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US Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 1978

Peter Bessone
Donald "Don" Clark
Hubert "Hub" Nelson

1978 United States Hockey Hall of Fame Enshrinee

An all around athlete at West Springfield, Massachusetts High School in football, baseball and hockey, Peter Bessone went on to a fascinating career in the ice sport at both the international and professional levels.

After high school graduation, Bessone played for the West Side Rangers in Springfield before being lured to Europe in 1931.  It was in Paris, playing for Stade, France, that the Massachusetts skater became the “Babe Ruth” of hockey in Paris.  Henri Cochet, the great French tennis player, said of him, “Bessone is an excellent hockey player and is very popular throughout France.  He is the biggest drawing card in French hockey.” In February, 1934, he was a late replacement on the Untied States National Team which finished second to Canada in the World Tournament at Milan, Italy.  In the semi-final game against Germany, he scored two goals to pace the 3-0 American win.  United States Hockey Hall of Fame (USHHF) enshrinee Walter Brown managed his team.

Bessone returned to the United States in the mid-thirties and played with the amateur Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets, where he was a teammate of USHHF enshrinee Frank Brimsek, before turning professional with the Iron City’s professional Hornets. He toiled for nine seasons with the Hornets and Cleveland Barons in the American Hockey League (AHL) where he earned the reputation as a defenseman who took no quarter from anyone.  As proof of that fact, he gained over 100 penalty minutes in three different seasons. The Springfield bred player was a member of the 1944-45 Calder Cup winning Cleveland club, along with USHHF enshrinee Earl Bartholome.  In addition, he reached the AHL finals with Pittsburgh in 1939-40 and with Cleveland in 1943-44 and 1945-46.

“Pete was always where the action was,” commented Bartholome.  “He always made fans stand up when he started down the ice with the puck”.

Following his professional career, Bessone returned to international hockey coaching teams in France, Switzerland, and Italy.

1978 United States Hockey Hall of Fame Enshrinee

Will Roger’s quote “I never met a man I didn’t like” is a bit hard for many to accept.  And yet, it applies so very much to Don Clark.  No one in hockey has ever met anyone who didn’t like him.  Throughout his life, he tirelessly traveled the length and breadth of his beloved Minnesota preaching the gospel of amateur hockey.  In doing so, he has won countless converts to the game and made a host of friends.

During his boyhood days in Faribault, Minnesota, he exhibited an early aptitude for sports, competing in high school football, hockey and baseball. Later, he played amateur baseball in the Southern Minnesota League and amateur hockey in the Twin Cities area.  It was in 1947 that he, along with fellow enshrinees Bob Ridder and Everett “Buck” Riley, founded the Minnesota Amateur Hockey Association (MAHA), and proceeded to build it into the most successful organization of its kind in the United States. Among his accomplishments with MAHA, were founding the first Bantam level state tournament in the nation, serving as President from 1954-57 and Secretary-Treasurer from 1949-55 and 1958-74.

An interest in the National aspects of the game also developed in Clark, and in 1958, he was named as the manager of the first U.S. National Team to ever play in the Soviet Union.  For nearly three decades he served in many capacities, including vice president of the Amateur Hockey Association of the United States.  His areas of particular interest were in junior and youth hockey.  Clark was honored by the National Hockey League in 1975, when he received the Lester Patrick Award for service to hockey in the United States.

Considering the time, interest, and travel that Clark devoted to hockey, it is not surprising that he was one of the foremost American hockey historians. As such, much of what is in the United States Hockey Hall of Fame, which he later served as President, came from his impressive collection and knowledge of the records, players, participants, and incidents of the game.  It can truthfully be said: “We shall not see another like him.”

If John Mariucci is considered to be the “Godfather of Minnesota Hockey”, then Don Clark would then have to be the “Grandfather.”

1978 United States Hockey Hall of Fame Enshrinee

The figures simply overwhelm you. Goals against averages of 1.70, 1.80, 2.00, 1.90, etc., etc., etc., posted over a period of twelve years are simply awe inspiring.  Here was a man who could stop just about anything shot at him.  He was of Swedish extraction and came from Minneapolis to become one of the great American goaltenders.

Hubert “Hub” Nelson was Minneapolis born and bred and first donned the pads at age twelve in Park Board play.  After that, it was on to high school where the future Hall of Famer was to play on two championship teams and be named to the All City Team on two occasions.  Turning professional with the Minneapolis Millers of the Central League in 1930, Nelson went on to play twelve brilliant seasons in both the Central League and American Hockey Association.  Over that period of time, he recorded a lifetime regular season average of 1.87 while blanking the opposition in nearly 25% of all games played.  In 1938-39, with the St. Louis Flyers, Nelson “zeroed” opposing teams an amazing eighteen times in forty-eight regular season games. The prior year, he had done almost as well with fifteen shutouts in the same number of games.  Needless to say, such heroics gained Nelson All Star honors on eight different occasions.  During World War II, he served with Hall of Famers John Mariucci, Eddie Olson, and Frank Brimsek on the famed Coast Guard Cutters team.

With such a brilliant career, the question is asked: “Why didn’t he play in the NHL?” The answer: Both the New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks made repeated attempts to buy Nelson while he was with St. Louis, but the management there chose to keep him rather than give him his opportunity in the majors.  One can understand this reluctance when reading this excerpt from a St. Louis newspaper: “Nelson, the goalie, has not an equal in the league in the last ten years. He enjoyed his greatest season and perhaps was more responsible than any other member of the team for keeping the Flyers ahead of the procession from the start of the campaign.” 

“Hub” retired after his Coast Guard career and devoted his time to business interests in Minneapolis.