He might have been an NHL star, growing up in Minnesota as he did. But he lived in Minneapolis, not the Iron Range or International Falls, where the stars came from. They had a few more weeks of outdoor ice each winter near the Canadian border. Then too, the kids that grew up to be hockey stars were on skates in pre-school, peewee leagues in elementary school and junior leagues as they entered junior high.
He never had those early experiences, with a father suffering from the cancer that took his life shortly after the son’s seventh birthday. The next few years were not spent in athletic pursuits. Not until he and his mother returned to Minnesota when he was 13, after two years in Arizona after she lost the house to foreclosure, did he begin skating.
Each winter the parks department put up boards and the fire department’s hoses filled the enclosure with water that soon formed an icy rink. He stayed out on the ice for hours, in 20-degree weather, warmed by exertion. Not a great skater, he preferred staying in the goal. The parks didn’t supply goalie gear for the pickup games he played. He asked that fellow players not raise the puck above the knees since he had neither chest protection nor a mask. He did have a first-basemen’s baseball glove and a goalie stick.
He made do with regular shin guards that were usually enough against the younger players. There came a time when one did raise the puck high, hitting the frame of the glasses that covered his face. The impact took a chip from the frame, but didn’t hit the lens, fortunately for his sight in that eye.