Around age 6, Jon Hedberg returned home from an Edina ice rink and told his parents, in all seriousness, that “he loved the smell of ice.”
It was the first sign that Hedberg’s parents were in for “a long hockey haul,” as his father put it. And it was the beginning of a wanderlust life filled with sports and joy and compassion that ended when Hedberg died March 2 from a fall on a ski slope near Madison, Wis. Hedberg was 30.
Known as Heddy, Hedberg was a freshman on the Duluth East hockey team that won the state high school championship in 1998. He left after his sophomore year to play junior hockey in the Ontario Hockey League, and then captained the varsity team at York University in Toronto while earning a communications degree. He later played professional hockey in Germany and the United States before joining his father’s investment management recruiting business, Hedberg Search.
Duluth East coach Mike Randolph remembered Hedberg for being quietly confident as a freshman and earning a top defensive spot.
Duluth East players honored Hedberg at the state tournament last weekend by wearing stickers with his initials and playing number on their helmets.
“Jon was a great kid,” Randolph said. “We shared with the guys before the state tournament that we lost one of ours and that we wanted to honor him in some way.”
One friend described the gregarious Hedberg as having “no filter, good or bad,” when he spoke. His father, Scott Hedberg of Edina, said that was an exaggeration but it reflected the social nature of his son — whether as a grade-schooler calling 30 friends from a warming house to play a pickup game, or as a pro hockey player gabbing in the locker room until it was empty, or as an adult reaching out to friends and family and organizing travels together.
“He was a true friend,” his father said. “He didn’t like to text. He would just pick up the phone and call you.”
Hedberg could be the “man’s man,” his father said, but he was caring and empathetic — traits that emerged after a chance encounter in a Minneapolis restaurant with Kierre Nelson, whom he married in 2011. The couple moved to Madison, where Kierre is in medical residency and Hedberg worked remotely with his father.
“He said to me more than once, ‘I love my life,’” his father said. “‘I love my wife, I love my work — well, most days.’”
Hedberg was skiing with his wife at the Devil’s Head resort in Wisconsin when he fell into a cluster of trees and his chest collided with a stump, his father said. He suffered cardiac arrest while being transported off the slope and was pronounced dead at the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison.
Hedberg is survived by his wife and father, and his mother, Catherine Mensen of Duluth.
Old classmates and friends remembered Hedberg during a championship team reunion last weekend. More will gather Saturday evening at the Metropolitan Ballroom and Clubroom in Golden Valley.
Hedberg’s happy life is an example to others, his father said. “There were many times when I looked at my son and thought, ‘I can learn from this man.’ He taught me things.”