The players and coaches of the 1984 Edina hockey team will celebrate the 25th anniversary of their state championship in a suite at the high school tournament Thursday while watching this year's top-seeded Hornets play.

The Hornets of '84 will commemorate their greatest victory while mourning an all-too-fresh and painful loss. On Feb. 18, Bill Mork, their homecoming king and teammate, died in an auto accident. He was 43.

The beginning of the high school tournament, and his friends' reaction to Mork's death, remind us that in Minnesota, hockey is more than a sport. It is a family bond, a social network, a way of life.

Winning a state championship at Edina marked the apex of Mork's playing career, but it was merely the highlight of a life lived, and shared, on skates, from childhood duels with his older brother, to playing for coaching legend Willard Ikola, to coaching his children in Chaska.

His son, Max, plays for the Bantam A team in Chaska, and he coached his daughter, Nina, on the under-10 A team. Nina will turn 11 on Thursday, the day of the championship reunion.

"He kept his hands in hockey after high school, and played at Gustavus," said Frank Mork, Bill's older brother by 11 months. "He was coaching his daughter this year, and he was so proud. That team is having just a fantastic season.

"Those girls thought the world of Bill. They put his jersey up on the glass and would go huddle around it."

At Edina, Mork skated on the same line as future NHL player Paul Ranheim. Mork scored the goal against Minnetonka that put the Hornets into the state tournament.

Mork's high school teammates and friends were told at Mork's visitation at Washburn-McReavy that Mork drew a bigger crowd of well-wishers than Kirby Puckett or Carl Pohlad. The three-hour visitation, scheduled to run through 8 p.m., lasted until 10:30, and the church held an overflow crowd for the funeral.

For Bill Mork, hockey was the centerpoint in a spider web of lifelong relationships.

"I was talking to his wife, Lisa, and she put together a book, and asked a bunch of friends to write a letter to Bill on his 30th birthday,'' said friend and Edina teammate Tom Terwilliger. "She was reading some of them recently, and she said that all the things people have been saying about him since he passed away are things they said about him when he was alive."

Greg Dornbach, another friend and teammate, said: "That's the kind of guy he was -- if you had a conversation with him, the first 10 minutes would be him asking about you and your family."

Terwilliger said, "Bill was a very good skater, a good passer, a smart player. He had a very competitive nature to him, but he was very gracious if he did lose. I can't remember him ever saying a cross word to anyone."

Dornbach grew up near the Mork household. "Maybe three times a week, Bill and I would play against Frank and a good friend, Tony Reichert,'' he said. "We'd play 'sponge' hockey on a small backyard rink three nights a week for three hours at a time.

"That's where you'd see Bill, the super nice, good-looking homecoming king's competitiveness come out. Nobody thought he had a mean streak in him but he wanted to win more than anyone. If his brother got out of line, he would send him into a snow bank over the boards and then bury the puck at the other end.

"They loved each other, and respected each other, but Bill did not want to lose a single sponge hockey game with me. I would compare his competitiveness to my buddy Wally Chapman from the '82 state championship team.''

Thursday, a bunch of kids from Edina will pursue a state title, and a bunch of older kids from Edina who won one will cheer, and mourn.

"Bill was a great friend, a great brother, a great family man," Frank said. "He was everything you wanted in a person.

"Those players from '84 have a special bond. When they won the state tournament, our dad said, 'If I die tomorrow, life was perfect.' That's how big a fan he was of those kids on that team."

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. •