10 years ago tonight: Zamboni explodes, Peterson Arena burns

Tonight – Dec. 19, 2014 – marks the 10th anniversary of the night a Zamboni exploded and sparked a fire that destroyed Peterson Arena in West Duluth. Thanks to Perfect Duluth Day for the reminder of the anniversary.

Here’s a look back at some stories and photos from the News Tribune files, starting with this story and photos that ran the next day – Dec. 20, 2004:

Duluth firefighters run hoses to battle a fire at Peterson Arena after a Zamboni exploded on Dec. 19, 2004. (Justin Hayworth / News Tribune)

BLAST, FIRE GUT ARENA

By Christa Lawler, News Tribune

A Zamboni exploded Sunday night inside Peterson Arena in West Duluth, starting a fire at the ice rink at Wheeler Fields.

About 30 people — two broomball teams and a handful of fans — were inside the building at the time of the explosion. One player was taken to the hospital. The extent of his injuries was not known.

A small blast at 9:40 p.m. was followed by a larger explosion, which knocked the doors off the boards surrounding the ice surface onto the ice.

Spectator Cade Ledingham, who was in the arena and witnessed the explosion, estimated that four players were thrown from the ice by the blast.

The building was quickly evacuated and the players watched the fire from a small warming house about 30 yards away. Both teams confirmed that all of their players and fans were accounted for, but all of their belongings — including street clothes, keys and even shoes — were inside the burning building.

The Duluth Police Department blocked off busy Grand Avenue as fire crews struggled to battle the fire. The temperature hovered near zero at the time of the explosion.

Duluth firefighters battle a fire at Peterson Arena after a Zamboni exploded on Dec. 19, 2004. (Justin Hayworth / News Tribune)

By 10:15 p.m., the fire had engulfed the north side of the building, at 3501 Grand Ave. Police cleared out the warming house when it looked like the fire might reach nearby power lines. Power was cut to the area at 10:25 p.m. A Duluth Transit Authority bus was brought in to pick up the players.

Joe Buckley, the Zamboni driver, said he was sweeping up when the blast occurred. He thought propane tanks had caused the explosion.

A Zamboni is a vehicle used to resurface ice.

Player Ryan Ringsred, who was bandaged, had picked small pieces of Plexiglas from the back of his neck. He was on the ice when the explosion occurred.

“I was facing the boards when they blew up,” Ringsred said. “I was on the ice and the Zamboni blew up behind me. I was flat on the ice.”

Even his helmet was dented.

“It’s brand new,” he said. “It did its job, I guess.”

There were about seven minutes left in the broomball game between the Rapid Fire and Budweiser teams when the blast occurred.

“These are two teams that battle every year for the league championship,” said player Dave Reyelts, who was in the penalty box at the time. “It puts things in perspective. When it happened, guys from both teams were grabbing each other. Even in rivalry, the guys were looking out for each other.”

Brandon Kolquist, another player, also had small cuts on the back of his neck.

“I just got blown over the boards with the explosion,” he said. “It was crazy. Everybody was trying to hit one door at the same time.”

Here’s a follow-up story and photos that ran Dec. 21, 2004:

Duluth firefighters inspect the interior of Peterson Arena on Dec. 20, 2004, after a major fire the night before. (Bob King / News Tribune)

YOUTH HOCKEY LOSES RINK; DAMAGE MAY BE $850,000

By Mark Stodghill and Scott Thistle, News Tribune 

The loss of one of its two indoor hockey arenas is a major blow to the Duluth Amateur Hockey Association.

“We’re down a facility, and this is the prime time of the season,” DAHA Executive Director Clarke Coole said. “This is going to impact our program enormously.”

Coole met with Duluth city officials Monday to discuss the explosion and fire that destroyed Peterson Arena on Sunday night in the midst of a broomball game.

DAHA serves more than 800 youth hockey players, and tournaments were scheduled every weekend in the building through January, February and two weeks in March, Coole said.

The building’s loss also creates a hardship for Duluth high school boys and girls hockey teams, who practiced at Peterson, Coole said.

“Right now, we’re looking for a short-term fix to salvage this year,” Coole said. “We’re going to need a lot of city officials’ support for the kids.”

Coole’s organization will try to get ice time from the University of Minnesota Duluth and the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. Other area youth programs have already offered to help.

“There’s been tons of support from area associations — Cloquet, Proctor, Hermantown, Superior and Mars Lakeview Arena,” Coole said. “They’re asking if there’s anything they can do to help out with bits and pieces (of ice time). The support has been awesome.”

The Duluth Central-Denfeld girls high school hockey team had four practices scheduled at Peterson that must be rescheduled, coach Shawna Davidson said. She’ll talk with DECC officials to see if there are any times available. The team normally practices at the DECC, but had several Wednesdays scheduled at the West Duluth arena because the DECC ice wasn’t available until after 9 p.m.

Kevin Smalley, the Denfeld boys hockey coach, has rescheduled his team’s Peterson practice dates to before school at the DECC, Davidson said.

Exterior view of Peterson Arena in West Duluth on Monday morning, Dec. 20. 2004, after the fire. Broomball players and friends of players (right) leave after looking through the equipment bags for anything salvageable. There was little worth keeping. (Bob King / News Tribune)

INSURANCE QUESTIONS

On Monday night, the Duluth City Council wasted no time in weighing in on the loss. City Attorney Bryan Brown told councilors he was still investigating whether the arena is insured. Although two buildings at the Wheeler Fields athletic complex are insured, the policy is somewhat unclear as to exactly which two, he said.

“We have reported the loss to the insurance company,” Brown said. “I am hoping that the reply is that there is no problem with coverage.”

City Administrative Assistant Mark Winson said that, if necessary, the city could shift some money from next year’s capital improvement budget to help rebuild the arena.

Because of the fire, Councilor Neill Atkins said he would like the city to take another look at what facilities the city insures.

Construction workers with Advanced Restoration and Construction begin work after their lunch break on a protective roof that will cover the fire damage at Peterson Arena on dec. 21, 2004. The protective roof is for insurance purposes. (Amanda Odeski / News Tribune)

DAMAGE $850,000

City fire officials said Monday the blast was probably the result of leaking propane from a Zamboni ice-resurfacing machine. Damage was estimated at $850,000 by city officials, according to a release issued by Mayor Herb Bergson.

Propane used to fuel the Zamboni built up in the resurfacing machine’s storage room. It was eventually ignited by the flame of a gas-fired water heater and exploded, Duluth Fire Chief John Strongitharm said.

Broomball players and fans, who escaped serious injury, said the initial blast blew the doors to the storage room across the rink, injuring some players. Others were injured by shards of Plexiglas, blasted into their skin. But most of the players were at the opposite end of the rink from the explosion, Strongitharm said.

“I would think it is very fortunate that the explosion happened when the people were away from that door, and they all had the sense to drop their broomball sticks and get out,” Strongitharm said. He said calm, quick thinking by players and fans probably saved lives.
After the initial blast, there were at least two other explosions, which Strongitharm believes may have been caused by empty propane tanks stored in the arena.

Another view of the interior of the Peterson Arena on Monday morning, Dec. 20, 2004 after the devastation of Sunday night’s fire caused by a Zamboni explosion. (Bob King / News Tribune)        

DON’T JUST BLOW UP

Propane is the fuel generally used by resurfacing machines, although some are operated by electric batteries and others use natural gas, said Walt Bruley, who has operated resurfacing machines for more than 30 years.

Bruley, a district representative for the Minnesota Ice Arenas Managers’ Association, said all DAHA resurfacing crews regularly attend safety training.

“They’re one of our star groups when it comes to that,” Bruley said.

It would be highly unlikely that the Zamboni would actually have exploded by itself, he said. The machines are built with safety valves to contain potential propane leaks, he said.

“These things don’t just blow up,” said Bruley, who was on his way to drive a Zamboni at the DECC on Monday afternoon. “There were many things in that room that probably could have blown up besides the machine.”

Propane is generally considered a safer fuel than gasoline because it doesn’t ignite as easily and it has an additive that gives it a distinct smell, making leaks easily detectable. Propane, which is heavier than air, generally sinks to floor or ground level, where it can easily be vented, Bruley said.

“If there was a leak, it would have been something that could have been smelled,” Bruley said. “This is a very, very rare occasion.”

He said Sunday’s explosion was truly a freak incident. “In my 30 years, I’ve never heard of another situation like this,” he said.

Lynn Skafte (left) and Steph Truscott, good friends of the adult broomball team whose equipment was smoke and water-damaged by the Peterson Arena fire, pick through the equipment bags hoping to find some salvageable items on Dec. 20, 2004. (Bob King / News Tribune)

NO FIREFIGHTERS HURT

Firefighters weren’t injured by subsequent explosions, Strongitharm said. A second blast occurred just after a frozen fire hydrant prompted firefighters to seek an alternative water source, Strongitharm said.

“It’s hard to say what impact the frozen hydrant had,” Strongitharm said. “It was freezing cold and it was fully involved when we got there. They did run out of water . . . but right after they ran out of water, the explosion took place.”

Extreme cold and a slope made containing the blaze difficult. “There were a number of falls because we were fighting on a hill, but no major injuries,” Strongitharm said.

The speed at which the fire spread and the heat were remarkable, he said. “It was a surprise,” Strongitharm said.

The fire was so intense that the building’s steel framework bent in places, which may make it unsalvageable. The arena had just been outfitted with new rink boards, which were destroyed in the inferno.

“It doesn’t look good for the building,” Strongitharm said.

The arena’s days may have been numbered anyway. It was proposed to be leveled with other neighboring structures, including a closed gas station and the athletic complex tennis courts, to make way for a proposed $55 million sports complex and community center.

The city project hinges on funding from the $1.5 billion estate of McDonald’s restaurants founder Ray Kroc and his wife, Joan Kroc. They left the money to the Salvation Army to build sports and community complexes nationwide. Salvation Army is expected to announce by spring which communities will get the money.

Staff writers Chuck Frederick, Chad Thomas and Nikki Overfelt contributed to this report.

Peterson Arena was razed and not rebuilt. After a number of years, western Duluth finally got another ice rink when the Duluth Heritage Sports Center opened.

Here’s one more view of Peterson Arena from before the fire, during a horseshoe tournament on July 7, 2001:

Donald Stangland (left) and Tom Warneke, class G horseshoe pitchers participating in the 38th annual Duluth Open Horseshoe Tournament, split hairs determining points during their match Saturday afternoon, July 7, 2001, at Peterson Arena. Stangland beat Warneke, 29-22. (Rick Scibelli / News-Tribune)

Share your memories of Peterson Arena by posting a comment.

Hockey mystery photo

Marti Wise of Maryland sent us this great old photo of a hockey team from Duluth’s West End, seeking information about the team and the players (click on the picture for a larger view):

The first uniformed player on the left in the back row is Edward Olson, Marti’s husband’s grandfather. The second uniformed player from the right in the back row is Reuben Olson, Edward’s older brother. Marti said the photo probably dates to the 1920s, and no later than 1931.

The question now is, does anyone recognize anyone else in the photo? Can you provide any other details about the venue (Curling Club? Amphitheater?) or what game they may have won to earn that trophy?

Post a comment if you have more information, or send me an e-mail at akrueger(@)duluthnews.com.

And if you have any interesting old photos from Duluth, Superior or the surrounding area – whether you’re looking for information or not – send them my way; I’d be happy to share them with the community on this blog.

Duluth Arena photos, Part 3

Here’s the third and final installment of Duluth / DECC Arena photos from the News Tribune archives. This one covers the years from about 1975 to the present. Click on the photos for a larger view and for caption information:

Today’s News Tribune print edition includes a 16-page special section all about the new Amsoil Arena, which debuts tonight with a UMD men’s hockey game.

The section also includes a timeline of DECC Arena history, but we couldn’t fit the entire timeline in the allotted space. So, here is the extended version…

Duluth Arena timeline

1961

Efforts begin in earnest to build an arena-auditorium complex in Duluth. The city was lacking in venues for large concerts and sports events, especially after the collapse of the Amphitheater in 1939; among the few facilities were the Armory, the Duluth Curling Club and the Denfeld auditorium.

Among the early proponents was businessman Jeno Paulucci, who at the time headed the Northeast Minnesota Organization for Economic Education. In September 1961, that group launched a campaign to build a convention, cultural, entertainment and sports center in Duluth.

In December 1961, Duluth Mayor E. Clifford Mork kicked off a drive to build the complex and appointed an arena-auditorium advisory committee.

January 1963

The $6.1 million project receives a $3 million federal grant. In February 1963, Duluth voters approved a $3.1 million bond issue to build and a tax levy to operate the complex.

The harborfront location was selected by the committee over other candidates, including Leif Erikson Park; the area between the Depot and the Civic Center; and land west of the College of St. Scholastica. To prepare the site, previously home to a scrapyard, sand was dredged from the harbor and used to fill and level the land.

December 19, 1963

On a frigid day, ground is broken for the Duluth Arena-Auditorium. Work continues for 2 ½ years.

August 1966

The Arena-Auditorium opens with a celebration more than a week long in conjunction with Portorama festivities. The theme of the opening is “Hello World.”

On Friday night, Aug. 5, there is a ribbon-cutting ceremony and gala celebration in the Arena, with guests including comedian Buddy Hackett, Lorne Greene, star of TV’s “Bonanza,” and Vice President Hubert Humphrey. “All of know too well that the news has not always been good in Duluth and the Head of the Lakes region,” Humphrey told the crowd. “But there is a new day — of good news and hope and confidence. And it is well worth some celebration.”

The opening celebration also includes a performance by Metropolitan Opera baritone Robert Merrill to open the Auditorium; a packed Arena concert by the Beach Boys and fireworks displays.

“Not for many decades, perhaps never in Duluth’s history, has there been such genuine widespread enthusiasm over a civic achievement shared by so many people,” the News Tribune said in an editorial. “There are hardly enough superlatives to describe the mood one can sense all over town. … The Arena-Auditorium not only extends a ‘Hello World’ greeting, but it signifies even more poignantly that this region has done something daring and magnificent to make itself a part of the broader world that pulsates around us.”

Late August 1966

The Ice Capades hold their first show at the Arena, starting a years-long tradition of rehearsing in Duluth for several weeks and opening their tours at the Arena.

Nov. 19, 1966

First UMD men’s hockey game at the Arena, an 8-1 win over Minnesota in front of a capacity crowd. Keith “Huffer” Christiansen has six assists in the game, still a UMD record.

December 1966

The Harlem Globetrotters play at the Arena for the first time. The removable Arena basketball court hosts many games over the years until being sold to St. James School in West Duluth for use in their gym.

Sept. 15, 1967

Jack Benny headlines the Arena’s first anniversary party, joined by singers Bobby Vinton and Mary Lou Collins, former “Tonight Show” bandleader Skitch Henderson and the Rudenko Brothers, a juggling act.

Benny, then very much an A-list Hollywood star, said organizers told him performing in Duluth could open doors. “(They) said I probably could get two days in Hibbing, and a full week in Twig,” he quipped, joining a long line of comedians to poke fun at that Northland locale. “All my life, there have been three cities in the world I wanted to see — London, Paris and Twig.”

Late 1960s

The Arena hosts the NCAA men’s hockey finals, an appearance by Bob Hope and the Republican state convention in 1968, and its first appearance by Lawrence Welk in 1969; Welk would return several more times over the next decade, always drawing a good crowd.

Early 1970s

Notable concerts at the Arena include Johnny Cash, Three Dog Night, Sonny & Cher and Deep Purple.

Oct. 16, 1976

Thousands flock to the Arena to see Elvis Presley perform in Duluth for the first time.

The News Tribune’s Jim Heffernan provided this account: “Women screamed, flashbulbs — thousands of them — popped, fans tried to climb on stage and were repelled by police, and Elvis sang. The more he sang, the more they loved him. They loved him most when he began passing perspiration-soaked silk scarves from around his neck to the few adoring fans who made it to the edge of the stage. He performed for exactly one hour, then he was gone. … As the audience filed from its seats, a voice on the public address system said ‘Elvis has left the Arena.’”

Elvis returned for a second, packed concert at the Arena on April 29, 1977. Less than four months later, he was dead.

Late 1970s

Other big concerts at the Arena include Kiss, the Doobie Brothers, Styx with Eddie Money and Cheap Trick.

Early 1980s

The Arena hosts the NCAA men’s hockey finals in 1981. Other notable events include the Loverboy concert (crowd of more than 8,000) and the Airstream convention, which brought thousands of the silver travel trailers to the DECC.

Feb. 17, 1984

The UMD men’s hockey team wins its first WCHA championship with a 4-2 win over Wisconsin at the Arena.

The next day’s News Tribune included this account from reporter Kevin Pates: “There was great tension as the final minutes ticked down, but that tension was then released. As the clock showed 0:00, UMD’s 20 players spilled onto the ice and mobbed goalie Rick Kosti near the goal and then toppled on to one another. An air raid-type siren blared and the song “Celebration” cascaded over the Arena sound system. … (Bulldog coach Mike) Sertich joined his team carrying a maroon-and-gold sign bearing the inscription No. 1. He was quickly hoisted on the shoulders of his players and given a victory skate around the rink.”

UMD advanced to the national title game that season, falling to Bowling Green 5-4 in four overtimes. The Bulldogs also reached the NCAA tournament in 1983 and 1985.

April 1984

The Arena hosts curlers and curling fans from around the world for the Silver Broom world curling championships. It’s the second time the event is held in Duluth; the first time was in 1976.

April 22, 1984

Heavy metal rocker Ozzy Osbourne plays an Arena show on Easter Sunday, to the consternation of some in the community. There are few protesters on the day of the concert. “Osbourne made his appearance to a crescendo of Wagnerian orchestral music,” the News Tribune’s Bob Ashenmacher reported. “Pyrotechnics ignited, a dark scrim dropped, and there he was in a cape. He was flanked by two statues of bats with lit eyes and five-foot wingspans, over which poured fog vapor.”

July 22, 1984

Huey Lewis and the News draw 8,176 concert-goers, one of the largest — if not the largest — concert crowds ever at the Arena. “The sound mix was excellent throughout the hall. The lights were splashy and punctual,” the News Tribune reported the next day. “(Lewis) is athletic on stage, grabbing his floor-stand microphone at full run and leaping, with splits, off platforms.”

Mid-1980s to mid-1990s

Big concerts at the Arena include shows by Bryan Adams, Loverboy, David Lee Roth, Poison, Motley Crue, Metallica and Def Leppard. The Minnesota North Stars, Minnesota Timberwolves and Milwaukee Bucks play exhibition games at the Arena.

March 15, 1998

After trailing Minnesota 4-0 in the third period of a WCHA playoff game, the UMD men score four times to force overtime, then score in the extra session to win 5-4 and advance to the WCHA Final Five — one of the most memorable comebacks and games in Bulldog hockey history.

Oct. 22, 1998

Bob Dylan performs in Duluth, his birthplace, for the first time to a sellout crowd of nearly 8,000 in the Arena. “Backed by a four-man band, Dylan appeared restrained and even a little nervous at first, but he soon relaxed with inspired guitar gesturing and reflexive boot-scooting,” the News Tribune reported the next day. “It was an unusually animated Dylan. He bobbed, shook and smiled with the audience. In the end he took a deep bow to the crowd. … While Dylan said little to the crowd and nothing at all about returning to the Northland, nobody seemed to care.”

Early 2000s

The UMD women’s hockey team achieves success from the start, winning the first NCAA Division I title in 2001, repeating in 2002 and making it a three-peat at the Arena in 2003, with a double-overtime win over Harvard.

The News Tribune’s Christa Lawler reported on the epic 2003 final: “Perhaps the greatest game in the history of women’s college hockey came on the Bulldogs’ home ice at the DECC in front of 5,167 fans — the largest attendance in three years of the NCAA-sanctioned event. The game hung tied at 3-3 through one 20-minute overtime period. The ice was resurfaced and (Nora) Tallus fired the game-winner at 4:19 of the second overtime to bring an end to the longest game in the history of the women’s Frozen Four.”

In 2004, the UMD men make a run back to the Frozen Four.

July 13, 2004

President George W. Bush speaks at the Arena to a crowd of about 8,000 while campaigning for re-election. “Bush spoke on national and international issues and offered little local color, except during a slip-up when he referred to being welcome in Duluth, northern Wisconsin and the ‘Iron Ridge,’ instead of the Iron Range,” the News Tribune reported.

Bush also spoke to a capacity crown at the Arena on Nov. 1, 2000, just days before the election in which the then-governor of Texas defeated Vice President Al Gore.

Mid- to late 2000s

Some highlights of more recent years include concerts by Nickelback and Rob Zombie and Alice Cooper (who also played the Arena back in 1975); the UMD women’s hockey team’s continued success, including a national title won in Duluth in 2008; several strong seasons by the UMD men’s hockey team; and the 2010 DFL state convention.

December 2010

The UMD men’s and women’s hockey teams close out their time in the DECC Arena; banners are lowered and all-DECC teams are recognized, among other special events.

Other events held at the Arena over the years include high school graduations, circus performances, wrestling matches, rodeos and countless other spectacles. And with the DECC Arena set to continue as a performance venue, the opening of Amsoil Arena is not so much the end of the line, but the turning of a new chapter in the venerable venue’s story.

————

Share your Arena stories and memories by posting a comment.

Duluth Arena photos, Part 2

Here is the second of three galleries of Duluth Arena photos from the News Tribune archives. This batch goes from late 1966 through 1975. Click on each image for a larger version and to read the caption information:

The final gallery of photos will be posted Thursday, along with an extended version of a Duluth Arena timeline that appears in the DNT’s special section about the new Amsoil Arena. That 16-page special section will be included with Thursday’s paper.

Arena-Auditorium opening program, 1966

It’s grand opening week for Duluth’s Amsoil Arena.

While the News Tribune is going to have lots of coverage of the new arena (look for an awesome 16-page special section included with Thursday’s paper), the News Tribune Attic is going to spend this week looking back at the history of the DECC Arena, opened as the part of the Duluth Arena-Auditorium complex in the summer of 1966.

Our first item is courtesy of News Tribune artist Ted Heinonen, who just in the past couple weeks unearthed a mint-condition program from the 1966 grand opening celebration of the Arena-Auditorium. Apparently it had been hiding in a file cabinet at the DNT for the past 44 years; the colors are pristine.

The program includes the full schedule of events for the long grand opening celebration, including all the celebrities who came to town. I’ve scanned in the program in its entirety; all 18 pages are included in the gallery below. Click on each page to see the full image:

Much more about the DECC Arena to come this week. Share your DECC Arena memories by posting a comment.

Dominant Broncos: State hockey tourney

International Falls hockey coach Larry Ross and the Broncos during a game in the mid-1960s against Duluth Cathedral in Duluth. News Tribune photo by Charles Curtis

There have obviously been many good teams to play in the Minnesota high school boys hockey tournament, but there were none as dominating as the International Falls Broncos during the 1960s.

The Broncos have won seven state championships overall, with four of those coming in the 1960s. The Falls put up some impressive numbers in accomplishing that feat.

–The Falls had a 59-game winning streak from 1962 to 66.

–The Broncos won three consecutive state titles (64-65-66), and were an overtime loss away from five straight. The Falls beat Roseau for the 1962 title, then lost 4-3 in overtime to St. Paul Johnson in the 1963 title game. The Broncos came back to win the next three state titles, including undefeated seasons (26-0) in 1965 and 1966 under the guidance of coach Larry Ross, who was with the Broncos from 1954-85.

Falls hockey coach Larry Ross, who had a record of 566-169-21 in 31 seasons (1954-85), including six Minnesota state titles. News Tribune photo

One other interesting note about those teams. Before Bronco Arena was built in 1968, the Broncos played their "home games" at Memorial Arena in neighboring Fort Frances, Ontario.

Many argue the undefeated 1965 Falls team with players like Tim Sheehy and Pete Fichuk was among the best in Minnesota boys hockey history. I tend to agree, but I may be a little biased being from the Falls. Agree or disagree, I’d like to hear who you think was the best prep hockey team in Minnesota history.

–Dave Nevanen, copy editor

Winter Olympic memories

In the excitement following the gold medal win over Finland, Robert Verchota, father of U.S. Olympic hockey player Phil Verchota, grabbed a shotgun and fired three triumphant blasts from the front porch of the Verchota home in Duluth on Feb. 25, 1980. Charles Curtis / News Tribune

As the 2010 Winter Olympics begin in Vancouver, we remembered that Duluth News Tribune sports writer covered the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002. Here’s his column from the opening ceremonies along with some people mentioned.

John Harrington waits out a penalty during a Team USA exhibition game in Duluth in October, 1983. News Tribune

By Kevin Pates/News Tribune Staff Writer

The guy in front of me looked a lot like Mark Johnson, but it was hard to tell. The 55,000 people crammed into Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium on Friday night were all wearing white. It was part of the Opening Ceremony group performance. Everyone got a white cape, colored placards, a flashlight and a flute.

So I kept looking at this guy who reminded me of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey player. He turned around once to say something to another guy. “Hey Bah,’ he said. Bah? Like John “Bah’ Harrington, another 1980 Olympian from Virginia? Hey, it was Bah. And there was goalie Jim Craig in front of me. And Mike Eruzione over here. And Eric Strobel over there.

And wasn’t that Duluthian Phil Verchota?

You don’t have to hit me over the head with a hockey stick. The rumors were right. The Olympic torch would reach the cauldron with the help of the most-remembered Olympic team in U.S. history.

They were all right there on stadium bleacher seats waiting their turn. Well, 18 of the 20. Evelethian Mark Pavelich is back on his land near Lutsen, and Mike Ramsey is working as an assistant coach with the Minnesota Wild.

But everyone else was there, and these Olympians were still willing to talk about Lake Placid even 22 years after the fact.

“The 1980 Olympics has been a wonderful part of my life. It’s what sports is all about,’ said Verchota, a Willmar, Minn., banker who sat in the cool night air with his wife, Julie. “Getting a chance to get together with our team the last two weeks has been absolutely exciting.’

Verchota, 45, was also captain of the 1984 U.S. Olympic team and played that year, again, with Harrington.

Harrington brought his son, Chris, to a 1980 Olympic reunion in Los Angeles a week ago, and had his two daughters, Leah, a St. Benedict College freshman, and Patty, a high school junior, with him Friday. They loved the patriotic, USA atmosphere that featured the Dixie Chicks, Yo-Yo Ma, President Bush and the World Trade Center flag.

Craig, 44, hadn’t been to another Olympics until Friday, but he’s never stopped being reminded about 1980.

“There isn’t a month that goes by, probably not even a week, that someone wants to talk about Lake Placid. And I never get tired of talking about it,’ said Craig, who lives in North Easton, Mass., and is a motivational speaker and an account manager for an advertising publisher.

So here are these guys, and their families, dressed in white and loving the spectacle on a Utah night of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir doing the wave.

And I’m talking to Verchota, catching up on his parents, Bob and Phyllis, who still live in Duluth, and he says, “Hey, I’ve got to go.’ The 1980 team vanishes, and minutes later the Olympic torch reaches the stadium.

It’s handed off in a U.S. Olympic relay from Dorothy Hamill and Dick Button, to Peggy Fleming and Scott Hamilton, to Bill Johnson and Phil Mahre, to Dan Jansen and Bonnie Blair, to Jim Shea Sr. and Jim Shea Jr., to Picabo Street and Cammi Granato.

Then, at the base of a spiral staircase, Eruzione appeared in a replica of his 1980 jersey, followed by the rest of the hockey team, like Buzzy Schneider of Babbitt and Bill Baker of Grand Rapids. During a group lighting, the “USA!’ chants felt real again.

The best-kept secret of the opening ceremonies wasn’t such a secret after all.

I could’ve told you that, once I figured it all out.

 

Outdoor youth hockey

Outdoor youth hockey

Squirt hockey teams competing at the Lower Chester rink  in 1988. Bob King/News Tribune

Outdoor hockey hasn’t changed much, except maybe it had more people playing outside because of the lack of indoor arenas. I grew up playing youth hockey on outdoor rinks. One time we played with temperatures below zero and the goalies were allowed to play in Sorel boots and when your playing shift ended on the ice, instead of crawling over the boards to sit in a snow bank, you skated to the warming house to warm up. Ahh, the good old days.

Skaters enjoying the new hockey rinks at the Woodland Community Club in Duluth in 1985. Joey McLeister / News Tribune

Two new outdoor rinks were built 26 years ago at the Woodland Community Club in 1984, so here’s a sample of those youth hockey days at various Duluth neighborhoods during the 1980s.

If anyone has any interesting outdoor hockey experiences, feel free to share them.

–Dave N.

Bob Piertz (left) and Scott Haugen round a cone during a skating drill for the Lester Park squirt C team in 1986. Dave Ballard / News Tribune

Bjorn Gangeness smooths out the ice at Congdon Park in 1990. Clara Wu/News Tribune

Todd Kuusisto is carried to his face-off against Keefe Ebmer by referee Roger Hellgren during a tournament game between Merritt and Piedmont in 1984. Joey McLeister/News Tribune

Kevin Walsh (left) and Ben Hubert enjoy a moment of glory for the Piedmont Heights Squirt Ds in 1985. John Rott/News Tribune

Duluth Arena-Auditorium construction, 1963-66

1964

Duluth Arena

Project foreman Buz Beechler (left) and William Colt work on construction of the Duluth Arena-Auditorium. (1964 file / News Tribune)

This week’s groundbreaking of the $57 million DECC expansion may elicit memories of construction of the then-Duluth Arena-Auditorium in the 1960s. Groundbreaking of the Duluth Arena-Auditorium took place on Dec. 20, 1963, and construction neared completion in July 1966 for the August 4-14 grand opening. Construction of Pioneer Hall, an addition to the arena, began in 1975.

Now the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, the DECC has been home to a number of events from Minnesota Duluth men’s and women’s hockey to rock concerts and trade shows for 43 years.

The expected opening date of the new arena is Dec. 31, 2010.

Dec. 20, 1963

Groundbreaking

The groundbreaking ceremony in 1963 (File / News Tribune)

May 21, 1965

pour

Workers pour cement during construction of the Duluth Arena-Auditorium. (1965 file / News Tribune)

Waiting for UMD hockey tickets, 1985

January 11, 1985

Hockey season is over for Minnesota Duluth fans, so it’s time to sit back, relax and wait for the next game — like these Bulldog hockey fans are doing in this photo from Jan. 11, 1985, during the season after UMD lost in the national title game. The fans are (from left) Anne Kelly, former All-American UMD golfer Tom Waitrovich and Joe Jay Jackson — also known as the Maroon Loon mascot — and they’re set up to spend the night in the Duluth Arena-Auditorium concourse waiting to buy tickets for the following weekend’s UMD-Minnesota hockey series. The tickets went on sale the next morning. Jackson got into games free as the Maroon Loon, but he needed to get tickets for his parents, he told News-Tribune photographer Joey McLeister. (*note… apparently the photo caption info was wrong; the Maroon Loon was Jay Jackson)

What were they snacking on? Let’s take a closer look:

Mister Salty pretzels (with the little pretzel-man I remember on the boxes), and…

…Red Owl popcorn!

For a view of the Maroon Loon in costume – though it probably was not Jackson, but instead a later Loon – look at this News Tribune Attic post from earlier this year.