Summer hockey, and the game’s lost friend

John Gilbert

 Hermantown star Drew LeBlanc set up next to ex-UMD goaltender Hunter Miska during the Blues 12-6 victory over the White in Monday’s Heritage Summer Classic. Photo credit: John Gilbert
 Hermantown star Drew LeBlanc set up next to ex-UMD goaltender Hunter Miska during the Blues 12-6 victory over the White in Monday’s Heritage Summer Classic. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Former UMD defenseman Neal Pionk (4) moved in for a shot attempt. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Former UMD defenseman Neal Pionk (4) moved in for a shot attempt. Photo credit: John Gilbert

If you were among the summertime hockey fans who attended Monday night’s Heritage Summer Classic, you could see right away why so many of these pro, college and amateur skaters wanted to play so badly. But you can’t understand why any goaltender would want to play!

Hunter Miska is the perfect example. The Essentia Heritage arena had a lot of room because the plan was to play 4-on-4 for two 30-minute halves. That meant a lot of skating, a lot of open ice, and highly skilled playmakers like Jack Connolly, Tyler Johnson and Drew LeBlanc on “Team LeBlanc” in blue, while the “Team Pionk” white team had Neal Pionk, Andy Welinski, and Dominic Toninato, among others, who could make life miserable for any goaltender.

It took 15 seconds to realize what was about to happen. Brett Olson, from Superior by way of Michigan Tech and currently the Ingolstadt team in Germany, raced across the blue line and fed a perfect pass across the slot to Tyler Johnson, and the former Cloquet standout put the puck into an open net for a 1-0 Blue lead.

There was no let-up, and at halftime, the Blue team had an 8-4 lead, despite being outshot 18-13. Hmmm...8 goals-against on 13 shots? Not good for either a goals-against average or save percentage!

But a good time was had by all, as the Blues offset every White rally in the second half to win 12-6, after a flurry of goals that taxed the official scorer to keep up, because by the time a goal was announced, there probably were a couple more. By my tally, Tyler Johnson had three goals to lead the Blue, and Jack Connolly appeared to have lost nothing since winning the Hobey Baker Award while leading UMD to its first NCAA title in 2011. He’s been refining those skills playing in Sweden, currently with the Rogle team.

With current and former Division 1 and Division 3 hockey players, as well as those former collegians now playing pro hockey, there were a lot of slick plays, until the players realized they could throw long breakaway passes almost at will.
Miska, who was brilliant as a freshman goaltender two years ago at UMD, got a good offer and signed with the Phoenix Coyotes of the NHL. He spent this past season with the Tucson Roadrunners AHL affiliate and has hopes of making the NHL team this fall.

Those in attendance included some key figures in Duluth hockey’s past. I spotted Dick Fisher with Jim Ross, a pair of former Duluth East standouts who led the Greyhounds to state tournament championship in 1960. I caught up with the pair and asked what they remembered about playing Minneapolis Washburn in that tournament.

Specifically, I asked if they remembered the fracas that led to a tough Washburn defenseman named Larry Hendrickson becoming the only player in the long history of the state hockey tournament who was ejected from a game for fighting. They were both a bit vague in recollection, which is understandable, because East went on to beat St. Paul Washington, which was led by Jeff Sauer, in a 3-1 championship game.

Fisher recalled that Hendrickson came to UMD, and when Fisher went to UMD the following year, they were teammates on a Jim Malosky football team. They both went out for hockey, too, but while Fisher made the team on defense, Hendrickson failed to make Ralph Romano’s final cut.

“He was tough, and quick, and we got to be pretty good friends,” said Fisher. “But I’m not sure of the details of him getting thrown out. I think he had a good scoring chance and our goalie, Don Hilsen, stopped him, and he took exception to 
it. I’m going to have to call Hendy and ask about it.”
Too late for that, I told Fisher, because Hendrickson died last week. Dick hadn’t heard. I apologized for breaking the news so harshly.

Fisher found a scrapbook his mother had kept for him and looked up that state tournament opening round in 1960. A Minneapolis Tribune story explains that when the game ended in a 5-4 East victory, with Jim Ross scoring a hat trick, “a Washburn defenseman, Larry Hendrickson” skated up to East goaltender Hilsen as if to congratulate him, but instead jabbed him in the chest with the butt-end of his stick. Hilsen went after him, the two started throwing punches, leading to a bench-clearing brawl in the old St. Paul Auditorium. Hendrickson was ejected, and later banned from the rest of the tournament — the only time any player has ever been ejected from the state tournament.

I knew Larry Hendrickson very well, having dealt with him as a close friend of the late Herb Brooks. And he coached Richfield to the state tournament title game with Steve Christoff as his star in 1976, and in 1996 he coached Apple Valley to the championship with a 3-2 victory over Edina. That year, Apple Valley goaltender Karl Goehring making a tournament record 65 saves when Apple Valley beat Duluth East in a 5-overtime semifinal classic.

Always compulsive, Hendrickson dabbled in all sorts of things and pretty much went overboard on all of them. He got interested in religion, and became an ordained minister. He got into weight training and tried to turn all his hockey players into Charles Atlas types. He also had an engaging personality and was always fun to be around.

He and his wife, Jane, raised four kids, Christine, Darby, Danny and Julie. He coached Darby and Dan at Richfield and both went on to the University of Minnesota to play. Darby went on to play in the NHL and scored the first goal ever by the Minnesota Wild, where he remains an assistant coach.

In later years, he directed the Herb Brooks Foundation for several years, and in 2011 he started the Larry Hendrickson Foundation to aid underpriveleged and handicapped youngsters in participating in sled hockey.
He wound up helping people a lot, but many knew him as something of a manipulator, although a charming one at that.

One time, my wife, Joan, and I were invited to the Hendrickson home in Richfield for a large dinner party to celebrate an anniversary or some such event. Herb Brooks and his wife, Patti, and Warren Strelow and his wife Carlene were also invited, and maybe more. We had an enjoyable time, and when it seemed time to have dinner, Larry told us we were all going to a nearby Olive Garden restaurant. I thought it was a brilliant idea because nobody would have to cook, and we could all pay our own shares.

The waitress started off next to Larry, and went all the way around the table so we could each order an entree. When she got back to Larry, he said he wasn’t hungry and wasn’t going to order anything. We all ate plenty — and so did Larry. Olive Garden has a family-style never-ending salad and never-ending breaksticks, and Larry ate about two pounds of salad, and when we were done, he hadn’t paid a dime.

Larry bought a cabin on Island Lake and enjoyed spending time in the Duluth area, fishing and socializing with area residents. Everybody enjoyed him, and few realized when he started to be afflicted with a rare and possibly hereditary ailment that causes certain arteries to lose their flexibility. It can affect organs, and in Larry, it started affecting his heart.

Always full of life and a creative energy that was his trademark, Hendrickson started slowing down. In recent months, he was hospitalized for care. And in the last few weeks, he returned home under hospice care. Friends said he confided that he didn’t want to live the way he was headed, and he put a notation on the family calendar on June 22 as a good day to die. He died, at age 75, last Friday — June 22.

OTHER HOCKEY NEWS

Former UMD women’s coach Shannon Miller, who was dismissed by UMD three years ago in a messy action that led the five-time NCAA championship coach to go to court and win a $3.74 million settlement, has been hired to coach the Calgary Inferno in a Canadian women’s pro hockey league starting this fall.

Former UMD All-American defenseman and 1974 Hobey Baker winner before a long NHL career as a player and assistant manager, has been hired as assistant GM by the Wild. Kurvers, who lives in Bloomington, leaves Tampa Bay after getting much credit for helping raise that franchise to contention.

When I saw the Central Scouting ranking of amateur skaters before the NHL draft that listed Scott Perunovich as the No. 124 prospect, I imagined it must have been put together by someone living on another planet. I suggested that all the other Minnesota prospects listed ahead of him would consider it a gold star on their resumes if they could play defense for a Division I team as a freshman and lead that team in scoring while it wins the NCAA title. That is what Perunovich did last season. Thankfully, the individual NHL teams are considerably wiser than the Central Scouting conglomerate, and Perunovich was drafted in the second round — No. 45, instead of 124 — by the St. Louis Blues.