Q. Did you every dream when you were a young boy living in Eveleth that you would one day play for the Gophers and later win the gold medal for your country?
A. Oh, I don’t think so. I think back then, and maybe I was no different than a lot of the other young kids. I think you just wanted to be as good as the rest of them, you know, the older kids, and your ultimate wish back then was of course playing on the high school team and going to the state tournament. So of course the tournament started in what ’45?
Q. Yeah, 1945.
A. I was, well, how old would I have been, 12? So you know, then you’re thinking of making the high school team, going to the state, and you weren’t thinking then about college.
Q. Sure, yea, I suppose. Do you ever make it down to St. Paul for the High School hockey tournaments, or to Mariucci for games?
A. Occasionally. I’m a full time caretaker here taking care of Carol so I may go to a Gopher game on a Friday, and we head back right after the game. So it won’t get any better.
John Mayasich and Cliff Thompson Eveleth High School
Q. Yea. Back to your time with Eveleth in high school, the Golden Bears won four straight High School championships, and I’ve read that Eveleth never even lost a single high school game in four years during your time with Eveleth High. That’s pretty astounding!
A. Well, when you look back, it’s probably more astounding. When it’s happening you don’t think much of it. It’s amazing everything actually that happened back then. You just played to win and waited for the next sport to come along. We played baseball, football, probably everything, a little tennis, track. So hockey was just, you know that time of the year.
Q. Probably everything the kids did up in Eveleth. Playing boot hockey in the streets and everything. You kind of related to my next question already but, tell us about your time as a child playing hockey in Eveleth.
A. I think I can remember maybe the street hockey more than anything. You know, we didn’t have skates. Well, we had 11 in the family, we had one pair. I can still picture em, a black pair. I think they were probably girl’s skates, kinda high with no support, but I think and I remember playing in the street. You could play in your boots or overshoes or whatever. All you needed was a stick and we used a tennis ball or a sponge ball, and you know back then there were very few cars around, especially in the winter, so we had the streets to ourselves. We'd get ten-twenty on a team and just play all day, kinda shovel goals in the snow banks, one on each side of the road. Kinda maybe 15 yards apart. And that’s where we played and it was a lot of fun.
Q. I assume that some of that street hockey is what led Eveleth to be so well known for their fabulous goal tenders, and undefeated teams.
A. Well, everything. I was talking to Dave Hendrickson who coached Virginia up here, about we were developing skills we didn’t realize. We were playing on the street, I shot left and coming down towards the other goal, I’d really have to take a backhand shot to get a shot on net. You kinda took a shot from the left, shooting left I wouldn’t have an angle on the net, so you tried to get right in the middle of the road and take a backhand where you could go either side of the goalie. We didn’t realize what we were doing. Even outdoors, we didn’t have boards on our outdoor rink. It was the caretaker at the school that flooded everything, and you know if you passed the puck or shot it would just hit the ice around in the rink and just takeoff. So we learned in a hurry, hard passes. At the goalie we didn’t have nets, hell we’d put chunks of snow or somebody’s overshoes for a goal and you’d dig the goalie out as opposed to shooting at it. But all these things that really made us what we were before we even got to high school.
Q. Eveleth is so well known for their goaltenders, too, and I have read alot about how it was the street hockey that led the goalies to hone their skills back then.
A. There was nothing, well you know, we didn’t have computers or television sets or radio. You know, late at night before you went to bed you’d listen to something. Hell I even played in the kitchen. We had a big kitchen and got a twin brother to play with. Our parents used to go to bed early. We’d roll up a pair of socks and I’d put then in a doorway and fire at em'! So we never stopped.
Q. When you were firing at your relatives in the kitchen is that where you learned the slap shot then?
A. Hell, no. No, I learned not to use black tape! We hadda scrub the floor the next day. So I had a neighbor that his wife or mother was a nurse, no this is the truth. I started using white tape then and I went right through college and all of my hockey using white, and I liked it better. It was lighter and they said the goalie could see the puck on the stick easier if it’s white, but that wasn’t a concern. And you look at the NHL now. There’s quite a few.
Q. Using white tape?
A. It’s kind of a surprising thing. But I just liked the feel of it, the puck on it. It was lighter. But that’s how stuff happens. It’s goofy.
Q. What don’t we know about John Mariucci?
A. Mariucci... Well, he wasn’t the big, tough, grawly type guy that you’d think. I’m trying to think of the word to describe him. I’m not saying sentimental, but he was temperamental maybe... But he had a real soft side to him and he’d do anything for anybody. And he took the losses particularly hard. And there was a soft touch underneath all that, you know. Again, I’m searching for the word.
Q. What was it like playing for him?
A. Boy, you just, you knew what he expected and you gave 110%, and you know, he was behind you. He loved to win and you just gave it all. I didn’t correspond that much with him. I learned defensively or the defensive part of the game. I learned a lot from him, having played under him for three years. My first year I had Doc Romness. I don’t know if you ever heard of him. Doc’s probably the best coach I ever had in that he not only told ya how to pass and drop pass and little flip passes, not only told you how to do it, he showed you how to do it. There aren’t too many even today that can do that. So I had one year and I was fortunate. That’s the one year I learned more than I did in any previous years.
Q. Under Doc?
A. Yea, under Doc. He never got the credit for what he did.
Q. I had the opportunity to sit down with Glen Sonmor as well, he had a lot of relations with Mr. Mariucci as well, and he had said to me in the interview that "John Mariucci had talked about yourself." He said, "yea, there’s this new and upcoming kid from Eveleth that’s pretty amazing." Glen stated that he "had the opportunity to see you play a few times."
A. Yea, Glen was a great guy. I think he assisted John. He was kind of an assistant coach. Probably one that I or others could maybe relate to more than Maroosh. But you know, Maroosh wasn’t that much of an offensive threat. But he knew how to put the lines together and he had a system that you followed and we were competitive. He sorta let you do your own thing.
Q. Who were some of your favorite teammates from your playing days?
A. Well, Dick Dougherty I think would have to be, you know he was on my right wing or on my line for three years. And Gene Campbell. Gene was on for three. We had a great line and they all could pass the puck and set up plays, and you know they all scored. Dick Meredith. Dick I had on in my senior year, I think Meredith and George Jette, and we couldn’t have done any better. And Yackel on defense. Some of the offensive defensemen that added to the scoring and also the defensive play. But the defensemen under Maroosh, your job was to stay back or between the puck carrier and the goal tender. Teams didn’t get any breakaways. And I think it was John's Philosophy. Puck up as soon as you can to the forwards. That was your job.
Q. You might have already related to this next question as well. But the best coach you had played for,would you say that would be Romness?
A. You know I went on to play center ice of course most of my career, but I played a lot of defense. In the ’60 Olympics I was on defense, so I put all that together and I have to say the year with Doc and the three with John.
Q. I have an old USA hockey Olympic photo and there’s you standing in goalie pads along with the team.
A. Where was that from? Oh that must have been from Sweden. I played goalie in the streets. It was a lot of fun. I probably coulda played the net. We played a lot of pingpong. And Ikey was my best friend through high school, and he’s never been given credit. He was a hell of an athlete. Everything he did he was great at. Football, even though he was a little on the small side, he was just shifty as hell, quick and just a good head. Basketball he could play. Baseball, he was a great baseball player. He probably coulda played at Michigan. Matchefts too, he was equally as talented you know, athletically. So we were lucky to have guys like that ahead of us. We learned from them, too, so when you look at coaching, I learned a lot just by watching. You know, back then we didn’t have hockey schools. Our high school coach never was on the ice; he kinda preached from the bench, and again let us do our own thing. I learned a lot just by watching players and how they skated. I was saying, that’s the way I want to skate and I kinda was happy when somebody said, "geez, you skate just like Bennie Swarthout." He was the one I kinda modeled my skating after. But playing with a guy like Matchefts, Johnny was two years ahead of me, and I was a tenth grader and having played on his line. Maybe some in the ninth grade I mighta played with him too. Johnny was special as a forechecker and play maker. So we learned from each other, I guess. When you say who was the best coaches, I learned as much from the players as the coaches. Offensive skills Doc Romness, and defensive John. And I think maybe giving John credit for really getting the most out of the team or the players. Doc was a little subdued, you know, laid back and didn’t have the temperament really or the fight fight deal, but on a scale level in teaching, I was real fortunate to have that year under Romness.
Q. Does losing in the 1954 championship still hurt or are you past that?
A. That always hurts, well, it’s more memorable, and it hurts more than some of the wins were wins.
Q. What’s it like when you first pull on your country’s jersey?
A. Well,... That was a great feeling, but there’s no feeling like, you know winning the gold medal and hearing that national anthem. I guess of all the wins, I’d have to point to that one and say, you know, it brings tears to your eyes to recall it, and the feeling of having that happen. It was so unexpected, and so it’s not only the jersey, it’s hearing the National Anthem and that environment.
Q. Representing your country, I suppose?
A. Oh, yea.
Q. In your opinion, what were some of the best hockey highlights of your career?
A. Well, it’s hard to say. Winning state championships. Well, every win is a highlight. Love to win. Special wins or special performances, I don’t know which, but I think scoring, what did I have, I think four goals, was it four goals, four assists in Michigan, so eight points. It was one of those things that just happens. When we’d get 11 goals. We lost the next night I think 3-2 or 4-3. And three goals against Canada in the ’56 Olympics was special.
Q. Yeah, that’s pretty memorable. What do you think has been the biggest change in hockey since you played?
A. Well, you have to look at everything. Sticks, equipment, you know more players, more bigger players, more depth on teams, more contact of course. Well, it’s again increase in numbers and more good players you know on teams. More balance and more strenuous with the contact, the speed.
Q. Like you said, too, there are so many hockey schools nowadays, especially in Minnesota that kids have the opportunity to go to. I have spoken to a lot of different people about this and it seems like there’s almost a lost art of outside skating, some people believe that this might hurt the game eventually.
A. Well, there’s no question that just these are the times, and I guess we have to say global warming. I know living in the Cities, you know maybe you’d have a month where you could skate outdoors. With the girls playing now and you know a lot of the oldtimers playing and kids get out of college and continue to play, there’s not as much ice time available, and you know more teams registered, and so that’s sort of a negative. I guess street hockey is out. Pond hockey if the weather cooperates, there’s nothing like it to get out there at night and skate or after school, and the kids that make that sacrifice and want to do it and enjoy it that much, they’ll have the advantage.
Q. It’s gotta be a desire and a love.
A. And your love for the game, just to enjoy it. And they have friends that enjoy it, who take the time.
Q. Kind of going off that question, if there was one thing you could change about modern-day hockey, what would it be?
A. Boy, I wouldn’t be opposed to just eliminating the red line, and that I think would open it up more, you’d have more scoring, more excitement. Again, with the larger ice surfaces, you know, would the Europeans come in and dominate with the skating ability and speed. But it’s like basketball, you know, in the same order, it’s kinda opened it up and you got more scoring and more excitement. I don’t know. I think probably different schools of thought on it. The defensemen would have to stay back a little more, maybe wouldn’t get into the play as much. Hard to say. It would eliminate a lot of the clutching, grabbing and holding, and you’d see more breakaways, I think.
Q. Yeah, do you prefer the game on an Olympic sheet or NHL modern sheet?
A. Well, I don’t think the NHL will sacrifice, you know, three-four thousand seats for Olympic-sized ice sheets. If you had Olympic-sized ice, maybe again Europeans, you know, big advantage. Maybe make it tougher on us and the Canadians with the numbers. I don’t know, it’s just a thought.
Q. What person or persons had the biggest impact on your career?
A. Boy,... Well, there’s so many. I guess it might sound goofy, but I think it was maybe myself, where I wanted to be as good as I could be, as good or better than those up ahead of me. And what did I have to do to achieve that or achieve that goal. And I think maybe you’d need that before you could point to an individual and say, you know, he made all of this happen. So I don’t know if that sounds goofy or...
Q. No, it makes sense, because of your previous statements about how you were kind of a student, and followed and took notes from your peers, and brought it back to your game. When you look back on your career, what has enriched you personally?
A. Enriched me personally? Well, I think meeting my dear wife probably, Carol is from Eveleth. We started going kinda steady in the 11th grade, so we were together through my college.
Q. Is that how you ended up at the U of M as well?
A. I tell you it was a big factor. My good buddies, Ikola and Matchefts were at Michigan so I just assumed that that’s where I’d go. They didn’t have scholarships at the U for hockey, so I just ended up getting a football scholarship. So, you know, I guess the rest is history.
Q. Yeah, definitely. Why did you decide to turn down all the NHL offers to go pro and only play.....
A. I really didn’t have, you know, they’d say Maroosh had a contract in his pocket after my last game at the U. I had two years of military. I was in ROTC, so I went in. And of course John was coaching the Olympic team that next season, so that’s probably where I would have been because of the military, so while I was in the service I was able to play, and by the time I got out of the service, we had three little ones, and you know, I guess you have to admit back then you didn’t have the opportunity, you know, that they have today, and compensation or number of teams and that type of life. I look at, you know, Stanley Hubbard or Hubbard Broadcasting giving me that opportunity to get into the business.
Q. Is that what eventually led you to Green Bay?
A. Well, it led me right out of the service. I went with Hubbard
Broadcasting and probably for about a year and then Green Bay opened up where I could get in and stay into television advertising sales and still be able to play and later coach. So, you know if it wasn’t for that I would never played in the ’60 team probably. So, and then the opportunity to come back to Hubbard in ’74, which turned out well and a great association. That probably has done more for me than what pro hockey might have done had I made it.
Q. Yeah, you had quite a time in Green Bay where you skated
for the Bobcats.
A. Yeah, it was a great experience. That was fun and you still
work. They were great guys and mostly college graduates and wanted to continue to play just weekend hockey, so to speak.
Q. Kinda like early in your career with the Rochester Mustangs I suppose.
A. Yeah, they were in there. Billy Reichert, Joe Hanson. There were some good players there.
Q. People from Minnesota, typically they associate you with the U of M, but not a lot of people realize that you are in the Wisconsin Hockey Hall of Fame, people are sort of shocked by that to hear and read this. I suppose it was your coaching and your time skating for the Bobcats.
A. Yeah and involved with the youth program and clinics. So when I think back there, you know a lot of us, Dougherty, Dick Dougherty and others from Minnesota that ended up there in the business and had done well and did a lot for the youth programs, and maybe, you know, what Wisconsin is in hockey today could be attributed to the efforts and maybe even sacrifices Minnesotans had that kept it going and got it started really.
Q. Definitely. How else have you kept involved in hockey?
A. Well, I watch a lot of it on television when it’s on. I would say TV. You know, a lot of the high school games are on the access channel, so the next day you can watch it and see it for the next few days. And seeing other teams in the area.
Q. I heard you frequent the Hippodrome quite a bit still.
A. Well, not as much as I should, or could you know. But I get down there if I can. Not that it’s a distraction, but I end up talking to people more than watching and observing. But it’s a great, still a great place. Ain’t like she used to be, you know, but we have to get the kids going again and there are less and less kids. With open enrollment, a lot of the good kids just go down to Marshall or somewhere else, so.
Q. Yeah, the Hippodrome it just gives me goosebumps walking in there, just seeing the banners and photos on the wall, to me, that’s the real Hall of Fame.
A. I was just going to say that. You look at that and say "boy, how lucky we were", again, being brought up in that environment and they’re all great people. They’re humble and played because they enjoyed it. We had a lot of great mentors, so to speak.
Q. You kind of talked about this a little bit, you’re taking care of your wife. What else are you doing today?
A. Today I curled, so I started curling about three years ago. We’ve got probably one of the best facilities. It’s eight beautiful sheets of ice. Probably one of the best in the country. They’ve got little tournaments on in fact. Let’s see, I curled at 11 this morning, no at 10, and then again at 2, and I have to curl at 8 tomorrow morning. So a lot of events, keeps ya going a little. I can get away for an hour and a half or somewhere and come home. I’m only five minutes away from the curling facility itself.
Q. I see you’re still living in Eveleth?
A. Yeah, and then in the summer I’m about, on Lake Esquagama, about 12 miles out of Eveleth.
Q. I've had the opportunity to talk to Roger Godin quite a bit, and it sounded like you had lived in St. Paul for a little bit there.
A. It was on the St. Croix River. I came back from Green Bay in ’74. So I was in Lake Elmo from or ’74 probably till maybe ’80, somewhere in the ‘80s, and then I moved out to St. Croix, maybe in ’88. So I was there and then I came back, with Carol not doing well, came back here in 2000 probably or somewhere in there.
Q. That really says a lot about yourself. I myself work in a hospital, so I know what it’s like to take care of sick patients.
A. Well, she’s got PSP. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that. It’s progressive supra nuclear palsy.
Q. I think I’ve heard of that before.
A. It’s advance stage of Parkinson’s but there’s nothing, no medication or anything.
Q. Yeah, so you’re kind of a fulltime caretaker, I suppose.
A. Yeah. Well what the hell. I still can get out a little.
Q. I heard every now and then you get down and sing some karaoke in town.
A. Yeah, we do that on Friday nights over in Gilbert at Nick's. It’s a lot of fun.
Q. Yeah, it’s great.
A. Lot of nice people. Yeah, there’s enough there to keep ya a little active.
Q. That's great. Well that’s all I had John. I really appreciate you taking some time out to talk with me. You’re just a hockey icon in the state of Minnesota. Myself, when I think of hockey, I think of Moose Goheen, Mariucci, Mayasich and the Brotens, so I really appreciate your taking the time to talk to me.
A. Keep in touch.
Q. You, too. Take care, John.
A. OK, thanks, Kyle. We’ll talk to ya later