This has been a tough few months for Minnesota hockey fans and for former North Stars General Manager Lou Nanne in particular, as his former teammates, colleagues and good friends Murray Oliver and J.P. Parise passed away.
Parise, who died on Wednesday because of complications from lung cancer, was a teammate of Nanne's on the original North Stars team in 1967-68 and stayed together until 1974-75, when Parise was traded to the New York Islanders. Oliver joined Nanne and Parise in 1970-71 and played with them until 1974-75.
Nanne then hired Parise and Oliver to work as coaches once he was named the North Stars GM.
"Murray and J.P. and I were teammates for a long time, and they both were my assistant coaches," Nanne recalled Thursday. "J.P. and I for four or five years and Murray and I for seven years, and then they both worked for me for 10 years."
Nanne said then-North Stars GM Jack Gordon was the man who traded Parise, and that was a tough blow for him and his teammates.
"He was a very close friend and a great teammate, to all of us," Nanne said. "We all loved him. He was a wonderful person and a wonderful teammate. Then in 1978 when I took over the North Stars and he was playing in Cleveland [the North Stars and Barons merged in June 1978], I hired him to work on my staff [in 1980]. J.P. was an assistant coach for me and he ran my minor league team for a while and then I brought him up to the National Hockey League as an assistant coach there, so he worked for me for 10 years."
Nanne said Parise was not only a great player to play with, but more importantly, one of his favorite people.
"First of all, as a hockey player, he never cheated you on a shift," Nanne said. "He was as hard a working guy as there was in hockey. He worked hard on every shift. He worked the same way. He was as good a corner man as you've ever seen in the league and he was a terrific teammate that everybody loved. As a person he was always upbeat, fun-loving, friendly and just wonderful to be around."
Parise finished his NHL career with 594 points (238 goals). Nanne described J.P.'s playing style, and even paralleled it a bit with his son and current Wild player, Zach.
"He was as good of a grinder as there was," Nanne said. "He had as good of a work ethic as you'll ever see in the league, and Zach Parise takes after him. He was a good scorer but he didn't have the skills of Zach, but he sure worked like Zach. Nobody worked harder than J.P."
Nanne said he ran into J.P. at Oliver's funeral in December.
"He said he wasn't going to take medication anymore," Nanne said. "It wasn't helping at all and making him feel terrible.
"[He found out about the cancer] in February of last year [when getting treated for kidney stones]."
Reached Stanley Cup
J.P. Parise reached the Stanley Cup playoffs eight times in his 14-year career, so he was excited when his son Zach reached the playoffs with the Wild last year. However, J.P. never reached the Stanley Cup Finals. As a member of the North Stars in 1967-68, J.P. and company lost to the Penguins in the semifinals. With the Islanders in 1974-75, the loss was to the Flyers, again in the semis.
J.P. had one of his biggest years in 1972 when he was named to Team Canada for the Summit Series against the Soviet Union and started six of eight games. He was selected as an NHL All-Star twice, in 1970 and 1973. Nanne, Parise and Oliver had some of their greatest successes with the North Stars when they were coaching, reaching the Stanley Cup Finals once and the semifinals four times.
Believe it or not, while I am not known as a great hockey fan, I spent a lot of time with that North Stars group. And Parise and his buddies thought it was funny to steal my tape recorder all the time and pull tricks. We had a great relationship. Parise and I had a long talk when his son Zach signed with the Wild, and in a column I wrote last April 25, Parise talked about how exciting it was to have Zach here. Until he got sick, he attended every Wild game.
Yes, J.P. was special. It was a lot of fun covering J.P. and that group of North Stars.
• McKinley Boston, a standout Gophers football player under Murray Warmath and the University of Minnesota's athletic director for four years and a vice president for student development and athletics for four more years, retired as athletic director at New Mexico State at the end of 2014 after putting the school on the athletic map for 10 years. The Aggies football team beat the Gophers 28-21 at TCF Bank Stadium in 2011.
• The Gophers football team will open the 2016 season facing Oregon State, coached by Gary Andersen, who left Wisconsin to take the Beavers job in December. They will follow with two more home games against Indiana State and Colorado State. They play Rutgers for the first time that same season.
• In addition to running back David Cobb playing in the Senior Bowl, three other Gophers will be playing in a college postseason All-Star Game. Defensive tackle Cameron Botticelli, safety Cedric Thompson and linebacker Damien Wilson will take part in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl on Jan. 17 in Carson, Calif. The game gives senior players a chance to play before NFL scouts and enhances their chance to be drafted.
• One of the great high school basketball coaches during the period of the single-class state tournament, who knocked off his share of big-city basketball teams, was Arnold "Judge" Veglahn of St. James. He passed away Tuesday. Veglahn, who was 92, coached St. James from 1951-1984 and won the Class 1A title with a 29-0 record in 1972.
• While the Wolves have lost 13 consecutive games, there is no question rookie forward Andrew Wiggins is proving to be a potential NBA star. The 19-year-old posted his fifth consecutive game of 20 or more points in a 113-111 loss to Phoenix on Wednesday. Wiggins has averaged 22.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.0 steals per game over those five contests. He has also shot 52.2 percent from the field and 38.9 percent on three-pointers. … In that Phoenix game, forward Anthony Bennett — the other big piece of the Wolves trade of Kevin Love to Cleveland — posted his second double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds off the bench. Bennett had been in a slump, so maybe that will help him get out of it.
• Here's an interesting note from Zach Lowe of ESPN: In nine games since being traded to the Rockets, Corey Brewer is 20-for-44 from three-point range. In 24 games with the Timberwolves, he went 8-for-41.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40, 8:40 and 9:20 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org