Feb. 23, 2016

Irish Hockey and Edina: Photo Gallery

By Lisa Mushett

Driving around Edina, Minnesota, located 10 miles south of Minneapolis, you do not have to go far before you see one and then another, and another. It’s a car window cling which boasts the following six words: “Edina Hockey: Tradition…Pass It On!” The entire community knows exactly what it means. Irish senior captain Steven Fogarty knows what it means. So do Irish junior Ben Ostlie, sophomores Connor Hurley and Bo Brauer and freshman Dylan Malmquist. As did the other 16 players in the Irish annals from the self-proclaimed “City of Hockey,” who made the eight-hour trip southeast on Interstate 90 (if you avoid Chicago traffic), trading in their green and white for the blue and gold.

Those six powerful words stand for many things including “working hard,” “doing the right thing,” “representing your school and community at every moment,” “being a good person,” “preparing for the future” and most importantly, “giving back to those after you.” These are the same principles that are the foundation for Our Lady’s University.

When Fogarty takes to the Charles “Lefty” Smith Rink at the Compton Family Ice Arena for his final regular season games this weekend, he will hold his head high knowing he has done his part in carrying on the tradition. He is ready to “pass it on” to his teammates and youngsters in Edina who have never even thought about the University of Notre Dame — but will — if Fogarty and his Hornets’ alumni have a say in it.

Close to two dozen Notre Dame hockey players cut their teeth on the ice at Edina’s Braemar Ice Arena, including five current Fighting Irish players.

The City of Hockey
In 1949, not a single hockey rink or organized team existed in Edina. The next year, two outdoor rinks opened, and in 1951, the Park Board formed the first youth team.

Today, Edina is one of the most storied and recognized community-based hockey programs, not only in the “State of Hockey,” but nationally, after winning 12 high school championships and 65 youth, national and international titles. It is estimated that over 50,000 boys and girls have participated in the Edina Youth Hockey program and another 3,300 have played high school hockey. Many have gone on to play college hockey at schools across the United States and are prominently featured above the front doors of the Taj Mahal of youth hockey facilities — Edina’s Braemar Ice Arena. Thirteen players have played in the National Hockey League (including three Irish alums — Bill Nyrop, Ryan Thang and Anders Lee) and two represented the United States in the Olympics. There is even a waiting list to coach youth hockey in the city.

The program is so revered the Edina Historical Society dedicated the “City of Hockey” exhibit at the Edina History Museum last December (it runs through September). As you enter the front doors, hanging immediately on the wall is a sign that reads:

“In a city rooted deep in the values of TRADITION, our COMMUNITY continuously gathers to support the PASSION and LEADERSHIP of a sport which has developed six decades of YOUTH into the successful men and women of today. No matter how you fit into Edina’s story, hockey is a part of us all.”

Steve Curry (second from left) and Bill Nyrop (second from right) honed their skills in Edina before becoming two of the greatest defensemen in Notre Dame hockey history.

The Beginning …
Edina and Notre Dame’s paths first crossed on the ice when Tom Ryan (’66) played club hockey for head coach Charles “Lefty” Smith, who was originally from South St. Paul, only 20 minutes away from Edina, and a legend in Minnesota hockey circles. At the time, the Irish program was transitioning from club to varsity status and Smith was looking for some big time players to bridge the gap. One of the first calls he made was to Edina stars Bill Nyrop and Steve Curry, who had just led the Hornets to their first-ever Minnesota state championship in 1969, and the championship game the following season.

Nyrop and Curry had been a defensive pair since their bantam days in Edina, and as Curry said, the two “had passing conversations about how cool it would be to play college hockey together.” Smith called Nyrop first as he was one of the top three recruits in Minnesota his senior year, but also came from a highly-educated family as his father, Donald, was the United States Administrator of Civil Aeronautics (now the Federal Aviation Administration) and Chairman of the U.S. Civil Aeronautics Board (now National Transportation Safety Board) under President Harry S. Truman in the early 1950s. Living in Washington, D.C., Donald then moved his family to Edina after becoming President, CEO and Chairman of the Board for Northwest Airlines.

Smith then asked Nyrop what Curry was doing after high school. A pretty good player in his own right, Curry was entertaining offers from hockey powers like Dartmouth, Minnesota and North Dakota. Finally, Smith asked if the pair would like to play together for the Irish. That sealed the deal for the twosome.

“Notre Dame was a late option for us,” Curry said. “Bill could have played anywhere. He was that good, but once Lefty called, we both knew that Notre Dame would be a unique opportunity. We would get to play together, and even better, we would play as freshmen.”

Admittedly, Nyrop and Curry initially made a “hockey decision” when choosing the Irish, but both learned quickly that Notre Dame had so much more to offer.

“We knew we would get a great education,” Curry, who is now the President and CEO of Knutson Construction Services Midwest and lives in Minnetonka, Minnesota, a mere stretch pass in distance from Edina, said. “But it also taught us discipline, and ultimately, how to be successful. We had to go to class, do our homework and practice hard. It reminded us that once you do the fundamentals, you will get the job done right and be successful. It was the same way playing youth hockey in Edina.”

Nyrop, who was also a standout quarterback at Edina, decided to try out for the Irish football team after his sophomore season, and as legend goes, was as high as No. 3 on the depth chart after spring practice before getting hurt and turning his attention back to hockey. After being drafted by the National Hockey League’s Montreal Canadiens with the 66th overall pick in 1972, Nyrop played one more year with the Irish earning All-America honors. He made his NHL debut in 1976 and won three Stanley Cups in three years (’76-’78) with the Canadiens.

Bill Nyrop (back row, far right) and Steve Curry (front row, second from left) anchored the blue line at Notre Dame from 1970-74, helping the Fighting Irish to a runner-up finish in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association during the 1972-73 season.

Then, much to everyone’s surprise, he abruptly ended his NHL career to attend law school at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. He practiced law for years in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, before coming out of retirement in 1982 to play one season with the NHL’s Minnesota North Stars and then briefly for Kolner Heie of the German League before retiring for good in 1983. After that, he coached the Knoxville, Tennessee, franchise in the American Hockey League before moving to Florida to become owner and head coach of the Sunshine Hockey League’s West Palm Beach Blaze. In September of 1995, he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of colon cancer and died three months later at the age of 43.

“Bill was a great player,” Curry said. “He was also the hardest working guy I know. He made me, and all who played with him, better players by his work ethic and sheer dedication to hockey. He also knew you can only play so long until it becomes more like a job. He knew he wanted to do things other than hockey, and it worked to his advantage because he could relax and just play. Having a degree from Notre Dame also helped him achieve that.”

The Interim …
After Curry and Nyrop graduated, a few players from Edina donned the Blue and Gold including winger Kevin Nugent Sr. (`78), who played with Wayne Gretzky during his first pro season as part of the World Hockey Association’s Indianapolis Racers, John Deasy (’83) and John DeVoe (’83) – both of whom played when Notre Dame relegated the program back to club status.

In 1985, the Irish returned to varsity status, and two years later, they replaced Coach Smith with Minneapolis native Ric Schafer, who was a teammate of Curry and Nyrop at Notre Dame. Schafer soon tapped into his Minnesota roots, bringing Edina players Robert Herber (’89), Tim Kuehl (’90), Rob Copeland (’92), Steve Soderling (`92) and Scott Vickman (’92) into the program.

The Breakthrough …
In 1990, Schafer hired Edina native Tom Carroll as his top assistant. Carroll brought center Neal Johnson (`97) to South Bend, but the program had stalled. Schafer was replaced by former NHL great and Irish alum Dave Poulin, who in turn kept Carroll as an assistant coach. It was soon after that Carroll convinced Edina High School superstar Dan Carlson to follow him back to the Golden Dome. Carlson had just led the Hornets to another state championship in 1997, and was a Minnesota “Mr. Hockey” Finalist after finishing his career with an Edina school-record 191 points.

“I remember Coach Carroll bringing me to campus,” Carlson recalls. “It was a football weekend. Everyone was so welcoming and really wanted me to be a part of the program. They stressed that I had the opportunity to be a part of something special in leading the program back to prominence. They also talked about the importance of academic excellence, the history and tradition of the school and how I could carry on that tradition. It was the same values and principles Edina hockey was built on. It was the perfect fit.”

Indeed it was a good fit for Carlson, as he and another Edina native, Sam Cornelius, helped get the Irish program headed in the right direction. As a sophomore, Carlson was selected to the United States team at the World Junior Championships and finished his Irish career with 132 points. With all this new-found success, people around the country, and in Edina, were starting to think of Notre Dame as a “hockey” school.

“Tom Carroll and Dan Carlson really opened the door for Notre Dame within the Edina hockey community,” long-time Irish associate coach and recruiting coordinator Andy Slaggert said. “People started to notice that both programs have similar values both on and off the ice. The importance of academics, the expectations of winning and sustained excellence, being part of a tradition and legacy, family values … those are critical to our program, just like they are in Edina.”

Click Here To Read Part II of This Feature – Irish Hockey and Edina: The Tradition Continues

— ND —

Lisa Mushett spent six years in the sports information office (now known as athletics communications) at the University of Notre Dame from 1998-2004, working with the Fighting Irish football, women’s swimming & diving and rowing programs. She now serves as director of marketing and communications for United States Tennis Association (USTA) Northern, a regional branch of the USTA covering Minnesota, North and South Dakota and northwestern Wisconsin.