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.

Photos of Duluth Central state basketball title celebration, 1961

March 1961

This month marks the 51st anniversary of the 1961 Duluth Central boys basketball team winning the state title with a 51-50 victory over Bemidji in the Twin Cities. Here are a few photos from the News Tribune archives of the celebration upon the team’s return to Duluth; click on the photos for a larger version:

For more on Central, take a look at this previous Attic post.

Share your memories by posting a comment.

Remembering Bruce Bennett

The late Bruce Bennett, a longtime Duluth News Tribune sports reporter, columnist and editor and Northland sports icon, will be honored later this week with induction into the University of Minnesota Duluth Athletic Hall of Fame.

Bennett was the subject of an Attic post back in the spring of 2008, marking the 10th anniversary of his death at age 61, just months after retiring from the News Tribune. For those who missed that missed the original post, here it is again…

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April 14, 1998

Ten years ago, the News-Tribune – and the entire Northland – lost a legend when longtime sports reporter, editor and columnist Bruce Bennett died. Bennett covered sports for the News-Tribune for nearly four decades, receiving countless awards, making countless friends and earning the admiration of many for his work. And he did it all despite being born without hands or forearms – something, as noted in an article below, he faced not as a handicap but as a challenge to be overcome.

Included below are a news story and column that ran after Bennett’s death, as well as the column Bennett wrote when he retired from the News-Tribune. It’s a lot of text, but his is a story worth reading about.

Bruce Bennett, executive sports editor of the News-Tribune, poses at his desk in December 1997 – the month he retired from the paper. (Bob King / News Tribune)

HONORED SPORTSWRITER WAS INSTITUTION, INSPIRATION

NORTHLAND LOSES LEGEND

By Kevin Kotz, News-Tribune

Bruce Bennett spent countless hours watching sporting events.

As an award-winning sportswriter and columnist for the Duluth News-Tribune for 38 years, Bennett’s name became synonymous with sports in the Northland.

On Monday evening, four months into his retirement, Bennett returned to his West Duluth home after a walk with his dog, sat down in his favorite recliner and turned on the television to a ball game.

There, in front of another sporting event, Bennett drifted off to sleep, had an apparent heart attack and died. He was 61.

“Bruce did enjoy the time he had to the fullest,” Bennett’s wife, Eunice, said Tuesday. “He never stopped having a wonderful time.”

Bennett’s contributions to sports, the newspaper and the community also never stopped.

On his walk Monday night, he distributed fliers about a Merritt Community Club meeting to be held in his home on Thursday. He had recently been elected secretary of the club.

Such contributions spanned five decades.

Bennett was named Minnesota’s sportswriter of the year in 1965, and received the honor again last year.

“Bruce was an institution to generations of Duluthians, not only for the daily physical obstacles he overcame to do his job, but for the heart and spirit he brought to every event and person he covered,” said Duluth Mayor Gary Doty in a release Tuesday. “It didn’t matter what sport it was — men’s or women’s, summer or winter, or where it happened on the map — if Bruce was there, the event got the respect it deserved.

“Whether it’s at Wade Stadium watching the Dukes, at any of half a hundred other venues around our area, or even at home reading his column, we have all lost a part of our lives.”

Bennett took a disability leave from the newspaper on Dec. 14, his last birthday. He had undergone two heart bypass operations and was bothered with shoulder problems for several years.

“When you climb out of bed in the morning, stretch, and your shoulder sounds like a bowl of Rice Krispies — you know, Snap, Crackle and Pop! — it’s no way to greet the day,” Bennett wrote in his retirement column.

Bennett was born in Marquette, Mich., without hands or forearms. He did not see his limitations as a handicap but as another challenge.

“As a kid, I thought I’d play shortstop for the Detroit Tigers some day,” Bennett said during his October induction into the Minnesota Softball Hall of Fame. “Obviously, those dreams were never realized. But because I loved sports so much, I wanted to stay close to them and a career with newspapers beckoned.”

Bennett graduated from the University of Michigan, where he was sports editor of the school paper. He joined the News-Tribune and Duluth Herald as a sportswriter in 1959 and was named sports editor of the two newspapers in December 1960.

He served as executive sports editor from 1961 to 1982 — when the two papers merged — and then he became associate sports editor, concentrating on writing columns.

“Bruce was my first boss,” said Patrick Reusse, now a sports columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “I came in a 20-year-old punk trying to learn the business. Bruce set me straight right away. He wanted things done right.

“I only worked with Bruce for four months, but I always appreciated that he gave me the opportunity — which is something Bruce reminded me of several times when we would meet again. Bruce made me proud to be in the business.”

And with every inspirational story about Bennett, there was usually one with some humor.

“In golf, he’d spot me five strokes and beat me,” said Minnesota-Duluth men’s basketball coach Dale Race. “Bruce would hit the ball straight down the fairway — and he can chip and putt.

“I’d asked him, ‘How can I chip and putt like you?’ and Bruce would say ‘Don’t bend your wrists.’”

As a retirement gift, Bennett received a specially fitted set of golf clubs.

“Bruce played golf with his new clubs last Friday and came very close to a hole in one,” Eunice Bennett said. “He was still very, very active.’

Bennett was also an accomplished curler.

“Bruce will always be remembered as one of the greatest ambassadors of curling, which was a sport he enjoyed very much himself,” said world champion curler Bud Somerville of Superior. “There is no question we have all suffered a great loss.

“Bruce was an inspiration for me and many others. If I would have an ache or pain, all I would have to do is look at Bruce and realize I had nothing to complain about.”

Bennett was honored by the St. Paul-Minneapolis Minute Men in 1989 with the Courage Award, which is given to those who have overcome hardship to contribute to society.

“I have learned to live within my limitations and learned to do a lot of things that maybe surprises some people,’ Bennett said in December. “I scaled my life to meet those limitations. There are a lot of things I can’t do, and I don’t try to do them.”

Writing was something Bennett could do well. His beat ranged from covering the Minnesota Vikings in four Super Bowls to features about Little League baseball players.

“One of my favorite stories about Bruce was told again last year at his retirement party,’ said Don Olson, a former Superior high school basketball coach and curling partner of Bennett’s. “Dan Peterson was a young pitcher and he threw a wild pitch that cost his team the game. He knew Bruce was at the game and all Dan wanted to do was go home and hide.

“Dan’s mother read him the story Bruce wrote, and there wasn’t a word about the wild pitch. All Bruce wrote was that it was one of the best games he’s ever seen.

“That’s how Bruce approached sports writing. He was never one to embarrass anyone but to tell it like it was.”

Bennett said goodbye to his readers in that Dec. 18 column:

“It has been a great run, 38 years at this stand and 40 overall as a journalist,’ he wrote. “You’ll still see me at the ballpark, the fields, the gyms and the rinks — all my old haunts — tomorrow and the next week and next year, the Good Lord willing.

“However, I won’t be toting my tape recorder and laptop computer, tools of the craft these days and which I’ve hauled around for too long.”

Even retirement couldn’t keep Bennett away from sports, or writing columns for the News-Tribune. He frequently attended UMD basketball and hockey games and wrote “when the spirit moved me,’ he said.

Bennett visited a high school boys basketball game early this year that inspired his final column:

“I took a seat in relative obscurity up in a corner of the stands and just wanted to soak it all in,” Bennett wrote in the Jan. 18 News-Tribune. “. . . Hey, it was good to be part of the crowd again.”

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Bruce Bennett interviews Duluth-Superior Dukes pitcher Wayne Rosenthal at Wade Stadium in 1993. (News-Tribune file photo)

Here is an April 15, 1998, column by longtime News-Tribune sports writer, editor and columnist Irv Mossberger in memory of Bennett:

OF ALL THE STORIES, HIS WAS REALLY SPECIAL

When veteran sportscaster Marsh Nelson died, Bruce Bennett was there to write the story.

When long-time wrestling promoter and sports booster Harvey Solon died, Bruce Bennett was there to write the story.

Somehow, it’s unfair that the man who wrote so glowingly and lovingly about the local sports scene for so long should now be dead himself. Bruce died at his home Monday night, four months after taking disability retirement.

Marsh Nelson and Harvey Solon were among the many friends Bruce made in his nearly 40 years as columnist and sports editor of the News-Tribune and its former sister paper, the evening Duluth Herald. In that time he wrote virtually countless stories about countless people and events.

On my desk are two of the tools of his trade. No, not a typewriter or computer keyboard or even a pen and notebook.

They are two curved bands of steel, encased in molded plastic which in turn are covered with black electrician’s tape. Protruding from the bands are two thin, rubber-tipped steel rods.

These were, in essence, Bruce’s hands, which he was born without. His arms ended at the elbow.

He slipped these attachments over the stubs of his arms so he could type. And he could type. He could punch out a story as fast as anyone.

Other stories, like his column about Marsh Nelson’s death, took a little longer.

When Marsh Nelson died, Bruce wrote:

“What was Marsh like? Most of you knew him. The word genuine comes to mind. A man of character, of compassion. A friendly fellow who seemingly was always smiling.”

Bruce could have been writing about himself.

Sure, he was prone to the same petty faults and foibles that inflict the rest of mankind. And he’d have a beer now and then and at one time he smoked cigars. He quit those when he developed the heart trouble that led to two bypass surgeries and which eventually cost him his life at age 61.

But he wasn’t hard-bitten, cynical, or insolent, which is how reporters are sometimes perceived. That’s probably why several hundred people showed up at his retirement party in early January at the Duluth Curling Club.

Bruce was recognized in his lifetime for his writing achievements and for overcoming his handicap — which he said was not really a handicap because he never knew what it was like to have arms.

He won all kinds of awards and was elected to the Duluth Hall of Fame, and several other halls of fame as well.

Not so well recognized are the time and effort he devoted to writing about sports that might otherwise have gotten very short shrift.

He probably holds the world record among U.S. writers for covering world curling championships. He covered six in all, in Perth, Karlstad (Sweden), Winnipeg, Regina, and two in Duluth.

He helped give women’s sports exposure locally, taking it upon his shoulders to cover basketball and softball games, volleyball matches and other women’s events when they were considered after-thoughts by most media outlets.

Bruce was no prima donna. He would go from the comparatively cushy job of covering the Minnesota Vikings one weekend to getting drenched on the sidelines covering a high school football game in Cloquet the next.

Those were other reasons so many people showed up for his retirement, as a way of saying thanks.

Come to think of it, I don’t think I ever thanked him for giving me my start in this business. He hired me, an English and history major fresh out of college with absolutely no journalism experience, 26 years ago. A little late now, but thanks, Bruce.

Even though he retired in December, he still came into the office a few times each week to pick up mail and answer phone messages.

His photo and a story on his retirement were on the front page of the paper in December and it was reported on television and radio, but he continued to get calls from those who didn’t hear the news. He still does.

I imagine the calls will continue for some time. Now, though, I don’t look forward to them nor to telling callers that Bruce has died.

On his death bed, author William Saroyan said: “I knew everyone had to die sometime, but I always thought an exception would be made in my case.” That pretty much sums up man’s feelings about mortality.

It’s the fate that awaits us all, and yet, well, it doesn’t make it any easier when it does happen. I was still getting used to the idea that Bruce was retired and wasn’t going to be at the office every day.

He came in Friday to make a few calls for a story he was doing about the Duluth-Superior Dukes, a team he covered in both the old and new versions of the Northern League. He’d covered the latest edition of the Dukes since the team’s inception in 1993.

He said he was going to Voyagers Village the next day with a couple of his golfing pals.

In December and again a few weeks ago he mentioned he didn’t have a lot of energy and tired easily. When he came in Friday he didn’t have the same old bounce in his step.

Bruce was on the phone Friday when I stepped away from my desk. When I returned he was gone, so I never got the chance to say goodbye.

When he left, he forgot his typing attachments.

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Bruce Bennett talks on the telephone while covering a Dukes game at Wade Stadium. (Howie Hanson / submitted photo / News Tribune files)

Here is the column Bennett wrote when he retired. It ran in the News-Tribune on Dec. 18, 1997:

THANKS FOR THE 38 YEARS OF MEMORIES

When you climb out of bed in the morning, stretch, and your shoulder sounds like a bowl of Rice Krispies — you know, Snap, Crackle and Pop! — it’s no way to greet the day.

I know now how sore-armed pitchers must feel when they can no longer put the mustard on their fastball. It’s getting tougher every day to pound the computer keyboard and a bottle of Ibuprofen sits close by to ease the pain.

Rotator cuff tendinitis and arthritis, even in its early stages, are no fun. If you’ve ever had a toothache — and who hasn’t? — you know the feeling. But unlike a tooth, you can’t extract a shoulder, which is to say I’m bowing out of this corner of the sports page today.

Because of these and some other health concerns, I feel I owe it to myself and my family to step aside. I am taking disability leave.

It has been a great run, 38 years at this stand and 40 overall as a journalist, counting brief stints at two other places as a cub reporter years ago. I’ve been privileged to work for and with people I’ve respected and to work each day at a job I enjoyed, rather than one I disliked.

You’ll still see me at the ballpark, the fields, the gyms and the rinks — all my old haunts — tomorrow and the next week and next year, the Good Lord willing.

However, I won’t be toting my tape recorder and laptop computer, tools of the craft these days and which I’ve hauled around for too long. They’ve long since replaced the portable typewriters and copy paper we used to carry.

I’ve seen the newspaper industry turn 180 degrees over the years. From hot-metal type to cold type, from paste-pots to computers, from those noisy old teletype printers to the quiet hum of the Internet.

One regret I’m afraid is a degree of the trust we’ve built, as professionals, with the people we cover and the readers we serve has eroded over the years and some look upon us today as “vultures.’ Sadly, the feeling is sometimes deserved.

Happily, from my perspective, I’ve been lucky to make a lot of friends — and I suppose some enemies — along the way. It goes with the territory.

I came in at a time when the Minneapolis Lakers were on their last legs and I leave as the Minnesota Twins are apparently on theirs. The North Stars came and went and I watched the demise of Gopher football.

I’ve seen hockey flourish in the Northland and remember the state boys basketball tournament when it was “The Show.’ And I’ve watched girls and women’s sports explode.

From afar I’ve admired the Packers from Lombardi to Holmgren and up close suffered with Bud Grant through four Super Bowls and seen the Vikings lose their “edge,’ going from outdoors — where football belongs — to indoors under the ‘Dome. And prickly management has infiltrated the Vikings “family.’

Six Silver Brooms, a World Series, the Rose Bowl and all those trips to Kansas City with Dale Race and Minnesota-Duluth basketball teams for NAIA tournaments. And covering countless other games in the Twin Ports, the Iron Range and South Shore.

The return of the Dukes to what my late pal Marsh Nelson would always call “beautiful Wade Stadium.’

Golf at St. Andrews, Cajun food on Bourbon Street, sipping margaritas in Mexico City with Mesabi Community College football coach Pepper Lysaker, frolicking on Waikiki with the Bulldogs softball team, and so many more good times.

It has been fun. Thanks, folks, for the memories.

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Former Minnesota Vikings coach Bud Grant speaks to Duluth Arena Sports Hall of Fame inductee Bruce Bennett and a crowd of more than 200 that honored the sportswriter in November 1986. (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)

And here is one more item – a column Bennett wrote for the March 17, 1996, News-Tribune that I stumbled across … and found really enjoyable:

CROMWELL SHOULD HAVE PLENTY OF FUN

These Cromwell kids are really something! The Minnesota nine-man champs in football get a shot at a rare double this week when they play in the Class A basketball tournament.

The Cardinals have the perfect blend of an inside-outside game with their Mutt and Jeff combo, 6-foot-11 James Purcell and 5-8 Ryan Olesiak, a mighty mite if there ever was one. Purcell looks like a young Kevin McHale, though surely not as developed athletically as McHale was when he took Hibbing to the state tournament 20 years ago.

Purcell will be a great recruit for a small-college basketball program, even if he redshirted a year to develop physically. Or maybe play at a junior college. He has that same nice, soft touch on his shots. And he can run. And with his size, he’d be worth any college coach’s gamble.

Christmas for Cromwell came in January, at semester break, when Purcell returned to the tiny town along Minnesota Highway 210, 45 miles west of Duluth. Coach Erik Uselman couldn’t have hit a bigger jackpot at the casino!

Purcell had attended school in Cromwell since eighth grade. Last summer he moved to Bloomington with his mother and went to Bloomington Jefferson last fall. It didn’t work out, so at the break he moved back to Cromwell. He lives with his grandparents and is back among his chums and classmates.

What coach wouldn’t cherish a 6-11 shot in the arm at midseason? But Purcell’s not a one-man gang. Cromwell was good before he came back. And much better ever since.

Olesiak is simply a splendid athlete. I’ve seen him play football, too, and while he’s a great outside shooter on the basketball court, he’s better on the gridiron, a real tough customer. He is made for Minnesota-Duluth’s running game.

Dean Nyberg is a cool customer no matter what the game. Great football quarterback, fine all-around player on the basketball floor. The Jack Armstrong type, if you go back that far. Ditto Brian Granholm, who can simply run all day and hasn’t found a sport he can’t play.

Cory Aho is the fifth starter and, in the Section 7A final Thursday against Esko, Steve Dahl subbed occasionally for him. Both can play and handle their roles. The other four Cardinals went the full 32 minutes.

Cromwell will be the most fun-to-watch team to hit the Twin Cities since Richie Olson brought Edgerton to Williams Arena in 1960. The Cardinals will be a big crowd favorite at the St. Paul Civic Center this week.

Edgerton’s bench wasn’t any deeper than Cromwell’s, and the team managed to stay out of foul trouble enough to win the fans’ hearts. Not to mention winning the tournament.

Not to put any extra pressure on the Cardinals. They don’t have to win a thing. They already have. This is a special team, a special blend, a special class. Cromwell — and don’t forget nearby Wright (the school is actually Cromwell-Wright) — can be “justly proud,’ as the old Williams Arena public address announcer Julie Perlt would say.

My advice to the Cardinals:

Go to St. Paul and have some fun. If you win some games along the way, all the better, but for sure: enjoy!

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Share your memories of Bruce Bennett 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.

Met Stadium memories

Earlier this week we brought you photos and stories from the opening of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in 1982. While we were digging up those photos, we came across a bunch of photos of its predecessor, Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington. Here are a few:

 Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles, September 14, 1980 – a 42-7 loss – at Metropolitan Stadium. (News-Tribune file photo)

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A soccer match at Metropolitan Stadium, circa late 1970s. It illustrated a 1980 season preview for the Minnesota Kicks, but the caption does not make clear if the photo is in fact of the Kicks from a prior season. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

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Fans tailgate outside Metropolitan Stadium prior to a game (possibly Twins) on June 7, 1979. (Duluth Herald file photo)

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A vendor pours a couple of Olympia beers – price $1 each – during a game (possibly Twins) at Metropolitan Stadium on June 7, 1979. (Duluth Herald file photo)

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Thousands of fans head onto the field at Metropolitan Stadium after the stadium’s last game – a 10-6 Vikings loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on December 20, 1981. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

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Fans tear off pieces of the Metropolitan Stadium scoreboard after the last game ever played at the facility – a Minnesota Vikings loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on December 20, 1981. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)

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Fans tear off pieces of the Metropolitan Stadium scoreboard after the last game ever played at the facility – a Minnesota Vikings loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on December 20, 1981. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)

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The "Old Met" sits empty on April 4, 1982 – as the Twins prepare for their first Opening Day in the new Metrodome. (Jack Rendulich / News-Tribune)

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Met Stadium lingered on, abandoned, for a few years before it was torn down in 1985. The site of the stadium is now occupied by the Mall of America. For more on the history of Metropolitan Stadium, click here.

Share your memories of Met Stadium by posting a comment.

- Andrew Krueger

Duluth’s Don Ness: player before mayor

As the Minnesota high school basketball season concludes, 2010 also marked the end of Duluth Central and its basketball team with the upcoming closing of the school.

Duluth Central basketball player Don Ness (front) had a quiet moment on the bus next to the state tournament plaque the team received on their trip back to Duluth from St. Paul on March 29, 1992. In the back reading a newspaper was Erik Reinertsen and playing cards were Dave Berntson and Todd Hanson. Clara Wu / Duluth News Tribune

Looking back at Duluth Central basketball, one player on the 1992 Trojan team that went to the state tournament was Don Ness, who later would become mayor of Duluth. Here’s a brief look at that March in 1992, where the Trojans finished with a third-place finish.

Duluth Central’s Don Ness makes a basket against Moorhead in the third-place game at the state tournament at the St. Paul Civic Center. Clara Wu / Duluth News Tribune

Duluth Central players celebrate after a win at the 1992 state boys basketball tournament in St. Paul. Players are (from left) Don Ness, Elisha Sickler, Erik Reinertsen and Bill Irving. Clara Wu / Duluth News Tribune

Dave Nevanen, copy editor

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

Kevin McHale

Hibbing native Kevin McHale played basketball at all levels, including the University of Minnesota and in the NBA with the Boston Celtics during the 1980s and early 1990s. He later became a front office member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, including a stint as coach. Here are some notable encounters for McHale.

Dave Nevanen/copy editor

Bob Zbasnik tries to guard Kevin McHale. 1978 / Duluth News Tribune

Bill Walton (left) makes a point to Kevin McHale when the Celtics were playing in the NBA Championship in 1986. Associated Press

Kevin McHale collars Kurt Rambis of the Lakers during the 1984 NBA playoffs. Ironically, Rambis replaced McHale as coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2009. Associated Press

Detroit Pistons’ Dennis Rodman (center) reels backward after Kevin McHale (left) of the Celtics hit him in the neck in 1991. Looking on is Larry Bird. Associated Press

Kevin McHale (right) made a cameo appearance on the NBC comedy "Cheers" in 1990. Bartender Sam Malone (Ted Danson, left) tried to convince McHale of the Celtics to play for Cheers in a basketball game against a rival tavern. Photo by NBC

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.

 

Vikings and Super Bowls

 

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton sits on his helmet during the final minutes of the Super Bowl in 1977, a 32-14 loss to the Oakland Raiders in Pasadena, Calif. Associated Press

The Minnesota Vikings came painfully close to making it to their fifth Super Bowl, but many fans are still hurting after the overtime loss to New Orleans on Jan. 24, 2010. The Vikings are 0-4 in Super Bowls and sometimes digging through the attic, you find a treasure. I discovered a photo involving what I have heard as the "Whiskey Bottle Curse", where referee Armen Terzian was hit by a whiskey bottle by Vikings fans during a 1975 NFC playoff loss  against the Dallas Cowboys at Metropolitan Stadium. Some say the curse is why the Vikings have failed to win in big playoff games.

There are other photos that connect the Vikings to the Super Bowl or playoffs from the past. I hope they don’t stir up too many bad memories.

Dave Nevanen, copy editor

Chuck Foreman (44) of the Minnesota Vikings pleads with fans as official Armen Terzian lays on the field after being struck by a whiskey bottle thrown from the stands during a 1975 playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minn. Charles Curtis / News Tribune

Carl Eller (81) of the Vikings chasing quarterback Archie Manning of the New Orleans Saints during a game in 1976. Super Bowl connection: Archie Manning’s son Peyton Manning is the quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts, who are playing the New Orleans Saints in the Super Bowl. And we all know who the Saints beat in this year’s NFC Championship. News Tribune


Quarterback Fran Tarkenton (10) of the Vikings in a 1976 playoff game against Washington at Met Stadium. News Tribune

Minnesota coach Bud Grant runs from the field after the Vikings lost to the Miami Dolphins in the 1974 Super Bowl in Houston. Associated Press