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Saint Paul Goes Pro

by Roger Godin / Minnesota Wild
Those were the days when everybody took their best dates to ‘the Hip,’ rode a 10-cent fare, ate a beef dinner for a buck and saw Moose Goheen dump enemies into the fifth row for a 75-cent ticket.”

So reports Dimensions, an employee newsletter of Northern States Power Company (forerunner to today’s Xcel Energy) in 1974, some 50 years after the heyday of the St. Paul Athletic Club, Minnesota’s first major league (albeit amateur) hockey team. The Athletic Club (AC’s) had been highly competitive in the United States Amateur Hockey Association (USAHA), reaching the national Fellowes Cup Finals in both 1922 and 1923, only to come up short both times to the Boston Westminster and Boston Athletic Association teams. By 1926, however, hockey’s national landscape had changed, and major league pro hockey in the form of the NHL had franchises in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, New York, and Pittsburgh and the age of the amateurs was over. Most of the USAHA’s best players were now in the NHL, but a major exception was in St. Paul.

Here in the state capital, the minor professional American Hockey Association (AHA) had succeeded the USAHA and the amateur AC’s became the Saints in the new “pay-for-play” league. The team’s best players, most notably Frank “Moose” Goheen, had elected to continue their hockey careers at home. So that by the time of the Saints first pro home game on December 20, 1926, one could still pretty much do what Dimensions described: take a date to “the Hip” for a ten cent trolley ride, eat a cheap meal, and see “Moose” put  people in the seats for a mere three bits. So what was this “Hip” that served as home ice to both the AC’s from 1914-26, and the Saints from 1926-32? And who was this Goheen?

“The Hip,” as it was popularly known, was officially the Hippodrome and was located on the state fairgrounds near Snelling and Como avenues. It had been built in 1906 by the Minnesota State Fair Board for livestock judging, but a natural ice surface of 270 feet by 119 feet was added in 1911. The facility (the present day Coliseum is located on its site) had a seating capacity of 6,700. It was unheated, but reserved and box seat holders could go to a “warming room” during intermissions. The huge ice surface was later downsized for game action, but there were periodic calls for a more centrally located hockey facility, which finally came to pass with the addition of natural ice to the downtown St. Paul Auditorium. The first game was played there in January 1932.

Goheen, born Francis Xavier in St. Paul, but raised in White Bear Lake, was a towering figure in Minnesota hockey from 1914 to 1932. He led the AC’s to the MacNaughton Cup in 1916 and 1920 and to the previously mentioned Fellowes Cup Finals. Originally a forward and rover (in the era of seven-man hockey), he subsequently moved back to defense.  His teammate Tony Conroy best described him to St. Paul Pioneer Press writer Phil Bronson in January 1948: “He had only one thought in mind: to score. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and that’s the way he went down the center. He had terrific speed and fight…I coined the term, “Moose.” He had a chest like a house and huge strong legs, with thighs as big as Emmy [teammate Garrett]’s waist. No man ever trained more.”

Goheen was the second American and first Minnesotan, elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. That selection occurred in 1952 while he was an automatic choice for the United State Hockey Hall of Fame in 1973. Until a more contemporary player makes his way to Toronto, he remains arguably Minnesota’s greatest player.

So what happened that December night in the heart of the roaring twenties or the Jazz Age as some have named that pre-Depression decade? Actually, not very much. The visiting Minneapolis Millers and Saints fought to a scoreless tie as: “Before the game had progressed ten minutes the Hippodrome roof broke into sympathetic perspiration with the efforts of the embattled players and thereafter sent a constant dripping onto the ice that presently reduced it to the consistency of Iowa gumbo.” Pioneer Press, December 21, 1926.

The home team had the better of the play as two potential St. Paul goals were disallowed.

Beyond that, the great Goheen set up two different teammates for scoring opportunities which were thwarted by Millers’ defenseman Billy Hill and goalie “Tiny” Thompson respectively. While the Saints would fail to qualify for the playoffs, Minneapolis would go on to face the Duluth Hornets in the league finals before bowing out. A year later they would emerge as champions against these same Hornets as the pro game established a firm foothold in the State of Hockey.
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