Even though you bleed Minnesota hockey you were actually born in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. What brought you to Minnesota in the first place?
When I was 18 years old, I wanted to go to Toronto and play my junior hockey. But the Chicago Blackhawks owned my rights and they told me I had to go to St. Catherine’s to play hockey. I said no because they didn’t have a dental school. Coincidentally, at the same time, John Mariucci called and asked me to play for the University of Minnesota and that they had a great dental school. John told me when he was recruiting me that if I came here I’d never leave. I don’t know if he ever thought he’d be that right because I haven’t left since 1959.Those words must echo in your head considering not only have you been in Minnesota since 1959 but the amount of hockey you’ve played and seen since landing here.
That’s what’s really amazing. I’ve had the great fortune of playing my whole career here. Especially when you’re playing in the National Hockey League. I spent 23 years with the North Stars organization. Even when I played with the Olympic team, we were based out of Minnesota. So combine that with my Gopher hockey career and I was really fortunate my entire career ended up in one city and I never had to move.Who are some of the names that come to your mind when you think “Minnesota Hockey?”
Well, John Marriucci, not only for Minnesota hockey but for 50 years he had more of an effect on the United States and American hockey players than anyone else. But then you go to guys like Walter Bush who was so involved in minor hockey and getting a team here with Gordie Ritz, Bob McNulty and the Driscoll’s. Then you go to Glen Sonmor and Herb Brooks who had coached around here for a long time. John Mayasich was a hero of the State Tournament and the University of Minnesota and legendary in his own right. People like Neal Broten and Phil Housely, people that came around that were great players from Minnesota. Henry Boucher who would’ve had a tremendous NHL career had he not been injured. Paul Holmgren who’s in the NHL now and doing a great job in Philadelphia. There’s so many guys that have had an influence and had an impact on the state of Minnesota that it made the state and the people that play and watch hockey much more enriched by it.What has the high school hockey tournament meant to you, not only as a broadcaster but also as a guy who loves to follow high school hockey?
For me it’s been part of my life. Coming this March, it will be 46 years since I started broadcasting it. I’ve been able to watch the development of the players in Minnesota and the skills of the players and the depth of the teams that they have as well as the expanse of the teams across the whole state.
I’ve had the fortune, because of it, of crossing paths with many great hockey players and watching their careers evolve not only in college but, for many, in the pro leagues. I’ve also had the good fortune of dealing with a number of coaches that have had a tremendous impact on high school hockey in the state of Minnesota.We know how much the North Stars were part of your life but touch on what the arrival of the Minnesota Wild has meant to this community and this region?
Bob Naegele, Jr. and Jac Sperling put together an organization that I think has been far and away the best professional sports organization the state has ever seen.
What they did, right at the outset, is they made the fan No. 1. They raised that banner on opening night to dedicate it to the fans but everything they do with that hockey club is generated around the hockey fan to make sure the hockey fan is having a good experience.So what do you see for the future of hockey in the state?
First, let me say that one thing that everyone misses is that the strength of the hockey public has really been enriched by the presence of women’s and girls’ teams across the state. They’ve broadened the base by a huge amount. So now all of a sudden the fans are doubled in numbers, especially the players.
As for hockey in Minnesota, we went through a soft spot about six years ago and we had about a three-year run that I wasn’t very thrilled about the caliber of player that was coming out. I thought we were way off the mark. But let me tell you, right now, there is nothing like the hockey player coming out of Minnesota at this time. We really have a tremendous amount of young kids that are extremely talented and it bodes very well for all the colleges in Minnesota. There’s going to be a lot of kids that are going to be capable of playing at the top level in college and they’re going to be coming right out of this state.Hockey fans are passionate and you’re a perfect example. That said, can you imagine what you’d be doing or who you’d be without hockey in your life?
One of the talks that I give is called, “Why it’s OK to be me.” My whole talk is about how fortunate I’ve been to have been associated with hockey from such a young age. One of the lines that I use is exactly that: “I don’t know where I’d be today without my involvement in hockey.” It’s just been such a unique impact on my life and a very positive one and I’m the biggest beneficiary of it.
Bob Breau | Commissioner, Minnesota Junior Hockey League
Erik Johnson | Defenseman, St. Louis Blues
Doug Johnson | Editor, Let's Play Hockey
Doug Woog | Former Minnesota Gophers Head Coach
Bob Naegele, Jr. | Former Chairman, Minnesota Wild &
Norm Coleman | Former U.S. Senator and Mayor of Saint Paul
Laura Halldorson | Former Gopher's Women's Coach
Phil Housley | Former NHL Player and High School Coach
Lou Nanne | Former NHL Player, Coach and General Manager