BLOOMINGTON, Minn. -- Until very recently sports fans, even those familiar with pro hockey, might have had trouble naming half the roster of the Minnesota North Stars before the Stanley Cup playoffs began.
Only Dave Gagne and Bobby Smith played in the National Hockey League All-Star Game this season, and Smith was named to that roster by John Ziegler, the league president, along with Guy Lafleur of the Quebec Nordiques in honor of lifetime achievement.
Now that the Stars are one victory away from qualifying for the final round, the individuals who make up the group are beginning to enjoy a higher profile.
If the Stars move on to face either Pittsburgh or Boston for the title, the Minnesota players might start to get as much notice as owner Norman Green, general manager Bob Clarke and coach Bob Gainey.
With a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven Campbell Conference final, the Stars can clinch their third series when they meet defending champion Edmonton tonight at Northlands Coliseum (9:30 p.m., HTS).
Like most teams, the North Stars are a mixture of nationalities, ages and styles.
Among the best-known and most-talented are Jon Casey, the first-string goalie who has played in every playoff game this spring and has a goals-against average of 2.67, and Brian Bellows, the veteran left wing who leads the team in playoff scoring with 10 goals and 16 assists and sparks the most productive power play of the postseason.
Casey is from the home state, the Land of 10,000 Lakes, as is Neal Broten, the veteran center who played for the United States Olympic team that won the 1980 gold medal.
The other two Minnesotans are defensemen Chris Dahlquist and Jim Johnson, who were acquired in December from Pittsburgh. Johnson says he hopes the North Stars and the Penguins meet in the finals.
Among other Americans are Defenseman Shawn Chambers and right wing Mike Modano, both from suburban Detroit. Modano, who turns 21 next month, had 28 goals in the regular season and has six so far in the playoffs.
Most teams now include a European delegation, although the Stars boast only a delegation of one. He is Ulf Dahlen, a right wing who came via Sweden and the Rangers. (Jarmo Myllys, a backup goaltender from Finland, rarely dresses for games).
Also rare on this team are French-Canadians. One of two is the veteran Gaetan Duchesne, a left wing who usually skates on the checking line. The other is center Marc Bureau, a rookie checker acquired March 5 from Calgary.
In the second round against St. Louis, Bureau accidentally kicked a puck into his own net. In Wednesday night's 5-1 victory, he scored his first big-league goal.