Metropolitan Stadium opened in Bloomington on April 24, 1956, for a game between the Minneapolis Millers and the Wichita Braves in the Class AAA American Association. The Met was built to attract a major league baseball team to the Minneapolis side of the river.
Midway Stadium opened across Snelling Avenue from the State Fairgrounds on April 25, 1957, with a day-night doubleheader between the St. Paul Saints and those same Wichita Braves. Midway was built to attract a major league team to St. Paul.
That’s the way it was between the forces of the Mill City and the Saintly City, before the Twins came from Washington, D.C., and Vikings were added to the NFL and started sharing Met Stadium in 1961.
I thought it was different by the mid-’60s. I thought we were all in it together to bring an NHL expansion team to Minnesota.
The error of that was discovered on Friday, when looking for information in the wake of the death of Walter Bush, Minnesota’s great hockey man. Bush died of a heart attack at age 86 on Thursday.
I did not realize until reading 50-year-old newspaper clippings just how deep Walter’s desire was to bring the NHL here: so deep that he was willing to step aside and allow a St. Paul group to take a shot.
The NHL’s Board of Governors meeting on expansion was scheduled for Feb. 9, 1966. Bush, Gordie Ritz and Bob McNulty had been working on getting a team for over a year.
A week before the expansion meeting, a St. Paul group headed by Henry Foussard announced a lease agreement to have an NHL team play in a remodeled St. Paul Auditorium.
Bush could have turned it into another Minneapolis-St. Paul conflict and knocked the Twin Cities out of the expansion picture. Walter was too wily for that. He said publicly that, if necessary for a united front, his group would support St. Paul in making its proposal for a remodeled Auditorium.
And then he started talking to Foussard, and the NHL let it be known that it was looking for cities willing to build new arenas, and on Feb. 9, the Twin Cities made the united presentation — offering the new arena in Bloomington as the option.
It wasn’t an easy sell. Bush recalled the first time he showed the proposed site to the Board of Governors:
“I brought photos to the meeting of the Met and the parking lot from the 1965 World Series. Jim Norris, the Red Wings owner, was in his cups. He said, ‘What’s wrong with you, Walter? Isn’t that Mudcat Grant on a pitching mound? You can’t play hockey in a ballpark.’ ”
The message on what became Met Center came through with sober owners, and the Twin Cities were awarded one of the six expansion franchises for the fall of 1967.
Bush was the team president. He had hired Wren Blair as the general manager and coach. Three years earlier, Bush had helped start the Central Hockey League, with six franchises with NHL affiliations and as a possible incubator for an NHL expansion division.
Bush, Ritz and McNulty were the investors with the Minneapolis Bruins. And the volatile Blair was the Bruins’ man in charge of their prospects.
“You needed Walter’s calm personality to handle Blair,” Lou Nanne said Friday. “What they said in those early years was the North Stars had only one problem: The president wanted to be the general manager and the general manager wanted to be the president.”
Meaning, Walter was proud of his hockey knowledge, and Wren had a strong desire for power.
The first few years were played to mostly full houses and apparent contentment within the ownership group. That started to wane and, in 1976, Bush was voted out as president and replaced by Ritz.
This was the Minnesota hockey equivalent of Winston Churchill being voted out as prime minister by the Brits a couple of months after VE Day.
Walter Bush … fired?
Actually, that was OK, since Walter was only 46 and had much work in hockey in front of him. He had been heavily involved with AHAUS (Amateur Hockey Association of United States), the forerunner to USA Hockey.
Bush became the president of what’s now USA Hockey in 1986 and served 16 years. His greatest political triumph was to get women’s hockey into the Olympics starting in 1998.
“I could see the enthusiasm that girls had for our great game,” Bush said. “I could also see a very good chance for us to win a medal.”
Wily fellow, that Walter — wily enough not to fight with St. Paul, to convince a skeptical world that women’s hockey could work, and to have friends in all places.
“Walter Bush was the most universally liked guy you were ever going to find in our sport,” Nanne said.
Universally liked. Way to go, Walter.