Wren Blair, first North Stars coach, dies at 87

 Wren Blair was the amusing GM/coach of the expansion North Stars.

hide

Coach Wren Blair behind the North Stars bench in 1968.

Photo: Larry Schreiber, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

The North Stars hired Wren Blair as their first coach and general manager partially because he was an entertainer.

And Blair delivered.

"He was a character, he really was," former North Stars defenseman Tom Reid said. "The things he used to do on the bench and in the dressing room were crazy. He couldn't skate very well. He was the type of guy who could scream and holler, and be your best friend two minutes later."

Blair -- who died Wednesday at his home in Whitby, Ontario, at age 87 -- was remembered by his former players for his eccentricities.

"Wren was really flamboyant, he was outgoing, he was gregarious, he was demonstrative," said Lou Nanne, who played for Blair and later became the North Stars coach and general manager, too. "He really enjoyed life, and he was wild. He was very unpredictable, and he loved hockey, and his players, and working with the game."

Blair's first claim to fame was finding and signing Bobby Orr, then a 14-year-old phenom, for a Boston Bruins-sponsored team in 1962. Orr is considered one of the greatest defensemen in hockey history and led the Bruins to two Stanley Cup championships.

Blair was general manager of the Minneapolis Bruins, a Central League team that played for two seasons (1963-65), before his jump to the NHL. Walter Bush, a partner in the Bruins and the first North Stars president, hired Blair as GM/coach to put together the expansion North Stars for the 1967-68 season.

Blair had two tenures as coach and remained as GM until 1974, when he was fired and replaced by his coach, Jack Gordon.

"The Bird" was known as a wild man on bench, often climbing on boards to profanely berate officials and his players. He once described a Stars crowd as bunch of "phlegmatic Swedes."

"I had to do something to get some attention," Blair told the Star Tribune in 1991. "The Twins, the Vikings and the Gophers football team owned the town.

"One night, a reporter asked me about the crowd. I said, 'Ah, they are nothing but a bunch of phlegmatic Swedes, sitting up there on their hands like pieces of stone.' [Jim] Klobuchar wrote a column in the Minneapolis Star, saying he was offended because I had ignored all of the phlegmatic Norwegians, Italians, Germans and Irishmen.

"By Christmas time, that building was full."

The North Stars' first season was marred by the only death in NHL history from an on-ice injury, when forward Bill Masterton fell and struck his head on the ice. The Stars were in a division with the five other expansion teams and came within a goal of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals by losing, in overtime, in Game 7 to St. Louis in the conference finals.

In 2009, Blair was quoted in the Star Tribune as saying he wanted his players to think he was unpredictable so they would band together.

"It was part of the plan," Blair said. "They responded pretty good. They played hard that year."

His former players remembered him Friday, as usual, with familiar stories.

"In the early '70s, he got locked in the Pittsburgh dressing room and couldn't get out," Reid said. "None of us knew where he was. He never came in for the pregame speech, but the linesman told us to go to the ice or we'd get a delay-of-game penalty.

"[Goalie] Cesare Maniago wasn't playing, so we told him to coach. Wren was banging on the door until a security guy finally heard him. Seven or eight minutes in, we hear noise behind us and Wren is jumping over seats and over the glass to get to the bench."

Said Nanne: "You never knew what he was going to do. One time he was standing up on the boards yelling at the other team during a game. He slipped and he fell spread eagle right on the boards and hurt himself right where he shouldn't have and lost his breath for like five minutes.

"He was very instrumental in selling the product because he was so colorful and so outrageous that people were captivated by his actions."

Following his North Stars days, Blair served as president of the Pittsburgh Penguins from 1975 to '77, then spent six years as player personnel director for the Los Angeles Kings before staying involved in junior and minor league hockey.

Funeral services will be Friday in Whitby.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

New England 2/1/15 5:30 PM
Seattle
Minnesota 94 FINAL
Philadelphia 103
Houston 93 FINAL
Boston 87
Portland 99 FINAL
Atlanta 105
Sacramento 90 FINAL
Cleveland 101
Toronto 127 FINAL
Brooklyn 122
Dallas 93 FINAL
Miami 72
LA Clippers 103 FINAL
New Orleans 108
Golden State 100 FINAL
Utah 110
Chicago 93 FINAL
Phoenix 99
Pittsburgh 2 FINAL(OT)
New Jersey 1
St. Louis 3 FINAL(SO)
Carolina 2
Nashville 0 FINAL
Colorado 3
Buffalo 2 FINAL
Vancouver 5
Chicago 4 FINAL
Anaheim 1
Harvard 75 FINAL
Princeton 72
Quinnipiac 57 FINAL
Canisius 63
Brown 49 FINAL
Cornell 57
Siena 79 FINAL
Manhattan 87
Marist 65 FINAL
Niagara 61
Dartmouth 51 FINAL
Penn 58
Oregon 68 FINAL
Arizona State 67
Yale 63 FINAL
Columbia 59
Monmouth 60 FINAL
Fairfield 59
IUPUI 59 FINAL
Western Ill 63
Oregon State 34 FINAL
Arizona 57
Kent State 55 FINAL
Buffalo 80
Canisius 75 FINAL
Monmouth 58
Butler 67 FINAL
Providence 59
Cornell 65 FINAL
Brown 52
Columbia 47 FINAL
Yale 55
Coll of Charleston 47 FINAL
Drexel 64
Penn 55 FINAL
Dartmouth 39
Elon 60 FINAL
James Madison 89
(19) Princeton 96 FINAL
Harvard 46
(9) Florida State 82 FINAL
Georgia Tech 62
Quinnipiac 87 FINAL
Siena 62
Richmond 54 FINAL
Rhode Island 50
Loyola-Chicago 58 FINAL
Southern Ill 64
Georgetown 52 FINAL
DePaul 93
Villanova 75 FINAL
Marquette 59
Wichita State 70 FINAL
Northern Iowa 51
Xavier 65 FINAL
Creighton 74
Bradley 58 FINAL
Illinois State 55
Missouri State 89 FINAL
Drake 94
Arizona 48 FINAL
Utah 62
(11) Arizona State 68 FINAL
Colorado 60
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Which of these teams is the most frustrating to watch right now?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close