An odd truth about being a Minnesota sports writer of long standing: I’m not a hockey guy but I love hockey guys.
There are no better yarns to be heard in this job than those told by hockey coaches, players and everyday fans from the glory years of “Region 7,” when schools would survive a fierce regular season on the Iron Range and take on the teams from the arc containing Duluth.
I was reminded of this again when contacting hockey guys such as Pat Micheletti, Bruce Plante and Steve Jezierski for a column I was writing last week on Corey Millen.
Micheletti was a high school rival and then a Gophers teammate; Plante was Millen’s bantam coach in Cloquet; and Jezierski did play-by-play as Millen and his teammates filled Cloquet’s true barn of an arena in the late ’70s into the ’80s.
Micheletti was the star among standouts at Hibbing and Millen at Cloquet.
“People tried to create a rift between us that really wasn’t there,” Micheletti said. “I do think he was a little ticked when I was first-team All-State as a junior and he was second-team. His claim to fame in our rivalry was coming into Hibbing and beating us as a senior.”
One habit developed in the 1990s during the dreary days of wintertime column writing was to spend a couple of days on the Range. The last trip there was in 2005, when Virginia qualified for its first state tournament.
Keith Hendrickson was the coach. His father, Dave, had been the coach in the 1970s. The Blue Devils were outstanding but facing mighty Grand Rapids (coached by Dave’s brother Gus) in the 1975 Region 7 semifinals.
Virginia scored with one second left in the first period to take a 2-0 lead. A few minutes later, the referees came to the locker room and told Keith, the team’s captain, that they were waving off the goal — either for a high stick or it was too late.
Keith smelled a rat and went storming after his uncle outside the Grand Rapids locker room. (Note: Grand Rapids would win the game and the state title.)
I love hockey guys, especially ones from the Great North.
PATRICK'S PLUS THREE
Prominent sports cartoon characters to precede P.J. Fleck around here in recent years:
• Tim Brewster, Gophers football coach from 2007 into 2010, lives in infamy for his fantastic rhetoric and unkept promises.
• David Kahn, Timberwolves president of basketball from 2009 to 2013, was a wizard of language — “bifurcate’’ — but not the draft board.
• Mike Tice, Vikings coach from 2002 to 2005, is a very good football man but also a grand, goofy character as the man in charge.
Read Patrick Reusse’s blog at startribune.com/patrick. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.