The State of Hockey will have to play one larger-than-life man short moving forward with the passing of South St. Paul native and Minnesota hockey legend Doug Woog. The former University of Minnesota All-American and long-time Gopher head coach died Saturday at the age of 75 following a long battle with Parkinson's disease.
The news spread rapidly throughout the tight-knit hockey world and the tributes to Woog's impressive legacy poured in every bit as fast. Woog, the all-time Gopher hockey coaching leader in wins (388) at the time of his retirement in 1999, was revered for his contributions to the "U" as a player, coach, broadcaster, friend and ambassador.
Frank Mazzocco, Woog's long-time partner calling Gopher games in the Fox Sports North broadcast booth, said Woog was always in an outreach mode.
"Wherever we were, whoever we'd bump into, Doug was the face of Gopher hockey, there was no question about that," Mazzocco said. "He just carried the persona of Gopher hockey on long after he was out from behind the bench and you just can't underestimate what that meant to that program."
Video: Alex Stalock memories of Doug Woog
Woog starred as a player for South St. Paul High School in the early 1960s, leading the Packers to four state tournament appearances while earning first team all-state honors in three of his four seasons.
He went on to become a three-year letter winner under John Mariucci at Minnesota where he was named First Team All-America and First Team All-WCHA as a junior and captained the team as a senior.
Brian Bonin was at home with his family when he received a text from Woog's son Dan, informing him of his former coach's passing. The 1996 Hobey Baker Award winner could immediately empathize with his friend and former Gopher teammate, having lost his own father to cancer less than three years ago.
"My father was bigger than life and a huge influence and example for me and so was Doug Woog," said Bonin, the second of two Gopher Hobey Baker winners Woog coached (Robb Stauber, 1988). "A lot of people, I guess, would call it a second father but, for four years there, that man had a ton of influence on me.
"He gave me an opportunity from day one and I believe I had to earn that. His influence for the next four years was a mix of really good friend and mentor and coach. Plenty of times he challenged me when I didn't necessarily like it."
Woog influenced hundreds of players over a coaching career spanning nearly three decades beginning at the junior level where he led the Minnesota Junior Stars to two Junior National titles in six seasons. He returned to South St. Paul in 1977 and led the Packers to two conference championships and another four state tournament trips in six seasons.
Woog helped coached a bevy of U.S. National teams, including serving as an assistant for the 1984 Olympic team that competed in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, but it was with the Gophers where Woog truly made his mark behind the bench. He replaced Brad Buetow in 1985 and, over the course of the next 14 seasons, Woog's Gopher teams made 12 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances (a record at the time) and advanced to six Frozen Fours, finishing as high as runner-up in 1989.
"I think that wore on him," Mazzocco said. "The lack of (a national championship) became personal."
Jon Anderson, who scored 20 goals as a junior in 1988-89 for a Gopher team which suffered an overtime loss to Harvard in the Frozen Four title game at the St. Paul Civic Center, said he felt terrible for Woog, "especially because everybody pins on Doug that he never won the big one."
"I would never pin anything on him like that because it's the players who compete and there's a lot of luck that goes with it," Anderson said. "It's just unfortunate we didn't bring it home for him; we were a post away from winning and then he probably would've been one of the greatest coaches of all time. In my opinion he was."
After his retirement in 1999, Woog, a 2002 U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, sold Mariucci suites for a couple years before becoming Mazzocco's color analyst on FSN and oh what a colorful figure he became.
It took the pair a little while to settle into a routine on the air but once they got comfortable together Mazzocco said he was blown away by how much Woog was teaching viewers and how much even he was learning about the game.
"His brain as always racing at about 500 miles per hour and it didn't always come out in the right order because he was just thinking of so many things," Mazzocco said. "Then sometimes it would just be the first thing that was in the front of his brain that would come out. And there were born the "Woogisms."
Shortly after the news broke about Woog's passing, social media was flooded with fans and media members fondly recalling some of the often outrageous and unintentionally humorous phrases to escape his lips over the course of hundreds of broadcasts. While Mazzocco enjoys reminiscing about them as much as anyone else, he believes they leave people with the wrong impression of his friend.
"He was a very complicated, intelligent person," Mazzocco said. "He wasn't a simple man. He wasn't a simpleton with those little phrases. He was really a complicated person."
Mazzocco said if he could choose one weekend to relive with Woog as a broadcast partner he would like to go back to a 2008 three-game WCHA first-round playoff series versus Minnesota State in Mankato. The memorable series, won two games to one by Minnesota, featured three one-goal games, nine total goals and five overtimes.
"We were just on full adrenaline rush," Mazzocco said. "He came up with his incredible line about the wheelchair, which is the lasting thing that happened on the air, but there was so much more to that weekend. I would just love to be able to go back because I think that was Doug at his best in terms of being immersed in a great series."
Mazzocco said he last saw Woog a couple of months ago, accompanied by Pat Micheletti and Tom Reid, at the memory care facility in Lakeville where Woog was living, "back when he was still lucid, pretty bright. Mind was still working."
"We had time to have some coffee with him and B.S. a little bit and then he wanted to get up and show us his room," Mazzocco said. "He was very engaging and he wanted to make sure that our visit was OK for us, that we weren't just doing this for him. It was just classic Doug."
Top photo courtesy of University of Minnesota Athletics