EVELETH, MINN. – Larry Sagen was showing his grandson around the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame last month when another visitor caught his eye.
A man wearing a commemorative Hall cap. Pale blue eyes. White sideburns brightened by a tanned face. Large Slavic nose.
“You look familiar to me,” Sagen said.
The man extended his right hand, big and strong.
Sagen, an Eveleth native who lives in Washington and was visiting the Hall for the first time, turned to 13-year-old Gabriel and said, “You get to meet the legend.”
Four-time high school state champion with Eveleth from 1948 to 1951. Never lost a high school game and holds 10 individual state tournament records. The Gophers’ all-time leading scorer, and only player in program history whose number (8) is retired. Most career U.S. national team appearances (eight). Silver medalist at the 1956 Winter Olympics. Gold medalist four years later.
Though Mayasich never played professionally, “Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr would have been in John’s league,” said former Minnesota Gov. Wendell Anderson, who played with Mayasich at Minnesota and on the 1956 Olympic team.
At the time of his gold-medal triumph, Mayasich already had laid the foundation of his life’s work. He and his wife, Carol, were raising five children in Green Bay, Wis., where he served as player/coach for the amateur Bobcats for 12 seasons while working as a radio station sales manager. He moved to the Twin Cities in 1974 to join Hubbard Broadcasting, rising to general manager and president of the radio division until he retired in 1997.
With Carol’s health waning, they returned in 2002 to Eveleth, where she died in 2009. These days, Mayasich lives in an apartment built on the site of the playground where he first skated as a kid.
Walking out of the hall of fame, the man who was inducted 37 years ago said he has yet to visit alone.
Happy to oblige autograph and picture seekers, he is too much in a hurry for reminiscing. With a new hip and knee, Mayasich, a spry 80, spends his summers golfing and winters curling. His companions are twin brother Jim and a group of friends who laugh and lounge their way through most days.
“I’m not really dialed into any hockey,” said Mayasich, who last skated in 1993 at a Gophers alumni game at Mariucci Arena, named for John Mariucci, another Eveleth legend and Mayasich’s former coach. “I have some interest, but I’m not what you’d call much of a follower.”
But he hasn’t lost another passion since high school. The five-sport letterwinner at Eveleth High School also sang in the choir. He sings with the funeral choir at Resurrection Catholic Church and takes a solo turn on karaoke nights at Nick’s Bar in nearby Gilbert.
His go-to karaoke songs? Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” and Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”
He also is something of a civic leader, lending his name, business connections and personal wealth to raise tens of thousands of dollars for the once-booming Iron Range town he said gave him so much.
“He hasn’t forgotten where he comes from,” Jim Mayasich said.
When the twins turned 80 in May, John surprised Jim with a new car, a story that makes Jim tear up when he tells it.