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Roger Godin Interview

Q. This is Kyle from Vintage Minnesota Hockey sitting down today with 
Mr. Roger Godin from the Minnesota Wild, and Author of "Before the Stars" 
about the St. Paul AC Hockey team to ask a few questions today. I’d really 
like to thank you for your time to sit down and answer some questions about 
your previous and current experiences. First of all, what does it mean to be 
an official team curator? Which I’ve heard is the only one employed by a 
professional sports team in North America.

A. Oh, it’s a great honor, I guess would be the word to use. I know that’s 
an overworked cliché, but the fact that it’s so unique and that I’m fortunate 
to have it is something that is quite satisfying to me.

Q. Sure, I suppose being part of the Minnesota Wild has got to be exciting in and of itself.

A. Yeah, I never thought I’d end up working for an NHL team when I left the Hall of Fame, in 1987, I figured that was it and I’d never really have anything to do with hockey, on anything other than a spectator basis. So it’s been great to come back to Minnesota and then to have this gig.

Q. Yeah, that’s great. I know I’ve seen you sometimes on Wild game days. Your role must be to work the press pass door, letting photographers, press, etc. in.  

A. The post lock-out game day assignment for me is at the media entrance. Kind of a gatekeeper kind of thing. Myself and Scott Bole.

Q. You have now written three books about sports history in America. Have you always been a sports history buff, or do you just have a general interest in American history?

A. Well, I guess all of the above. If I had to do it again I think I would major in history. As it was a business, but I took a lot of history courses. So I was always interested in history. Generally specifically sports and within sports focusing principally on hockey, which has not been well covered from the standpoint of the United States in my view. Most of the stuff published is from an NHL and Canadian viewpoint.

Q. Very true. I had the opportunity as well to sit down with Butch Williams, and he told me stories about his father RIP Williams, and about the American NHL player in the 70's when his brother Tommy was the only American player in the NHL at one time. He gave examples of how Tommy struggled to compete being almost an outsider. Butch also eventually stepped away from the game because he ended up suing the NHL, due in part of the NHL's passing up the American players. So it’s good you’re writing about some of the early American influence, and particular Minnesota's influence to the game. I think I told you via phone that I had the opportunity to read your book, and I believe I’ve read it three times now. It is a fabulous book covering the St. Paul AC's, and a great influence as to what I am doing with my website.

A. It’s flattering for you to say that. I wish there were a few more other people that really wanted to read it, because....there is an inventory.

Q. So has the book done OK or....

A. Well, realistically, they don’t tell me this but I think it has been disappointing from their perspective. If we had, this is of course hindsight, waited until hockey resumed as opposed to releasing it in the lock-out year, perhaps we would have done somewhat better than what we did do. But you also have to realize that it’s written for covering an era that hasn’t been widely publicized and some people may draw simply a blank with them while the Wild are well into the NHL, and the High School tournament and to the Gophers and that kind of thing. This may simply not resonate with them. But things predated all the things I mentioned before, and that’s really a significant area that no one had covered before and so on. I had the satisfaction of at least having written about it, and yea, I would like a few more readers though for it.  

Q. Via my website I actively have a link to the Minnesota Historical Societies webpage about it, so hopefully you get a few more people buying the book from that aspect I guess.

A. Still out there and available.

Q. Sure. On kind of a personal note, I understand you were born in Tarrytown, New York. Where did you develop your love of hockey?

A. I left the US Hockey Hall of Fame in August of ’87 and went with the Federal government, specifically US Army museum system, and I worked for my first Army museum at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, which is somewhere near Asbury Park, if you have an idea where that is on the Jersey coast. And was at that particular museum with communications and electronics for about 20 months and then transferred to the US Army Ordinance Museum, which is at Aberdeen Proving Ground Maryland. Bellaire, Maryland is about 15 miles from there. That’s where I lived for the period of time from May of 1989 to June of ’99, that I was working for the Ordinance Museum. My home town of Tarrytown, New York, is just north of New York City about 30 minutes up the Hudson River.

Q. Did you every play hockey as a child?

A. Nothing more than the sort of boot variety and frozen-over areas up where a friend of mine from school had a house where we could wonder off into the woods. It was an area which was relatively cleared that would freeze over, but no, nothing beyond that. I never had great athletic ability. Always great interest and so right from the beginning I was focused on hockey more than others, so certainly I would put baseball on my list number two and football number three.

Q. Having written books about both of those sports as well.

A. Yeah, there will not be any basketball books coming.

Q. Don’t care for the basketball, huh?

A. No. 

Q. I think a lot of hockey fans would agree with you there.

A. I don’t quite understand why people would be even 

Q. I agree. As a youngster, which person or persons did you look up to as a role model?

A. Well that’s an interesting question. I suppose in high school it was my high school history teacher, a guy named Larry Heinz, who probably instilled in me the idea that it would be a good idea to go to college. That really wasn’t a factor when I started High School at all. You know, there was like three tracks in those days you could take – college, commercial and sort of a trade-oriented track, and I actually took the commercial one, you know, and worked for a year after high school before going to college. And I think it was the right call for me in the long run. I feel that it was probably he that put the spark there.

Q. I know it’s a personal question, but it’s interesting to see and hear everyone's comments about that question, especially some of the older players that I have interviewed. I guess, on kind of the same note, as an adult hockey historian, which hockey player or person do you, or did you look up to as a role model?

A. Well, I think it's Goheen is the one that’s captured my imagination. And it’s interesting that when I first came here in the early ‘70s, I actually met him because he was alive then. None of it really registered with me at the time, and I was here, arriving in ’71, and we took him automatically among the first 25 at the US Hockey Hall of Fame in ’73, and he lived till ’79. And I met him certainly at the initial enshrinement and I recall he turned over his skates to us, which of course are still up there. I suspect there might have been another meeting or two, but none of it really sunk in until much later about what a towering giant he was in the sport. And that was part of the motivation of writing the book, because I didn’t think it was properly, he had received his just due here in Minnesota. There’s this tendency to feel it all begins a little bit before World War II with Mariucci and Brimsek, and comes forward from that. You know, there’s quite a bit before that going back to the 1890s and he’s the towering figure there. And just the fact that he’s the second American taken into the Hall of Fame in Toronto. Even that didn’t seem to register with people. There was sometimes, subsequent to my return here in ’99, a board consisting of local well-known hockey people, and they picked teams from the state of significant players. Well mentioning him, he didn’t make either team. Now how can you leave him off? He was the second American in Toronto. Come on! There’s something wrong with you guys.

Q. Exactly. I know you had made similar comments about that in the preface of your book as well.

A. Yes I did, since Goheen didn't get his just due.

Q. This actually carries me to the next question. I remember reading that you were able to meet Mr. Goheen, and also Tony Conroy. What was this meeting like with both of them? I know you said you didn’t really remember initially what their accomplishments to Minnesota Hockey really were at the time until much later?

A. Well, obviously when we had the enshrinement, I would meet the enshrinees and we’d have some contact with them at that point. By and large, it didn’t extend beyond the enshrinement. Oh, in some cases obviously it did. I got to know Bob Dill, Sr., probably as well as anybody of the enshrinees, but certainly I met both of them and with Tony Conroy I remember him having some bit of a feisty exchange with the desk clerk at the neighboring Holiday Inn when being checked in at the time of the enshrinement that he was not pleased with something, but we got it taken care of whatever it was.

Q. Interesting. Now I will ask a few quick questions here. In your opinion, is Wayne Gretzky or Frank Goheen the better player?

A. Oh, I have to give a nod to Gretzky. I don’t think there’s much argument that he is the greatest player ever produced on a worldwide basis.

Q. St. Paul Athletic Club versus the Minnesota Wild. Who would win?

A. Oh, I think the Wild would take it. You know, the nature of the game is changed and is a lot faster now than it was then, and keep in mind, they’re playing with eight or nine players. Lines are not really established yet, ‘cause they’re playing most of the game with occasional replacements, then you start to see the lines evolving as you get into the late ‘20s into the ‘30s. And even then, on a lot of teams it’s two lines, two sets of defensemen.

Q. Yeah, it’s interesting to read some of the older rules of the game and stories, the forward passing rule, the rover position, and then the in-game-play referee behind the net and just some of the older intrinsic parts of the game are interesting to read about, like you said. This all was really brought out in your book, so it’s enlightening to read about. Derek Boogard versus John Mariucci -  whom is the victor?

A. Well, fisticuffs are not an area of the game that I think does us a whole lot of good. In terms of acceptance as a sport on a national basis, I think there is this angst within the game between the fact that this is so engrained in the culture, but also that a large part of the public, I think, just doesn’t like it. From my perspective, if we went to 200 x 100 rinks and we put the emphasis on pure skill, we’d be far better off than playing up this end of it, which I don’t think appeals to the most positive aspects of the whole athletic experience. But that’s dodging the question, isn’t it, between these two as to who would win. I don’t know, Mariucci was certainly no one to back down from anything and there was this classic battle he fought with a guy named Blackjack Stewart who was with the Redwings, and just after World War II. He was not that physically big though. Boogard is a really big guy, so I suspect Boogard would win on size. But I think Maroosh would get in some good hits.

Q. That’s a great answer. X-cel Energy Center or the Eveleth Hippodrome, which is more historic?

A. Well, I guess the Eveleth Hippodrome at the moment, but hopefully we’ll make the X-cel Energy Center equal or better, if we can bring the Stanley Cup home here sometime. Ultimately in the future, it could start so far with this season.

Q. Yes, they’re off to a great start with a 5-0 record.

A.  We started very well in the year that we did make the run to the Final Four. I think we were 8-0-1, or 8-1-1 maybe the first ten games in ’03 and ’04, something like that. So this certainly is a good indication of things to come and of course the goalies are just fantastic I mean in 5 games we have three shutouts.

Q. Yeah, they’re off to a great start. It would be nice to hang a Stanley Cup banner in the X. If the Minnesota Wild ever were to do a "throwback jersey night" and you had your choice, would the team be dressed in the St. Paul AC's, Fighting Saints, or the Minnesota North Stars jerseys?

A. If I had my soul choice, yeah, I guess I would want to do it with the St. Paul AC's, I guess I would want that to be the one, but I guess I wouldn't hold my breathe about that being it.

Q. Whom is the best amateur hockey player to ever come from Minnesota in your opinion?

A. Pure amateur, I don’t think there’s much question about it; it’s John Mayasich who comes out after World War II high school, time frame is roughly ’48 to ’51, I guess. Then he goes on to the Gophers and then represented in the United States in a number of national and Olympics as well. He’d go, say from 1945 to 1970, he’s it. And the East, it’s perhaps not part of the question, but I’ll volunteer, I think it’s Bill Cleary who has a similar kind of role coming out of Massachusetts, specifically the Boston area in the same time frame. They’re contemporaries, of course, playing together, know each other.

Q. Not part of my initial question, but what do you think is the reason Mayasich never decided to turn pro?

A. Well, I’ve often pondered that, ‘cause I perhaps not seen a clear answer to it. It may be a number game at the time. There were only 120 major league slots and as good as he was from our perspective, not being perceived at that level by those who were making the calls at the time, it would seem to be that that might play into it. Now having said that, you know, Ken Yackel had a shot in the late ‘50s, although it was fairly limited. I never thought about this until this very moment whether Yackel’s failure to hold on with the Boston Bruins might have influenced other NHL scouts, General Managers and such to say well, Yackel's out of Minnesota, he was pretty good, but not good enough for us. I don’t think Mayasich is gonna be any better. Perhaps that kind of line of reasoning too.

Q. That's almost like Goheen how he decided to forego the new NHL, and work for NSP at the time locally?

A. He did. He felt the steady paycheck from the power company was better than the limited contractual kind of arrangements that you have with professional sports, which might last for a while and then be gone.

Q. Tell me about your time working as Director at the US Hockey Hall of Fame. How did you get that position and how did it come to be, I guess?

A. I was at the time a career US Army officer, thinking that that was what I was going to do for the rest of my career. But it became apparent as I was going along that I wasn’t temperamentally suited for it. Too many things bothered me in terms of day-to-day operations. And as it worked out for me, I did complete a Military career in the reserve components which was a far better avenue for me to take. And so I was looking for something else to do getting out of the service, and geez, wouldn’t it be great to be involved with hockey in some way or other without having any ability, of course, to actually play it, (laughing). So, I was in Europe and I simply sat down and wrote a plan about how the US Hockey Hall of Fame might be run and how potentially a building could look like. Even had a rough sketch made by my future brother-in-law who was an architect and sent it off. Now obviously prior to that time, I had to become aware that this thing was under way. In both Europe and the Pacific there’s a tabloid that’s produced for the military called Stars and Stripes. I suspect there’s probably an edition produced now for Iraq and Afghanistan. A very succinct and pretty well done paper. But anyway, there was a little item in the sports section about Eveleth being officially sanctioned by what was the predecessor of the USA Hockey, something called Amateur Hockey Association of the United States (AHAUS), and so that’s how I found out about it. I was able to do a little bit of research. Course you didn’t have the Internet then where you could have really gotten a lot of information, about who was behind it, and what sort of timeline they were on. So I sent it off and got a word back, and I actually had an initial interview. I’d never been to Minnesota before, I stopped here in April, 1969, on my way to my last military assignment, which was a return trip to Viet Nam; I’d been there one other time. And so I came through here and went up to I think turned out to be Duluth where I met Kelly Campbell, a mining executive whose idea this was, and Don Clark, who was a long-time activist with hockey in Minnesota, one of the founding members of Minnesota Amateur Hockey Association. He was early president of the Hall of Fame. And so they weren’t really into doing it at the time, so I went off for the last tour which was shortened and came back, and they still weren’t ready, so I went to Ohio University which at the time had a program in sports administration which was unique. It’s not unique any more. There’s tons of institutions that have this now. It almost seems like to me it’s overkill. But it was from my perspective, a good thing to do. I went through the course, did an internship with the North Stars as a part of that, so I came to Minnesota for three months in January to March of 1970. And part of that also was with the US National team, ’71 actually. Which was that year kept together. We didn’t normally keep national teams together. Olympic teams we did, but we didn’t do it in ’71, so I got to know Murray Williamson and Hal Shrumboldt who later became the first full-time person for AHAUS, later USA Hockey and various players on that team, Lefty Curran, who I know to this day, Craig Falkman, Len Lilyholm and Timmy Sheehy and such, Dick McGlynn. And then after that, the AHAUS met in Buffalo, New York in June of ’71, and the Hall of Fame was holding their meetings in conjunction with AHAUS meetings. And so I went to that meeting and they were ready to hire somebody, and they did hire me that time. I was just coming out the graduate program. It ended in June of ’71 and I went to Eveleth in July of ’71.

Q. Wow that’s a great story how the US Hockey Hall came together. I suppose you lived in Eveleth and the surrounding communities during your time you were up there?

A. The first year we lived actually in Virginia and then bought a house in Gilbert, which was a neighboring town. I lived there for ten years, and then when I became single again, then I moved to Eveleth and the last part of my time at the Hall of Fame I lived in Eveleth.

Q. Stemming out from that question, in your opinion, what were some of the best highlights of working at the US Hockey Hall? Was it the enshrinements? The players you met? Or the history surrounding the town, and building?

A. Yeah, it was always a difficult operation.

Q. Proximity to the Twin Cities, or something else?

A. Well, that’s been thrown out there as a reason for the fact that it hasn’t attracted overwhelming numbers, but we drew a little bit more than 21,000 the first year and then it declined until we won the gold medal at Lake Placid in February of ’80 and then it came back to plus 19 for that year and then it went into a decline again. There was a period of time in the late ‘90s to early 2000s when a gentleman by the name of Pat Forcia who had worked for the North Stars and then for the University of Minnesota in promotional capacities who was involved with the whole thing but was able to secure sufficient financial resources to put it on a pretty good basis during those particular time frames. What happened was, of course, he got into some unfortunate difficulties, having nothing to do with the whole thing, so he was no longer around to do it, and then so another decline set in, and this brought about the crisis of potentially moving it away.  And that triggered, however, ultimately USA Hockey’s getting involved this past May on a far more extensive basis than they ever did before. I think it’s finally gotten solved. It’s a good 35-odd years afterwards. I would have liked to have had this solved when I was there. But it’s over and done from my own perspective pretty well, and I think that the Hall is stable now, will be in the future and it can only get better. These rhetorical questions that people ask, well, how much is better? At Grand Forks this past weekend when they had the enshrinement ceremony up there, the chairman of the board, Dave Tomassoni who was a State Senator from Chisholm indicated the objective was to reach 40,000 annual attendees. I think that might be a bit of a stretch, but it’s a good goal and certainly with it running lately somewhere between 10 and 15 can certainly be improved upon. Perhaps maybe the 25 to 30 range might be more realistic. So we’ll see how that comes out.

Q. I had an opportunity  to travel up to Eveleth twice this summer to visit it with my wife and son, and I was disappointed to say the least the last few years I wasn’t able to go. You'd call, check the website, and you would get the "we’re closed for restructuring, and that the hall is closed answer, or no answer at all." I just thought it was a travesty that a museum on such a level would be closed. But now it’s great, they have a new redesigned website now, and it’s nice to see the hall standing back on 2 feet, and hopefully they will draw the crowds the are estimating.

A. Yeah, it was down for about 18 months. Yeah, back in the 90s before Pat got involved, there was some hellacious national negative publicity. A story in Sports Illustrated what nobody could be happy about. And another newspaper story that I think ran in the Philadelphia Enquirer, which I think the reporter was just doing stories on sports halls of fame around the country. That was actually was worse than the one in Sports Illustrated.  

Q. Personally I think the Hall of Fame is in its rightful place. For example; Cooperstown is built for a reason in Cooperstown. Do you think it's best suited to have it in Eveleth still?

A. Oh, yeah, I obvious have I suppose a vested interest in continuing it, so, yeah, I started with it there but all of the historic reasons are there for it. I’m certainly not convinced that we’d do that much better elsewhere. I know people say, "well you bring it to X, Y or Z; there’s greater populations for it." But potential populations is really what you gotta say. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that it would fly. The example I cite along these lines is the College Football Hall of Fame. College football is big deal in this country and all of us certainly know that. The National Football Foundation which runs the College Football Hall of Fame started in New Brunswick, New Jersey, which it was there for historic reasons because I believe that’s the first college football game with Rutgers and I’m not sure who the opponent was. And it didn’t go there; they moved it to King’s Island, which is near Cincinnati, at the amusement park, and it didn’t go there. They moved it up to South Bend where Notre Dame is. My gosh, Notre Dame. And now, I only know this anecdotally since I’ve actually not seen it in print anywhere, but somebody just told me there are considering now moving it to Dallas. Of course, Texas is a big football state. The sport is absolutely worshipped there, so maybe it will work there. But I also point out to you that the first shot at the Texas sports hall of fame failed in Texas. And a lot of that had to deal with football. So these things are not easy operations. Certainly, baseball has been the model and been very successful, and I guess pro football after that. But college football obviously struggles. I’m not sure about basketball in Springfield. I believe it’s pretty solid though.

Q. Don Clark's contributions to Minnesota hockey. Do you think he’ll ever be awarded the Brian McFarland Award for his research and writing?

A. Probably not because it predates the award. He did receive a greater honor than that in receiving the Lester Patrick Award back in the 1970s which certainly I think was the pinnacle of recognition of his contributions. His hockey stuff is largely unpublished, and some of us of course have had access to it and have used it, but it’s not like it would be submitted for that. Do you belong by the way to the Society of International Hockey Research?

Q. Yes, I do proudly belong. If there was one thing you could change about modern-day hockey what would it be?

A. I think I probably touched on this before. I’d go to 200 x 100 rinks and take the goon element out of it entirely. Is there one thing, did you say? Can I give another?

Q. You can give another, or as many you would like.

A. This is fantasy, right? (laughing) I’d like to see our professional highest league, the National Hockey League, in North America restrict rosters to no more than 4 Europeans. Ok? And I’d like to see a professional league created in Europe in which those rosters would be restricted to no more than four North Americans. I’m a nationalist when it comes to this, and I know this may not be the popular, touchy-feely view of it, but I personally want to see the United States do as well as possible in hockey, so that, while certainly coming out the wall at least for a while, made the world situation better. I’m not so sure it’s any better with a new threat. There’s always a threat in world history, it seems. Somebody wanting to oppose their will on somebody else. But that’s the bigger picture. When the wall came down, of course, it opened the gates for far more Russians and Eastern Europeans to come, thereby inhibiting the US growth of the NHL. You know, the highest we’ve gotten is about 18%, and I think if that hadn’t happened, we would have gone beyond that. How much beyond, I don’t know. I don’t think 50% was being probably realistic. But, so, it didn’t happen. The wall came down and so the world for at least a period of time was better, and I guess that’s the bigger issue.

Q. I know he’s a very historic figure in the state, and you know, of course, in Gopher country, but John Mariucci is probably smiling at your comments somewhere. Since he was such an advocate of the American born, and Minnesota hockey player in general, so that’s a very nice statement to hear. What do think has been the biggest change in hockey since earlier times?

A. Oh, biggest change. Well, I suppose as its evolved the expansion of rosters and the development of lines, I think, is something that has brought us to where we are now from the days when the Athletic Club team was playing and you were using eight or nine players. Now we use 20 and we have reserves, of course, and skate four lines and three sets of defensemen. But I think it could be even better if we made the rink bigger.

Q. You must like going to games at Mariucci Arena then with the Olympic ice surface?

A. Yeah, whenever I can I go see the Gophers play, if it doesn’t conflict with us. Which winds up being five or six games a year. The college game is great.

Q. Lastly here, this may be on a personal level for myself, but a question and a goal for you as well. "I personally believe a placard should be placed on the outside of the State Fair Coliseum recognizing the hockey history that’s taken place in this hallowed grounds." Do you think this could be accomplished someday?

A. Well, that is a very interesting comment. You know, I’ve thought of this but not in reference to the Hippodrome. I guess I should have been the one who thought of that.  

Q. You know, the reason why I feel this way is people go in and out of there and watch horse shows at the State Fair each and every year, and high school kids play the high school sections there and don’t yet realize what hockey history has actually taken place in that very location!

A. The organization that you and I both belong to sanctioned the placement of a plaque, not there, but at the old site of the Minneapolis Arena, which is Dupont and 29th. 

Q. At Rainbow Foods, right?

A. That’s right, yeah.

Q. There is a placard there already.

A. For Ice Capades. So I saw that a long time ago and I said that, just 
to myself, that my gosh, hockey is getting the raw end here and there 
have been five championship teams that have played out of there all 
bearing the name Millers, and Sonmor was on the last one. So that’s gotta
happen. It’s gonna happen as part of the hockey day festivities on 
February 9. It may literally take place a couple days before it, because I 
don’t think I can get Glen Sonmor to be available to make a few 
comments, because he’d be with the Gophers that weekend in Denver. So
it’s gonna happen there. And, you know, they never have sanctioned one 
anywhere in Canada, interestingly enough, and the group is, well it does 
carry the name international. You know the membership is like 60% 
Canadian probably, 35% American and maybe 5% European, so I was 
happy that they went along with that. But you raise an interesting 
question, and maybe we should save that, Kyle, and that would be our 
next move, but let’s get this one done first. Logically, that probably should have come first. It’s amazing how the mind works sometimes. Why didn’t I think of that first and I thought of this one second. I wrote the book that had more to do with that, as opposed to the one at Minneapolis Arena. One of those Miller’s teams though, five of them win in various leagues. But the ’31-’32 team is all US guys, all Minnesota guys, that win that year. The earlier one is not, and subsequent ones have some on it, but ‘31-’32 plays in the Central League and they win that.

Q. There’s a lot of historic Millers players such as Ching and Ade Johnson that weren't from the US.

A. Yes, that would be the earlier team that won in ’28 I guess.

Q. That would be great to have this accomplished. I mean a lot of people would really recognize that and it would be interesting. Whatever happened to the original St. Paul Hippodrome? 

A. It was torn down after World War II and then they put up the now Coliseum. I have not heard any plans to take that down. I see it has somebody’s name on it now. Who apparently had to give something to have that happen, but I imagine it’s life is probably going to be extended a reasonable amount of time.  But, yeah, that could be our next plaque.

Q. That is it, I guess. I really again just want to reiterate: Thank you so much for again writing the book and agreeing to sit down and do this taped interview with me. I really appreciate it. You really have been an inspiration for my website, so again, I really would like to thank you for this, and for all you have done, and continue to do for Minnesota Hockey.

A. My pleasure Kyle. I appreciate being included.