerned, was rapidly declining and the North Stars were not immune to that fact. In the summer of 1993 the North Stars relocated to Dallas, Texas and were re-branded as the Stars. Neal Broten moved with them, as it had been the only organization he had known.
However, it had been noted in previous years, toward the end of their stay in Minnesota that Brotens skills were starting to deteriorate and he was becoming known more as a defensive player now having recorded only 33 points in 82 games prior to the move to Dallas.
Broten had been the first American born player to record 100 points in a season, but that was way back in 1985-86. Since then there had been a steady decline in his production as the style of the game changed as well.
Still a very useful player, the move to Dallas seemed to signify the end of his career with the same organization and during the shortened lockout year of 1994-95, Neal Broten was dealt to the New Jersey Devils for small, speedy forward Corey Millen. This deal came as somewhat of a shock to Broten, having been named Stars captain just two months prior.
As always, Broten tried to take the positives out of the situation. He was going to a good team that was on th cusp of something great and it did not take long for that potential to be met as that year the Devils would make it all the way to the Cup finals. Despite having a rather unproductive regular season, Broten would score a key goal in game four of the series against the Detroit Red Wings and it would prove to be the Cup clinching goal.
Broten would add the most coveted of all sports trophies to his Olympic Gold medal and NCAA championships, with the Stanley Cup.
He would play one more year in New Jersey before being dealt to the Los Angeles Kings. He played a rather uneventful 19 games for the Kings where he scored no goals and had only four assists. It was becoming evident that the end was drawing near for Neal Broten and he was preparing to hang up the skates when fate would step in.
The Kings placed Broten on waivers hoping he would be claimed; thus off their payroll. As luck would have it, in one of the more classy moves in NHL history, Broten was claimed by the Dallas Stars – the same organization he began his career with. It seemed to rejuvinate him somewhat as he recorded 15 points in just 20 games for Dallas, but would only play two games in that years playoffs.
When the season ended, Broten would hang up his skates and a chest full of memories along with them.
It should come as no surprise that in 1998, Brotens #7 was retired by the Minnesota/Dallas organization in honor of his many great years of service. All in all, Broten would spend 17 seasons in the NHL playing in a total of 1099 games. He would register 923 points over the course of his NHL career.
Not bad for a 5’7″ kid from Rousseau, Minnesota, who played with his heart on his sleeve and the same kind of passion that would come from a Canadian kid. The US should be proud of Neal Broten and his accomplishments; they truly are worthy of an Unsung Hero.
Today, Neal Broten helps his wife Sally with her company, the Sally Broten horse company which trains reining horses. Neal had briefly come out of retirement in 1999 to help Team USA qualify at the World Championships. Today he and his wife Sally reside in Wisonsin and they couldn’t be happier.