Interviews for “Tourney Time” began in mid-2017, which means about 33 months will have passed by the time of its Feb. 2020 release.
Unfortunately, not everyone we interviewed will see the finished product. But they left us with good stories and memorable encounters.
Doug Woog’s recent passing inspired David La Vaque and Loren Nelson to share these tributes.
Above: Doug Woog, center, and teammates Norm Anderson, left, and Rich Brown, right, at an outdoor practice in 1960. Below: In one of the state tournament's most iconic photographs, Woog gets a kiss from teammate Gary McAlpine after a 1959 state semifinal victory. Photo by Paul Siegel/Minneapolis Tribune. Photos curated from the Minnesota History Center by Kyle Oen/Vintage Minnesota Hockey
Arriving early at the Cahill Diner in Inver Grove Heights meant I saw Doug Woog getting dropped off for our lunchtime appointment.
Doug suggested this location for our meeting, an interview for a “Tourney Time” sidebar. All the chapters are narratives on the state tournament champions from a given year. Sidebars capture compelling stories on other aspects of the event, including colorful characters who were unlucky to not win a title.
Doug made four trips as a talented South St. Paul player (1959-62) and three more as the Packers’ coach (1978, ’80 and ’81). He was a winner. But never a champion.
We talked on that sunny Halloween 2017 afternoon about the Mudhole, the St. Paul Auditorium, the great Phil Housley and missed tournament opportunities. Parkinson's Disease was exacting its horrible toll on Doug – he couldn’t use both hands when cutting his pancakes.
Though quieter than he was those many nights I heard his color analyst on Gophers’ hockey broadcasts, he was still the Wooger.
The interview ended and I offered to wait with Doug for his ride.
“Nah,” he said. “You can give me a ride home.”
And so began our four mile journey south to his Inver Grove Heights home – South St. Paul’s favorite hockey son, the namesake of the town’s arena, and the surprised chauffeur of a rusting, gold Pontiac Grand Am.
About a decade earlier, when my daughter reached the recommended height and weight, I turned her car seat forward. I glanced into the backseat during her maiden forward-facing voyage and read a facial expression that said, “I’m big-time now.”
Had Doug looked over from the front passenger seat at me, he would have saw the same expression.
I remembered back to summer 1999, when I worked at the Minnesota Daily and Doug returned a call to my off-campus house. My roommate, a Gophers’ hockey fan, was pumped to both take the initial call and write “Doug Woog called” on the dry-erase board.
How interesting that such an unassuming guy can make anyone he meets feel big time.
Doug left me with a warm handshake, clasping my hand in both of his. We never spoke again but I’m glad to remember him in his driveway, smiling.
— DL —
Larry Hendrickson guided Apple Valley past Duluth East in the 1996 state tournament semifinals in one of the greatest games in state tournament history. Photo courtesy of Vince Muzik
The 20-year anniversary of the 1996 Apple Valley/Duluth East semifinal was cause for a Star Tribune article to recall the greatest game of its, and possibly any, era. No tournament game has lasted longer than the 93 minutes and 12 seconds required to produce a winner.
Reporting included a visit to see Larry Hendrickson, the colorful head coach who guided the Eagles to a five-overtime victory capped at 1:39 a.m. Later that day, Apple Valley won the state championship.
Before revisiting the game, Larry played tour guide at his Richfield home. Here is the pool area, the site of so many summer cocktails and laughs, now quiet in February. Here is “Hendy’s Garage,” the weight room where high school, college and even pro players honed their bodies. Larry worked as the strength and conditioning coach for the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team and held the same role throughout the decade with the Gophers and North Stars.
We talked all about the 1995-96 Apple Valley team, which won the championship he missed as a Minneapolis Washburn player in 1959 and 1960 and as a coach at Richfield (1976) and Apple Valley (1981).
The “Tourney Time” book project necessitated a call back, this time to give Larry a chance to speak his peace about an unsavory tournament moment from 1960. A post-quarterfinal scuffle with Duluth East got Hendrickson booted from the remainder of the tournament. The Greyhounds players I spoke to put the whole thing on the fiery, aggressive Hendrickson.
So I called Larry, around Feb. 2018 and about two years since my home visit, to get his side and have a laugh. The conversation never allowed for laughs. Larry said he was headed to the Mayo Clinic for a procedure and if he survived, he’d talk.
Hendrickson survived and we revisited the 1960 incident, for which he expressed regret. He said he also knew he wasn’t long for the world. But he was at peace. Hendrickson died of heart failure June 15, 2018 at his home in Richfield. He was 75.
— DL —
Huffer Christiansen, far right, helped International Falls get past Greenway 3-2 in the semifinals en route to the 1962 state title. St. Paul Pioneer Press photo curated from the Minnesota History Center by Kyle Oen/Vintage Minnesota Hockey
I was beginning to gather information for the book’s 1962 chapter and had heard that Huffer Christiansen was in poor health. From what I was told, I didn’t think a phone interview with the International Falls — and later Minnesota Duluth — legend would be appropriate, or even possible.
Huffer lived in Duluth, not exactly the far side of moon. I’m always looking for excuses to make the drive to one of my favorite towns, and had done so for interviews for the 2011 chapter (Eden Prairie vs. Duluth East, triple overtime). Visiting him in person was my only option, I figured.
Years earlier I had talked to Huffer over the phone for background information when I wrote Minnesota’s Top 100 high school hockey players for the MN Hockey Hub. Criteria for that list included players completing their senior seasons, and Huffer, who had repeated the ninth grade while attending school in Fort Frances, Ontario, was ineligible as a senior.
Still, he was happy to talk about his rivalry with big Jim Amidon, another Broncos legend from their ’62 championship team, and the wizardry in goal of Mike “Lefty” Curran.
I never did get the privilege to talk to Huffer in person. He died on Monday, Nov. 5, 2018 at the age of 74 at St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth with his family by his side. I talked to some of those family members — wife Evie and older brother Ken — and learned more about the prodigious talent that was Keith “Huffer” Christiansen and his fun-loving nature than I could have imagined.
— LRN —
Despite being a St. Paul Johnson graduate, I was quite uninformed about the grand tradition of the Governors’ hockey program. Talking with the men who built it brought me great pleasure.
For the 1955 chapter, I sat down with Ken Fanger in late Dec. 2017 at Obb’s Sports Bar & Grill in St. Paul near Mounds Park. He brought Jack Holstrom, a standout on the Governors’ 1953 and 1955 championship teams. Ken was also nice enough to bring a scrapbook.
Ken also passed along a number for former teammate Stu Anderson, a contact I had been seeking. Anderson had assisted Fanger’s goal in a 1-0 quarterfinal victory against Roseau in 1955. In a separate interview, Rod Anderson (no relation to Stu) joked that Fanger’s goal was a “bounding miracle.”
Ken asked that I e-mail him a draft of the 1955 chapter, which I did in the spring of 2018. I never heard from him. But in this line of work, often no feedback means they liked what you wrote. Ken died in November of that year.
— DL —
Every chapter needs a starting point. A quasi-historian who can get the ball rolling through memories, scrapbooks and teammates’ telephone numbers.
Herb Sellars was the patron saint of the 1952 Hibbing chapter. I had nothing, and I mean nothing, in the way of contacts until he got involved.
Herb not only provided what he had in terms of teammates’ telephone numbers, he went to lengths to find those he didn’t have. Most notably, he connected me with George Jetty, a key figure on the Bluejackets’ championship team.
Sellars, 83, died Nov. 11, 2018 at his home on Dark Lake, north of Chisholm.
Two regrets come to mind. First, Herb never found a letter he planned to share with me, which he wrote to his parents during the 1952 tournament on St. Paul Hotel letterhead. Second, I never took him up on the invitation to come to his home for a Grain Belt Premium. But Herb said something in Oct. 2017 that created an enduring, bittersweet image.
“I’m just sitting here on the deck,” he said. “Watching the fall come in.”
— DL —