These are the three greatest days in my lifetime, chronologically, as a follower of Minnesota sports:
•Nov. 5, 1960: Gophers 27, Iowa 10, with a crowd of 65,610 in Memorial Stadium;
•Oct. 25, 1987: Twins 4, Cardinals 2, in Game 7 of the World Series, with 55,376 in the Metrodome, and …
•Oct. 26, 1991: Twins 4, Braves 3, in 11 innings, in Game 6 of the World Series, with 55,155 in the Dome.
Fabulous though they were, none of these events is the one that I would like to go back in time and absorb from a Minnesota angle.
Believe it or not, it would be a hockey game, and I would have been born 10 years earlier. I would be in Cortina, Italy, on Jan. 31, 1956, and I would be 21 and old enough to drink with no questions asked.
It was on that night, in an outdoor arena in the Italian Alps, that the United States defeated Canada 4-1 in a Game 2 of the championship round robin in the Olympic hockey tournament.
I would be there because John Mariucci was the American coach, with the Noble Roman in the country of his ancestors, on the night his boys — 11 of the 17 from Minnesota — beat Canada.
The drink, the food, the drink, the Italian songs with his new Cortina friends (did I mention the drink?) … one can only imagine.
"John enjoyed that win,'' Willard Ikola said. "I have a picture here in the house of him pounding me on the back after we won. He almost killed me.''
It's not like Maroosh and I were pals, but he was so invariably enjoyable to be around, that to be there when the No. 1 promoter of Minnesota and U.S. hockey beat Canada … one can only imagine.
"We played an outstanding game,'' Ikola said. "John was proud of us.''
Sunday will mark the 100th anniversary of Mariucci's birth. He was born in Eveleth and grew up as it was becoming the cradle of Minnesota hockey. He died in 1987 at age 70.
Ikola was the No. 1 goaltender for the 1956 Olympic team. He was from Eveleth, as were standouts John Mayasich and John Matchefts.
"We were 15 years or so younger than John,'' Ikola said. "When he came back home in the summer, we'd watch him play fast-pitch softball and were in awe of him. He played with Sam LoPresti and they were NHLers.''
Maroosh played hockey and football for the Gophers. He played in 70 games for the Chicago Blackhawks for two seasons, before serving in World War II. He played another 153 games for the Blackhawks after the war.
He always came off as a colossus of a man, even though the hockey record books listed him at 5-10 and 200 pounds.
Maybe it was those mighty meat hooks of hands … the ones that gave Ikola a jubilant pounding that almost killed the goalie. Maybe it was the fact that he was famously impervious to pain or Minnesota cold.
Mariucci was named coach of the Gophers in 1952. That gave him a podium to become the chief promoter of Minnesota hockey. He wasn't anti-Canadian, Maroosh said; he was anti-Canadians who were 22 and 23 years old on the rosters of U.S. college teams.
Whatever the demarcation line on that issue, Mariucci was chosen as coach of the 1956 Olympic team, and he was all in on his squad of past and current collegians finishing ahead of Canada.
Italy was the perfect place for this to occur. He was the son of Italian immigrants.
"John's Italian was as good as his English … maybe better,'' Ikola said. "He got to Cortina and spoke the language to everyone. The people loved that.''
There was doubt about Mariucci's Italian relations as the U.S. athletes were leaving for Europe. The hockey players and figure skaters were on the same plane. The figure skaters trained at the Broadmoor Arena in Colorado Springs, as did the hockey team.
"John knew all the skaters,'' Ikola said. "As he was walking down the aisle, he patted a skater on the head and said, 'Hello, Suzie.' This little Italian guy who was a skating official came running from the back of the plane, shouting, 'Don't touch her, you Chicago hoodlum.'
"John was waiting when we got off the plane in England. It took a lot of convincing to save that little guy from a bad outcome.''
Mariucci lost his suitcase during the stay in England. He was convinced Dick Daugherty or another of his former Gopher players had stolen it.
"When we got to the hotel in Cortina a week later, the little Italian guy was waiting and said, 'Sir, you forgot your suitcase,' " Ikola said. "John and the little Italian became the best buddies in Cortina. They went out, talked Italian, met people, were invited into homes.
"Classic example of John's effect on people.''
There were 10 teams in the Olympic qualifying and six advanced to the round-robin finals. The U.S. and Canada were 1-0 when they met Jan. 31 — outdoors, with some snow.
Mayasich had a hat trick in the 4-1 victory. Ikola still gets a laugh out of his Eveleth pal's first goal.
"Mayasich flipped a puck high to the other end to go off on a change,'' Ikola said. "The Canadian goalie lost the puck in the lights or something, it fluttered down behind him, hit him in the back and went in. That gave us a lead right away and they never caught us.''
Maroosh's club would lose only to Russia and wound up at 4-1 to 3-2 for Canada, and thus claimed the silver medal.
And after the medal presentation, the celebration started. In Cortina, with Mariucci and his little Italian buddy, and the people of his ancestry … that would have been the place to be.
Happy birthday, Maroosh.