Iron Men: How seven imports from ore country forged the greatest forgotten season in Minnesota hockey history

Ludvig J. Andolsek was born the son of immigrant parents in the small but thriving Iron Range town of Chisholm, Minn., in 1910. His cherub cheeks, expressive eyes and dark hair made him a favorite of the neighborhood grandmothers. They watched him scramble behind passing trains, collecting coal that escaped so he could bring it home to reignite his mother’s flickering hearth. He was a vibrant boy who spoke only his family’s native Slovenian until elementary school. Then English amplified his gifts. Friends – and he would make many – called him Lud. And much to his parents’ delight, Lud would not be a miner, though he never forgot those who were. He was, however, fully captivated by the Iron Range’s other leading preoccupation – hockey.

Sports were a luxury his parents never knew. Wed in Slovenia, the senior Ludvig and his wife, Frances, were soon blessed with two children but they were haunted always by poverty. Grim prospects, strong faith and a dreamer’s spirit spurred Ludvig’s Bohemian Hail Mary, a solo immigration to America in search of a better life for his young family. In the silver mines he found moderate success, enough only to send for Frances, who agonizingly left her family and children to help forge a future for them all. Knowing neither English nor her husband’s whereabouts when she arrived at Ellis Island, she ventured west from one Slovene community to the next until she found him in Colorado.

With more hope than money, their quest then continued 1,000 miles to the northeast in Chisholm. Compared to their spartan existence in Colorado, life near the ore mines of Minnesota was promising, even progressive. Well-appointed company towns sprouted with adequate homes, cheerful parks and the welcome hum of ethnic voices on every corner.

A fair living could be carved from the rich red ore buried beneath them, and though it was a hard life, carve they did, establishing a modest foothold in this frozen bit of America. The junior Ludvig, born into this rugged progress, grew into a cheerful and tenacious youngster with an athletic flair. His passion, like that of so many immigrant sons, was for sticks and pucks. He found his place between the pipes, tending goal with a wrong-handed style that was sufficiently confounding for shooters and supremely so for those looking to equip him with right-hand catching gloves. His good grades, industrious nature and adequate reflexes carried him to Eveleth Junior College where, among the texts of higher learning he also found a copy of Spalding’s annual Official Ice Hockey Guide. Theodore Tonnele’s freshly devised national college hockey ranking system graced three inner pages, a number necessitated by the conceptual and arithmetic lengths across which Tonnele traveled to reach his conclusion: Eveleth Junior College was the nation’s top team, decidedly ahead of Yale, Minnesota, Clarkson and Dartmouth.

Andolsek himself wasn’t the biggest star, but his teammates orbited tightly, happily caught in his charismatic pull. Thorough and diligent, he stopped pucks sufficiently for the Jaycees, displaying an uncommon enthusiasm that carried over to the classroom. He was incandescent; the type of young person who energized a campus. In other words, he was just the type of person George Selke wanted in St. Cloud, Minn.

The president of St. Cloud Teachers College, Selke was also a hockey enthusiast. His campus had been without a team for three decades until he spurred a rebirth in 1931 and although the first season was a struggle, with the right kind of inspiration, the embers were still warm enough to ignite. Andolsek, he hoped, would be the inspiration, so he offered him a unique opportunity to play and coach while he continued his studies 150 miles to the southwest. Andolsek happily accepted, forming a lasting bond with Selke that both men would carry through their final days.

Old Friends in New Places

When Andolsek arrived on St. Cloud’s oak-dotted campus in September 1932, he didn’t arrive alone. Instead, he brought an Iron Range entourage still firmly caught in his orbit. Six hockey standouts from Eveleth Junior College, best in the nation one year prior, had suddenly transferred to a place where there was scarcely a puck to be found. But Andolsek had a plan and Selke had part-time jobs to help them cover tuition and no further convincing was necessary. As former United States Congressman James Oberstar would say years later, “Meeting Lud was an unshakable, unforgettable experience. He took hold of you like a force.”

Sprawling along the Mississippi River on the divide between Minnesota’s western prairie and eastern pines, St. Cloud was nothing like its lofty Parisian namesake. Local granite quarry operators took to calling it “the busy, gritty Granite City” in the 1930s, a fitting description for a flattish blue-collar place surrounded by farms and rock pits. Its college occupied the Mississippi River shoreline, expanding from humble beginnings in 1869 when enrollment exceeded 50 students by a margin narrower than church doors. The arrival of Andolsek and his recruits in 1932 helped increase enrollment over 1,100, making it one of the state’s larger colleges, yet still dwarfed by the University of Minnesota and its 12,500 students an hour downstream in Minneapolis. But for Andolsek, it was the perfect fit, a stark white canvas begging for a lively splash of Iron Range red. And splash he did. Elected as class president, he was also soon appointed to the student council, the Kappa Delta Pi Education Honor Society, Al Sirat for extracurricular leadership, and the Rangers Club for promoting good fellowship among students from the Mesabi, Vermilion and Cuyuna Iron Ranges. He also served as general chairman of the Homecoming Committee, he played intramural basketball, he studied history, and of course, he led the Pedagogues’ hockey team. In just a few short months, Andolsek had become the embodiment of Selke’s campus luminary. In the months and years to come, he would exceed even that lofty vision.

The Pedagogues’ first season under Andolsek got off to a rousing start. They recorded nine straight wins and only once did their goaltender and coach surrender more than two goals in a game. Along the way they blanked a respected St. Thomas squad 5-0 and stomped St. John’s University, a local rival featuring future U.S. Senator Eugene McCarthy, by a combined 14-3 total in two games. In the season’s penultimate game St. Cloud suffered its only defeat, a 1-0 avenging by St. Thomas. The lone goal was a fluke from center that bad-hopped across the soft late-winter ice and into the cage. Andolsek and his teammates then rebounded for a 7-1 win over Eden Valley to close the 1932-33 season with a 10-1-0 record. The ice soon melted, but President Selke’s smile was permanent. Even Theodore Tonnele knew of St. Cloud Teachers College now.

The 1934 St. Cloud Teachers College hockey team, led by coach Lud Andolsek (pictured first on the left). All St. Cloud images are courtesy of the St. Cloud State University Archives.

Never one to stagnate, Andolsek wondered what he could do for an encore. Tapping one of college hockey’s greatest early recruiting pipelines, he reached out to a friend at Eveleth Junior College with an offer to join him and his fellow Iron Range expatriates in St. Cloud. That it would cost Andolsek his place on the ice was of no concern. He had bigger dreams – the kind of dreams only his friend Frankie could help him achieve.

While not yet legendary, Andolsek’s friend was rapidly becoming so. The latest in a line of world-class Eveleth-bred goaltenders, young Frank Brimsek was ready for a bigger stage, and Andolsek was about to give him all of Lake George, a granite-bottomed spigot to the Mississippi on which the Pedagogues played.

Brimsek was a game-changer. Even without knowledge of his impending arrival, Tonnele placed St. Cloud in his national rankings for 1933-34. With Brimsek in goal, the Pedagogues would be among the nation’s most elite – perhaps even better than the two-time defending Big Ten champions in Minneapolis, who Tonnele ranked No. 1. They opened the 1933-34 campaign three days before St. Cloud, hosting the vaunted University of Manitoba, winners of 15 straight. The Manitobans made it 17 straight by edging top-ranked Minnesota 3-2 on Friday and blanking them 4-0 Saturday. The Gophers, having returned all but one starter from the previous season’s championship team, expected a better start, particularly after a fiercely competitive tryout that featured some 65 players. While Minnesota sought answers, the Manitobans turned themselves toward home, stopping along the way for a Monday afternoon engagement with a relative unknown – St. Cloud Teachers College.

Andolsek’s Pedagogues had just returned from two weeks of Christmas vacation, but they relished an opportunity to get an elite opponent on their schedule, even if it meant playing with almost no preparation. Scheduling had been difficult for Andolsek. Few of the day’s traditional powers wanted to play tiny St. Cloud Teachers College, even if Tonnele was willing to vouch for them in his national rankings. It was particularly vexing that Minnesota had proven most aloof, ignoring multiple requests from both Andolsek and Selke. The St. Cloud duo went public with their challenge in December 1933, telling the St. Cloud Times that Minnesota claimed its schedule was already full, even though Andolsek had contacted them some 12 months prior seeking a game. At the same time, the Minnesota Athletic Department issued a statement saying that “the season’s schedule had not yet been completed and two more series with non-conference teams probably will be scheduled.” St. Paul Pioneer Press sportswriter Perry Dotson returned Andolsek’s fire, writing that the Minnesota Athletic Department said it had no interest in playing the Pedagogues until they gained a reputation. The Gophers’ captain, standout defenseman Phil LaBatte, joined the tabloid sparring, telling Dotson, “Bring ‘em on. We’ll play ‘em and we’ll beat ‘em.”

With both beehives sufficiently stirred, when Manitoba agreed to a game, the Pedagogues were elated, particularly since they knew Minnesota would be watching closely.

Gameday was cold and clear, perfect for outdoor hockey on Lake George. Not a trace of snow had fallen in days, leaving the ice smooth and fast under the afternoon sun. With the temperature hovering near 18 degrees Fahrenheit, a curious assembly gathered to watch the Pedagogues battle this exotic Canadian outfit. One thing was immediately evident: St. Cloud dressed just seven players and only five of them plus Brimsek were ever on the ice. There were no substitutions. Despite that, their pace was frenetic, the likes of which had never been witnessed in St. Cloud.

Despite being outshot in the first period, Manitoba broke the scoreless deadlock at the 14 minute mark. The Pedagogues evened it eight minutes into the second period on a goal from Bernard Bjork who centered Cletus Winter on the left and Ray Gasperlin on the right. On defense, St. Cloud featured Walter DePaul and Roland Vandell.

As the mid-winter shadows grew, Manitoba took a 2-1 lead late in the second, which held until DePaul scored with three minutes left in the third. Neither team gained an advantage in the remaining minutes of regulation, so they embarked on a split-half overtime period. With one minute remaining in the first half, DePaul launched himself on a solo rush that netted St. Cloud its first lead of the game, 3-2. The teams then changed ends for the second half of overtime. Manitoba struggled to mount a rally, even against the heavy-legged quintet of Pedagogues, and Brimsek was unbeatable when they needed him. As the final seconds slipped away, Andolsek was near rapture. With just five skaters and one brilliant goalie, the Pedagogues had done what Minnesota couldn’t – snap Manitoba’s winning streak.

Tuesday morning’s Times hit the street in St. Cloud with a beaming report from Walt Grinols. “While any victory is sweet, this one was particularly so after Minnesota has given the Peds the cold shoulder,” he wrote. “And it has been hinted that the St. Cloud team would not be in a class with the Gophers and would be no drawing power. But St. Cloud could give the Gophers a rub; and a defeat would be bad medicine for the big college boys.”

Days later, Wisconsin agreed to a mid-February game in St. Cloud, lending still more credibility to the Pedagogues, who also had scheduled an upcoming series at Michigan Tech University. But Minnesota was above all persuasion. Even derision didn’t work, although Cliff Sakry at the St. Cloud Teachers College Chronicle gave a grand effort: “Just think how small the U of M boys would feel if they had to go back to their Alma Mammy with their scalps missing and explain that they ‘got took’ by a bunch of ‘bo-hunks’ from ‘the sticks,” he wrote in his Sport Sparks column.

And while the banter was manna for sportswriters, it was mostly ignored by the powerbrokers at Minnesota, chiefly among them Athletic Director Frank McCormick and Coach Pond, who was purebred Gopher.

Born in Minneapolis, Pond was a multi-sport high school star who studied engineering at the University of Minnesota in the early 1920s. Beyond his work in the classroom, Pond was also a standout golfer and captain of the early Gopher hockey teams that won three straight conference titles. Upon graduation in 1924, he joined his father’s Advance Machine Company in Minneapolis, but his alma mater persuaded him to become head hockey coach in 1930. He led the Gophers through 1935 before resigning to pursue his business interests and a membership at Edina Country Club. Nearly 40 years later, Pond would be among a quartet of Minneapolis businessmen who funded the Gophers’ purchase of national championship rings following their first title run in 1974. But for the moment, he was simply leading the nation’s top-ranked team and being pilloried by St. Cloud sportswriters. Sakry continued his snarky hunt later in the month: “Pond has felt that a game with this college has not been necessary, not for a team of their caliber,” he wrote in the Chronicle.

While the sportswriters traded volleys, the teams matched victories. Seeking more action, Andolsek agreed to skate the Pedagogues on Sundays under the St. Cloud Lions Club banner, meaning they joined forces with a few Granite City locals to thrash senior amateur teams throughout Minnesota. Their first game was a 10-1 win over Brainerd in which Bjork, the future Roseau (Minn.) High School coach, scored four goals. Brimsek played the first two periods in goal and his backup, Bob Lobdell, played the third. Three days later they returned to collegiate action, cruising to an 11-2 win at St. John’s. Bjork and Gasperlin both recorded hat tricks.

Minnesota played the following day, skating past Michigan 5-2 for its first win of the season. A 1-0 shutout victory over the Wolverines followed 24 hours later, improving the Gophers’ record to 2-2. Nine more wins would follow against just one loss.

St. Cloud, meanwhile, was buzzing about its own team’s success. The unbeaten Pedagogues’ were set to host the biggest hockey crowd in central Minnesota history for a Saturday afternoon showdown against nationally ranked Eveleth Junior College. Even without its departed stars who were now skating in St. Cloud, the Jaycees iced a formidable 13-man attack that included the brothers of Brimsek and Vandell. It was a battle for bragging rights – both on the Iron Range and at the dinner table.

Spectators crowded Lake George in unseasonably warm conditions to witness the proceedings. It was the first day of a three-week heat wave that slowly puddled local lake ice. The players’ sweaters clung hot and steamy. Andolsek’s squad mastered the conditions and thrilled the crowd with two quick goals, but then John Brimsek fired one past his brother to pull Eveleth within a goal. John and the Jaycees peppered Frank through the second and third periods, outshooting St. Cloud convincingly, but they managed only one more goal for their efforts. The Pedagogues were more efficient, adding three goals to their two early strikes in a 5-2 triumph. Bjork tallied three of the five to register his second straight hat trick. By season’s end, he would need a slide rule to calculate his scoring total, which was fitting considering that mathematics was his chosen course of study.

“Fully 1,500 fans witnessed the game at Lake George, some claiming that as many as 2,000 were on hand,” wrote Grinols afterward. “It was hard to estimate the crowd because hundreds sat in automobiles and were not to be counted. The fans stood two-deep about the rink and on snowbanks nearby. St. Cloud likes its hockey that’s not maybe.”

With surging confidence whether playing as Lions or Pedagogues, Andolsek’s men proceeded through the Mill City senior amateur squad by an 11-2 score and then disposed of St. John’s for a second time in 20 days, winning 7-1 in new uniforms. Clad in cardinal red and black, with “St. Cloud” on the crest and numbers on the back, they now looked as good as they played. The timing was perfect.

Homecoming

As McCormick was telling the Associated Press that St. Cloud wouldn’t be considered until the Gophers finished Big Ten play, Andolsek and his team packed their fashionable new threads and turned their attention to the north. Eager for home-cooking and hockey, an enthusiastic troupe set off for the Iron Range. Vandell could hardly contain himself as he dreamed of mom’s meat-and-potato pasties, a longing for home his teammates shared.

Between meals and reunions, the Pedagogues had a Friday game set against the Chisholm senior amateurs and a Saturday rematch scheduled at Eveleth against the Jaycees. Chisholm crumbled easily. Eveleth did not. Brimsek was credited with the best showing of his career in preserving a 2-2 tie. The Jaycees requested a third meeting but St. Cloud was already scheduled to play at Crosby-Ironton on their way home. The Jaycees would have to wait.

Weary from the whirlwind trip, St. Cloud did just enough to win their Sunday battle with Crosby-Ironton, arriving back on campus late Sunday evening to a double dose of unfortunate news. First, they learned that the weather was wreaking havoc on their ice and then they learned that both Wisconsin and Michigan Tech had dropped them from their schedules. They now had five days and questionable ice to prepare for a Feb. 18 game against Wadena, which claimed to be the defending Central Minnesota amateur champions despite having lost to St. Cloud twice the year prior.

Being well aware of Andolsek’s budding juggernaut, Wadena was said to have recruited ringers from Crosby-Ironton in the days leading up to their showdown. It mattered little as St. Cloud thrashed them 11-1 with seven different players scoring goals. Andolsek then turned his attention back to ice conditions and scheduling. Minnesota had wrapped its Big Ten schedule with a 2-1 win over Michigan that clinched another conference championship, but still no response came to his challenge. The Gophers then polished off their 1933-34 season with a 7-1 win over White Bear Lake’s senior amateur squad. Pond called it the best team in school history. Andolsek simmered. He soon reached a boil when the Minnesota Alumni Weekly published a story titled Skaters Seek New Opponents:

“The Minnesota hockey team which makes a regular practice of the matter of winning Western Conference championships is looking for new rinks to conquer,” began the unattributed story. “The northwest and the Big Ten offers only a limited amount of collegiate competition for comparatively few schools have the proper facilities at their disposal.”

On any rink, in any town at any time, Andolsek’s Pedagogues had challenged Minnesota to no avail. Now he read this and still more grandstanding in an Associated Press story saying there will be no game against the Pedagogues unless Pond hears from St. Cloud Teachers College “very soon.” No matter that he already had on file a year’s worth of written requests from both Andolsek and Selke. And no matter that it was the Pedagogues, and not the Gophers, who were invited to the Amateur Athletic Union’s Midwestern Postseason Tournament in Chicago.

Alas, there would be no showdown with Minnesota. But there would be a national tournament – if St. Cloud could afford to send its Pedagogues. Selke was in Cleveland for a seminar when the invite arrived, so Andolsek and his team waited eagerly for their president’s return. Then they lobbied him hard, led by the ever-convincing Andolsek, and eventually won their approval. Tournament rules demanded a minimum of 10 players, so Andolsek rounded up every spare he could find and finalized a travel party of 12 players plus himself and C.O. Bemis, a faculty representative. They would leave for Chicago on March 14, which was almost two weeks away. Lake George suffered an early spring thaw, so their rink had already been dismantled. A week passed before they could get back on the ice, which was by then slush, leaving them short on practice at the most inopportune time.

“If there was an artificial ice sheet (in St. Cloud) things would be different,” wrote Grinols.

But Andolsek wasn’t packing excuses as they left for Chicago’s famed Coliseum. He was packing what the Chicago Daily Tribune would soon laud as “the six iron men.”

The Championship of the Central States

Eight teams arrived in Chicago. Three were hometown favorites, two were from Wisconsin, and three were from Minnesota.

The Baby Ruth Cardinals, Chicago city champions, opened the tournament against St. Cloud on Thursday, March 15. Andolsek sent Winter, Gasperlin, Bjork, DePaul and Vandell over the boards, with Brimsek in goal. They never left the ice. Midway through the second period, Gasperlin scored on a pass from Bjork to give St. Cloud the lead. Four minutes later, he scored again, unassisted. Less than two minutes after that, he completed the hat trick, converting a three-way connection between himself, Bjork and Winter. Brimsek made the lead stand, turning aside 35 of 37 shots. The win earned St. Cloud a day of rest on Friday followed by a meeting with the Chicago Pabst Blue Ribbons on Saturday.

Rested and ready, St. Cloud started strong with first-period goals from DePaul and Bjork. Even with the lead, Andolsek didn’t risk playing spares, but he did recommend that his iron men conserve their energy. The Pedagogues closed ranks, iced the puck when they could, and put the game in Brimsek’s hands. The nation’s best college goaltender didn’t disappoint, stopping 50 shots, and Vandell scored early in the third period to give St. Cloud a two-goal cushion. The Blue Ribbons mustered only one response and time expired before the Pedagogues. St. Cloud was championship-bound thanks to a 3-2 win. Opposing them would be a familiar foe. The championship of the central states would be won by a team of Iron Rangers. The only question was whether it would be the six iron men or the 13 Jaycees from Eveleth Junior College.

Championship Sunday in Chicago started with a bang for St. Cloud, but it ended with a crash. The Pedagogues scored five first-period goals, even getting one from a spare – Jack Alexander – without surrendering a single tally to Eveleth. They extended their lead to 6-0 early in the second period before Eveleth began chipping away. They beat Brimsek four times in the period, with his brother assisting on the first two goals. Four more third-period goals capped the improbable rally, giving Eveleth Junior College an 8-6 win and the tournament championship. According to press reports, Chicago Black Hawks coach and general manager Tommy Gorman called St. Cloud the greatest amateur team in the country, separated from the championship only by a lack of reserve players.

A Long Ride Home

The Pedagogues came home without a championship, but the long ride home restored their spirits. A warm greeting awaited them, as St. Cloud was eager to give one last cheer to its Pedagogues.

“It’s doubtful that any town in this section of the United States has grown hockey-minded faster than this city has,” wrote Grinols upon the team’s return.

Their impressive showing earned the Pedagogues an automatic invite to the 1935 AAU state tournament. Andolsek, back for his senior year, reloaded with more Eveleth Junior College players – including Arthur Salpacka, who replaced Brimsek in goal after he departed for professional opportunities – and St. Cloud found depth for the first time, skating two lines to 19 wins in 20 regular season games. In the AAU Minnesota State Tournament, St. Cloud cruised to wins over Genoa (7-1), Hallock (4-1), the Eveleth Spartans (2-1) and finally White Bear Lake (9-1), which was bolstered with two University of Minnesota players.

Arthur Salpacka, left, was recruited by St. Cloud coach Lud Andolsek, right, to replace Frank Brimsek after he left for professional opportunities.

From there, St. Cloud returned to Chicago, which was this time hosting the AAU’s national championship tournament. The Pedagogues won their way into the semifinals before bowing to the Chicago’s Baby Ruths, a team that included Eveleth’s Connie Pleban, a future U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inductee. The Baby Ruths went on to win the 1935 national championship while St. Cloud took home third place honors with a forfeit win over the Vandrazka Hornets. Andolsek then completed his final remaining classes at St. Cloud Teachers College and returned to northern Minnesota, serving as the state’s National Youth Administration director.

While there, he was drafted into World War II service, sent to officer training school and later placed in charge of ordinance at the Presidio in San Francisco, which became Western Defense Command headquarters and also home to the largest debarkation hospital in the country. There he met a nurse, Regina, to whom he would be wed in November 1945. When the war ended, they moved back to Minnesota where Andolsek reunited with an old Chisholm High School friend and classmate, John Blatnik, who was by then Democratic U.S. Congressman John Blatnik. Andolsek served as his rabble-rousing sidekick for decades, helping shepherd the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, better known as the Clean Water Act, to passage in 1972. Along the way, he helped get Minnesota votes for John F. Kennedy, who became President John F. Kennedy and later appointed Andolsek to the U.S. Civil Service Commission as vice chairman. Known for his ability to work across the aisle, Andolsek then won reappointments under five presidents: Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter.

Along the way, he welcomed a daughter, Kathy, who became a doctor at Duke University, and years later, a granddaughter, Kendall, who became a standout student-athlete at the same institution.

“He lived the American dream,” Kathy said.

And like Thoreau’s illiterate trader who secures “for his children that intellectual culture whose want he so keenly feels,” so did the Andolseks – from Slovenia to the American dream.

Mr. Zero

Brimsek, too, would ascend greater heights, leaving St. Cloud after a single epic season for teams that were amateur in name only, first briefly in his native Eveleth, then in Pittsburgh, Pa., as a member of the Eastern League’s Yellow Jackets. He won 14 of his first 16 games in an initial Steel City foray and returned in November 1935 for a second campaign during which his team would compete as full-fledged professionals. Later that month, the American Olympic Ice Hockey Committee invited Brimsek to a three-day December tryout for the 1936 U.S. Olympic Team, to be held in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, but he remained with the Yellow Jackets instead, earning a win over their rivals from Baltimore while the Olympic hopefuls tangled with Yale in New Haven. By season’s end, Brimsek amassed 20 victories, eight shutouts and first-team all-star honors in addition to the Eastern League’s George L. Davis Trophy for allowing the fewest goals. Tom Moone, born in Ottawa, ultimately tended goal for the bronze-medal winning 1936 American Olympic Team, becoming the only Canadian-born netminder to ever do so.

Brimsek soon climbed from Pittsburgh to Providence of the American League. The NHL’s Boston Bruins took notice, bringing him and two other youngsters in for private sessions with Cecil “Tiny” Thompson, Boston’s legendary incumbent goaltender, who magnanimously suggested that his coach and general manager, Art Ross, begin grooming a replacement for him in 1937.

“There’s your honeysuckle,” Thompson told Ross after the sessions. “Now take what part of my salary you like and keep Brimsek handy.”

Ross signed him and monitored his progress in Providence. One season later, while Thompson recovered from a gash over his right eye, Brimsek made his Boston debut. Within a month, Thompson was sold to Detroit, replaced in the Bruins’ goal by his chosen apprentice.

The Toronto Star saluted Frank Brimsek for winning the NHL’s Calder Trophy in 1939.

“He’ll be the best goalie in the business,” Ross told the Toronto Star. “I’ve been watching Brimsek, and he’s got everything.”

His six shutouts in seven early games – still wearing his red pants from Providence – became the stuff of legend as Brimsek embarked on a 10-year NHL career that earned him two Stanley Cup championships, eight all-star selections and enshrinement in both Toronto’s Hockey Hall of Fame and the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in his native Eveleth.

“The kid had the fastest hands I ever saw – like lightning,” said Ross.

Home of the Huskies

As for St. Cloud Teachers College, “no institution did more for college hockey in the 1930s and 1940s,” according to John Mariucci, yet the program’s momentum lagged after Andolsek’s departure. The Pedagogues struggled to win more than they lost and money remained tight, delaying any plans for an indoor rink that would have fortified the program. America then entered World War II and enrolment at the college plummeted. The hockey team was shelved from 1942-46, effectively severing any remaining connection to the program’s glorious mid-1930s.

By the early 1950s, St. Cloud Teachers College had become St. Cloud State College, a more comprehensive four-year institution with a barely functioning hockey program. It was given a one-year stay of execution and the newly named Huskies responded with their best season in five years, going 8-3. The program stabilized under another player coach, Jim Baxter, and outstanding contributions from Jerry Reichel, but home games were still played outdoors, which by then condemned St. Cloud State to small-time college hockey status.

The early 1960s produced some strong teams at St. Cloud State, including an undefeated 1962 squad coached by Jack Wink, and soon echoes of Grinols’ long forgotten newspaper pleas for indoor ice were heard again. Finally, on Nov. 11, 1972, the Huskies moved inside, skating into St. Cloud’s new Municipal Ice Arena. Invigorated, the program produced a pair of two-time small college All-Americans in the 1970s – Pat Sullivan and Dave Reichel – and St. Cloud State College officially became St. Cloud State University.

An intense Herb Brooks behind the St. Cloud bench in November 1986.

The momentum spilled into the 1980s and when Herb Brooks arrived to coach the Huskies in 1986, it set them on a collision course with big-time college hockey.

On Oct. 3, 1987, more than 50 years after Andolsek’s unanswered challenge to Pond and the Gophers, St. Cloud State finally got its showdown with Minnesota in what would be the Huskies’ first Division I game. Perhaps fittingly, it was played in Eveleth’s Hippodrome, where Andolsek and his recruits first tasted college hockey a half-century earlier. Minnesota won, 6-0.

Two years later, St. Cloud State opened its own on-campus arena – the National Hockey Center – and four years after that, in 1993, the Huskies finally got their first win over Minnesota. When word of the victory reached Andolsek in North Carolina, still skating into his 80s, the embers flickered. “He was itching for the fight,” said his daughter. “To the end he maintained that Minnesota was afraid he’d beat ‘em.”

– Jayson Hron

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Author’s Note: To purchase a printed-and-bound version of this story, complete with premium content including rare photos, game recaps and statistics, please click the cover page icon below.

2 thoughts on “Iron Men: How seven imports from ore country forged the greatest forgotten season in Minnesota hockey history

  1. This “reads” so well, Jay! Fascinating story. It never fails to amaze me that the Iron Range of Northern Minnesota spawned many of the best hockey players in the World!!!! Also, I had no idea that players recruited together as when the “Six hockey standouts from Eveleth Junior College, best in the nation one year prior . . . ” transferred to St. Cloud. They really played and practiced on Lake George???? I can see how the elements of weather extremes would mess with games and game preparation when competing with those with the advantage of indoor ice! What a thrilling few decades it must have been as these powerful “stars” alligned to create a first class hockey program at St. Cloud State! Truly golden days and I enjoyed the “box seat” your story provided so that I could “watch” the essential elements of this endeavor unfold. Really good stuff, Jay!!!! Your writing style and depth of research breathe life into your work!

  2. Yes, Thank You, I felt once more the bitter wind of winter blowing through the cracks of the wamup shack as I sat next to the wood and coal fired pot-bellied stove strapping an imagined 200lbs of cold hard kapoc stuffed leather pads onto legs destined for ski’s when the next years fall turned into a winter of sliding down Mont Du Lac instead of pucks ricochetting of my paper-mache’ faceplate w/ eye, nose and mouth hole for cursing through. Yes, I fully respect Goalies, they are special crazy. Really enjoyed reading this, you brought to life a rich heritage of what is unique and special to us who proudly call ourselves MINNESOTANS!

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