Kurvers Ailment Stuns UMD Hockey Community

John Gilbert

Proctor-Hermantown's Briahna Bryant was in perfect position to score her first of two goals for a 1-0 lead against Moose Lake-Willow River at St. Luke's Arena in Proctor. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Proctor-Hermantown's Briahna Bryant was in perfect position to score her first of two goals for a 1-0 lead against Moose Lake-Willow River at St. Luke's Arena in Proctor. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Dehli Heikes scored on a short-handed breakaway for a 2-0 lead against Moose Lake-Willow River goaltender Jo Wekseth, who made 57 saves in the 5-0 quarterfinal. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Dehli Heikes scored on a short-handed breakaway for a 2-0 lead against Moose Lake-Willow River goaltender Jo Wekseth, who made 57 saves in the 5-0 quarterfinal. Photo credit: John Gilbert

The word that former UMD All-America and Hobey Baker winning defenseman has been diagnosed with a form of cancer struck like a lightning bold to all of us who know him well. I certainly don’t know him as well as those who were his teammates on UMD’s first WCHA championship team in 1984, but our friendship has always been strong, and gotten stronger through the years, with him as an NHL assistant general manager and me as a media type covering hockey.

Kurvers is only 56, and in his first year since leaving the Tampa Bay Lightning to join Paul Fenton in the same assistant GM role with the Minnesota Wild. The cancer was detected after he had some respiratory issues and learned that a type of cancerous nodule called adenocarcinoma was detected in his right lung and had reportedly spread to the lymph nodes in his sternum.

Tom’s attitude is so positive that we have to believe he will be able to make use of some new treatment theories and whip this thing. 
A few weeks ago, he showed up at AMSOIL Arena to watch a UMD game, which was typical of the way he did his job. He came into the press box and sat in a vacant seat next to me. We had a nice, friendly conversation but didn’t have time to get into too much depth. I thought later how neat it was that our friendship was such that he’d feel comfortable seeking me out for conversation. And still later, after hearing the shocking news, I wondered if he was hoping the timing would work out for deeper conversation. We will have that, soon.

I had written about his Bloomington Jefferson High School teams, and his four UMD teams, each of which rose to new levels for the program. I was at the Minneapolis Tribune when he played at UMD, but I covered all the state’s hockey, which included following the Bulldogs to the NCAA tournaments.
Our whole family knows Tom well, and he made a lasting impression on my younger son, Jeff, who just happens to be visiting our home from Washington State, where he lives. When he was a Squirt, back in 1983, he attended UMD’s summer hockey schools for several consecutive years, and was most impacted when Kurvers was in charge of his group back in Pioneer Hall.

“I got to watch him play during the season, and then he came out and was our group director,” Jeff recalled. “He was so tall, he seemed huge to us, but he was so friendly. I learned a lot from him, and I also got one of his sticks, which I kept for a lot of years.”
To tell you the kind of person Tom Kurvers is, every time I saw him for about a decade the first words out of his mouth were to inquire about how Jeff was doing. He made sure he had a special bond with my son, from those hockey schools.
In more recent years, Kurvers did his scouting for Tampa Bay while being able to live in the Twin Cities, and I would see him frequently in the Wild press box. Whenever I did, I would always make my way down to the scouts’ end of the press box and he and I would renew acquaintances. My relationship with Norm Maciver, another UMD standout defenseman and All-America who had become assistant general manager with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Back when I did a radio program — “The John Gilbert Show” — every morning on KDAL radio, I would occasionally have Maciver or Kurvers on as a guest. I was interviewing Kurvers about his playing days at UMD, before he went on to play defense for the Montreal Canadiens, where he won the Stanley Cup in 1986, as well as the Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, Toronto Maple Leafs,  Vancouver Canucks, New York Islanders and Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

Because I recalled that whole Bulldogs team so well, I asked Kurvers who his defense partner was at UMD.
“Well, it was a little Canadian kid named Norm Maciver, who showed up as a freshman with a Wayne Gretzky clock and a fork,” said Kurvers. It cracked me up, live, on the air. But I also told both of them that if my prediction came true, Tampa Bay and Chicago would wind up meeting in the Stanley Cup final, and if that happened, I intended to have them both on at the same time to interview. It did happen, and it was one of my favorite shows. Both Kurvers and Maciver are quiet, soft-spoken types with quick wits and genuine friendliness.

Mike Sertich, who coached those UMD teams, said he has remained in close contact with Kurvers as he begins what we all hope will be a long and successful battle. He said the news hit everybody associated with those  teams hard, particularly Maciver and Mark Odnokon, the team captain. They were all so close, and they have had a reunion that was very well attended.

“He’s like a son to me,” said Sertich.

The comfortable, efficient St. Luke's Arena in Proctor, new this season, has great sightlines, impressive concessions, and even an elevator as the new showplace of Proctor hockey.  Photo credit: John Gilbert
The comfortable, efficient St. Luke's Arena in Proctor, new this season, has great sightlines, impressive concessions, and even an elevator as the new showplace of Proctor hockey. Photo credit: John Gilbert

Duluth Girls Hockey rises to new heights

It was altogether fitting and proper that the Proctor-Hermantown Mirage faced Marshall for the Section 7A championship this week, because they are the two best of what may well be the strongest crop of girls high school hockey teams in the Duluth area since girls hockey began.
The Mirage (17-7-3 going into the final) and Marshall (19-8) both have resumes deserving of next week’s state tournament, which is rare. Cloquet-Esko-Carlton (18-8) and Hibbing-Chisholm also had solid representative teams.
When the girls hockey tournament began, the Twin Cities teams surged to the forefront of development, far outdistancing the smaller programs in the north. Some great individual players emerged from some strong Hibbing teams, but the overall balance and power never seemed to follow. But this year, the teams have done well enough against Twin Cities teams to indicate it may no longer be automatic for northern teams to reach state, and be eliminated.

The Mirage had to work to beat Moose Lake-Willow River 5-0 last Friday at the beautiful new St. Luke’s Arena in Proctor. MLWR goaltender Jo Wekseth was brilliant, as the Mirage outshot the Rebels 15-1 before Briahna Bryant scored, at 12:12 of the first period. Bryant was stationed at the left edge of the crease and had an open net to deposit the rebound of a shot by Ella Anick.

The shots were 20-1 at the first intermission, and Dehli Heikes broke in to beat Wekseth for a short-handed breakaway goal at 2:03 of the second, as the shot differential rose to 30-5. It was up to 46-7 with four seconds left in the middle session when Bryant scored with a bad angle shot from deep on the left.

Aurora Opsahl scored twice in the third period, as the Mirage rang up an amazing 62-12 shot edge.
Moving to Virginia, the Mirage beat Hibbing-Chisholm 3-0 in the semifinals, while Marshall, the No. 2 seed to No. 1 Proctor-Hermantown, beat No. 3 Cloquet-Esko-Carlton in the semifinals after taking out International Falls 5-1 in the quarterfinals.
And perhaps next season, the girls 7A section semifinals and final could be scheduled at St. Luke’s Arena, one of the most complete, well designed and executed arenas in the entire Northland.