Phantom Phil’s historic hat trick finally clarified

John Gilbert


 Keith (Huffer) Christiansen shown in the locker room while playing for the UMD Men’s hockey team during the 1960’s.
Keith (Huffer) Christiansen shown in the locker room while playing for the UMD Men’s hockey team during the 1960’s.

In the afterglow of the Duluth Arena-Auditorium’s 50th anniversary, it’s time to set the record straight from the facility’s opening season. I’ve never forgotten covering the first hockey game in the Arena, when UMD blitzed Minnesota 8-1, and Keith (Huffer) Christiansen almost casually set up six goals. Those six assists still stand as UMD’s single-game assist record, 50 years later.
But my other submission for Arena heritage was the greatest single game in Arena (and DECC) history, but it has remained shrouded with a few questions. This is as good a time as any to put it all in proper focus.
I was a second-year sportswriter at the Duluth News Tribune, and a Duluth native who was enthralled at writing about the city of Duluth’s rise to unprecedented hockey stature. I recall with vivid memory how Duluth Cathedral beat resident power Duluth East in a monumental 6-4 game at the Duluth Arena. It was monumental because it was a Wednesday night game, and it was televised by KDAL Channel 3 area wide, yet still 6,122 fans jammed all the walkways and aisles to witness the game first-hand. The spectacular part of the game was that Cathedral’s Phil Hoene scored a pure hat trick in the span of 27 seconds to vault the Hilltoppers from a 2-goal deficit into the lead, setting up the 6-4 victory.
On my daily 9-11 a.m. KDAL radio show, I interviewed Duluth East coach Mike Randolph, who was a 14-year-old freshman who had been elevated to center the third line by Cathedral coach Del Genereau. Mike said in is memory, Hoene’s hat trick came in the first meeting between the two, and the second game was a 4-0 Cathedral victory, with the fire marshall preventing the crowd from approaching the record from the previous meeting. But he wasn’t sure.
“Call Larry, he’ll know,” said Randolph. He meant Larry Trachsel, who played wing on Hoene’s all-senior first line, and has remained the closest of friends with Randolph in the ensuing years, serving as his loyal assistant coach at East for over a decade until retiring a few years ago. Trachsel has a friend, who’s wife kept a greatly detailed record of all Cathedral games from way back when, and he was able to reach them.

Here’s the official final record
of those magnificent games:

Cathedral beat East 6-4 on December 1, 1966 – the first year the Arena housed hockey games, and a month after Huffer Christiansen worked his magic on the Gophers. Phil Hoene did indeed score a goal, then score another with the ensuing faceoffs after only 7 seconds ticked off, then he scored his third 20 seconds after that to lead the Toppers. A crowd of 6,122 absolutely jammed the Arena, filling every aisle.
The whole city, and all of Northern Minnesota, was primed for the rematch, which came on Wednesday, February 1. And KDAL, Channel 3, jumped into the forefront of its civic duty and televised the game, live, from here to International Falls. The fire marshall, properly astounded at the 6,122 fans from the first game, stood watch over the entries and prevented an overflow, for safety reasons. So “only” 5,571 fans made it inside. The Hilltoppers, 15-0 at the time, beat East 4-0 in the rematch. Not as dramatic, nor as spectacular, although Phil Hoene had two goals.
So my memory, 50 years later, was accurate on the score, Hoene’s performance, and the crowd number, but I was foggy enough on the date to look up and see the Feb. 1 listing on the schedule, and jump to the conclusion that the game in question must have been on that date.
But here’s the afterglow to the afterglow. An outfit called Hockey Hub decided to make itself known by coming up with a vote to determine the 100 best players in Minnesota’s hockey history. After they had put together a very impressive list, they got around to contacting me, by now having left the Minneapolis Tribune after 30 years of covering hockey at all levels, and returning to Duluth, where I had started out by being forcibly captivated by the game of hockey two years before that.
No, they didn’t want me to be involved, they just wanted my input or nominations even though they were well past their initial project of greatest teams and greatest players. I threw a few wrinkles at them, such as asking what they were going to do about players I assumed were going to slip through their grasp. Players like Huffer Christiansen, or Mark Pavelich, or Bob Collyard, from my “current” era.
Then I asked them what they were going to do about Duluth Cathedral, the team that I think needs to be recognized right at the top level with the old Eveleth teams of Johnny Mayasich, the International Falls teams of Larry Ross, the Edina teams of Willard Ikola, and the Bloomington Jefferson teams of Tom Saterdalen. My caller was taken aback. I went on to describe the opening of the Duluth Arena, and how the fellow I had publicly nicknamed “Phantom Phil” Hoene had scored three goals in 27 seconds to lift Cathedral to its stunning victory over Duluth East before 6,122 fans. I also suggested he might want to go back to the old Catholic and Independent state tournaments to see that Cathedral and Hill were both among the state’s best teams for several years running. When they built Amsoil Arena, I had written a somewhat rambling history of my recollections, accurate and fuzzy, in this Reader column, and I suggested my inquisitor go back and read it.
He made a couple of alterations. And he wrote a quite-eloquent piece about how the big crowd had crowded into the Arena for the televised game in question, and he lifted some of the intriguing chunks from that story and added a lot of colorful writing about what it must have been like. That really only verified some of the fuzzy memories in my head.
But in talking to Mike Randolph for historical perspective about those teams and that game, he offered me use of a giant scrapbook his mom had kept for him of all his games at Cathedral. It was a thrill to go back and read them – especially because most of the stories were form the News Tribune, and had my byline on them!
By a strange twist, there was no result story from that second Cathedral-East game, but there was an incident-filled advance on that day, Feb. 1, 1967, about the rematch that night. Proctor would play Central at 5, Denfeld would face Morgan Park at 6:30, and the Cathedral-East game would be at 8 p.m., live on Ch. 3. In the story it was explained that East had always been the dominant Duluth school, but Cathedral had come on when the current crop of talent emerged. East had beaten Cathedral twice two years earlier, but the teams tied and Cathedral won in the 1965-66 season, back in the Curling Club.
It was a nice story, but it inscribed in some corner of state hockey history the rather large mistake about the date of the game, the result of the game, and the production of Phantom Phil. I didn’t realize that publication’s errors until last week, when I read my own Duluth News Tribune story from 50 years ago, and noted the dateline at the top of the sports page of “February 1, 1966.”
That’s when I followed Mike Randolph’s suggestion and caught up to Larry Trachsel, who caught up to his friend, and got back through that grapevine to give me the accurate information on the greatest hockey game ever played in the Duluth Arena.
You could look it up, as they say. Just be careful where you look.