Take a poll on the street asking North Stars fans which players they were most excited to see reunite during Saturday’s North Stars/Wild vs. Blackhawks alumni game, you were liable to hear the names of Mike Modano and Neal Broten, maybe Bobby Smith and Dino Ciccarelli.
Ask Jeff Tate, the Chief of the Shakopee Police Department, and the answer was Tom McCarthy.
As a kid growing up in Richfield, Tate’s family befriended McCarthy’s family, who owned a fish and chip restaurants in the Twin Cities.
Jeff would bus tables and wash dishes at age 10, his entire room was filled with North Stars gear and Tom McCarthy stuff. McCarthy would come to the baseball and hockey games of Jeff and brother, Mitch, give them tours of the Boston Garden locker room after he was traded to the Bruins, and once autographed a birthday cake with frosting.
“I was just this bright-eyed, starry-eyed kid getting to hang out with a pro athlete,” Jeff Tate said.
Unfortunately, the last thing many hockey fans in Minnesota remember about McCarthy came in 1994 — six years after his career ended — when he was arrested and ultimately sentenced to more than five years in prison for driving a truck full of marijuana from California to Minnesota.
What Tate, then a high school senior, remembers is how McCarthy’s continued influence during the toughest time of his life helped shape Tate’s life and eventually career in law enforcement.
While McCarthy was in federal prison at Leavenworth and Tate was at St. Cloud State, they became pen pals. Dozens of handwritten letters were exchanged, letters Tate saved and cherishes to this day.
“They were always positive, there was no, ‘Poor me.’ There was none of that,” Tate said.
McCarthy scolded him when he got into a fight during a hockey game, praised him when he made the dean’s list. Thousands of words, all life lessons.
“I was probably more of a lock everybody up and throw away the key and that’ll solve every problem guy,” Tate said. “Then you see something like this happen to somebody you know and you know deep down who they are and you start thinking about second chances. It softened me and my thoughts about criminal justice.”
In 1998, Tate became a Shakopee cop. Tate has been Chief since 2009, and he’s only 40.
“Those letters had a lot of wisdom in them,” Tate said. “I can honestly say I learned as much about the criminal justice system and perspective from those letters as I did in some of those textbooks they made me read. It’s a good reminder that people can change. He made a mistake, but deep down, this is a good person.”
Eighteen years after being released, McCarthy, 55, has devoted his life to helping kids reach their dreams. For the last 15 years, he has coached hockey in Canada. Today, he coaches the Junior “A” Espanola Express.
He learned to coach while incarcerated. One day, he asked a lieutenant, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could get a couple nets, eh, some sticks and pucks and some goalie gear and I can put all these 50 different kinds of people together and play hockey?”
When the guard scoffed, McCarthy said, “I’m not putting a weapon in their hand. I’ll be the ref, the player, the organizer. I’ll do everything. He said, ‘One bit of trouble and it’s gone.’ That never happened.”
Saturday afternoons and Sunday, they’d play. The prisoners loved it, the guards even joined.
That’s when McCarthy knew his destiny.
“Teaching life skills to kids, and we use hockey as a venue,” he said. “I teach accountability, responsibility. I think that’s why I was put here on Earth and ultimately what gives me satisfaction. You’re always good inside, but unfortunately some people get drawn into doing bad things.”
Taken first overall in the 1977 OHA midget draft two slots ahead of Wayne Gretzky, McCarthy played six seasons for the North Stars, scoring 146 goals and 333 points in 385 games. Injuries and Bell’s palsy plagued his career — Lou Nanne calls McCarthy “one of the most talented” North Stars of all-time.
Saturday, the guy nicknamed, “Jughead” was tickled to be reunited on his old line with Broten and Ciccarelli inside a football stadium.
“I’d love to play hockey now at the age of 55 and know what I know now and be who I am,” McCarthy said. “That’d be great, but I’d have to have a different body. … But my mind is stronger and wiser.”
NHL SHORT TAKES
In upholding Calgary defenseman Dennis Wideman’s 20-game suspension for violently checking veteran linesman Don Henderson to the ice last month, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman went for the jugular in his 23-page report after getting hold of Wideman’s text messages.
“Although he made much at the [appeals] hearing about the apologies he had already made to Mr. Henderson, the sincerity of those apologies rings somewhat hollow given the text message he sent to a teammate on Feb. 2 — after the conclusion of the hearing before Mr. Campbell — that ‘the only problem and the only reason I’m here is cause the stupid refs and stupid media.’ ”
Wideman and the NHL Players’ Association are appealing to an arbitrator.
Smart move by Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman to publicly announce that superstar Steven Stamkos won’t be traded before the Feb. 29 trade deadline. Rumors were bound to run rampant the next few weeks as the two sides continue to be embroiled in a contract negotiation.
With the Lightning hoping to contend for a Stanley Cup, Yzerman is willing to risk losing Stamkos for nothing if the two sides can’t reach an agreement before free agency July 1.
There was a report in Canada that the Canadiens are gauging the market for defenseman P.K. Subban.
That would be shocking. Just go through the NHL and find one No. 1 NHL defenseman that has been traded. Teams rarely trade these hot commodities, especially a talent like the charismatic former Norris Trophy winner.
WILD’S WEEK AHEAD
Sunday: 2:30 p.m. vs. Chicago (at TCF Bank Stadium)
Tuesday: 7 p.m. vs. N.Y. Islanders
Thursday: 6 p.m. at Philadelphia
Friday: 6 p.m. at Washington
Sun: Ch. 11 Tue, Thu, Fri FSN
Player to watch: Artemi Panarin, Blackhawks
Leads all rookies in goals (22), assists (35), points (57) and game-winning goals (six) and ranks fifth in league scoring.
“Boston people hold you accountable. If you get into an argument, it’s over the next day.”
— Wild coach John Torchetti