A Worthy Honor
With Mikko Koivu’s No. 9 set to be raised, Judd Zulgad recalls the last NHLers number to be retired in Minnesota
The Wild will retire Mikko Koivu’s No. 9 before their game against the Nashville Predators on Sunday, marking the first jersey retirement for a player in the 22 seasons the franchise has been in existence. It’s the second number taken out of circulation — the first being the No. 1, which was raised to the rafters before the Wild’s first-ever home game to honor a fan base that had lost its previous NHL team to Dallas.
That franchise, the North Stars, retired two numbers in the 26 seasons they were based in Minnesota. The first was Bill Masterton’s No. 19. The number was issued only once again (briefly to Chuck Arnason in 1978, according to Hockey Reference) after Masterton suffered what proved to be a fatal head injury during the North Stars’ first season in 1967-68. The official jersey retirement didn’t happen until 19 years later.
The other player had to wait 15-plus years before being honored. That’s quite a difference from Koivu, whose last game with the Wild was played in August 2020 in the NHL’s play-in tournament in the Edmonton bubble. Koivu was a solid defensive center during his 15 seasons with the Wild but he was never considered flashy.
That wasn’t the case with right winger Bill Goldsworthy, whose No. 8 was put in the Met Center rafters on Feb. 15, 1992, after seven other players had worn it. That makes Goldsworthy the last player for a Minnesota NHL team to be considered worthy of one of the ultimate honors in sports.
“I remember how emotional he got,” when he found out they were going to retire his number, said Bill’s son, Sean, who is now the coach of the Minnetonka boys’ High School hockey team. “From that old era of tough love and being stoic. I’d very seldom seen him in tears, but I do remember that when told me, ‘There’s nothing that can make me more proud to be a part of this than to feel I was that important to the franchise.”
Indeed, he was.
Goldsworthy was the first star player in North Stars’ history, both because of his ability to score goals and how he celebrated them. Goldsworthy had only six goals over three seasons in 33 games with the Boston Bruins before he was taken by the expansion North Stars as the NHL went from six to 12 teams in 1967. He had 14 goals in each of his first two seasons in Minnesota, but then took off in his third year. He had 36 goals in 75 games in 1969-70 and followed that with goal totals of 34, 31,27 48, 37 and 24.
Goldsworthy combined his goal-scoring ability with a celebration in which he would raise his left leg and pump his right arm. “I don’t know when it started exactly,” said Lou Nanne, who was a teammate of Goldsworthy’s for nine-plus seasons in Minnesota. “He really started doing it in the second year. Then people began talking about it.”
The “Goldy Shuffle” was unique because signature hockey celebrations were not the norm in the late 1960s. If the Met Center crowd was at first confused about the shuffle, they soon began to expect it. “He was a really charismatic hockey player, Nanne said. “He’s the kind of player that you liked to have on your team because you knew he was going to sell tickets for you.”
Tom Reid, who also played with Goldsworthy on the North Stars, remembers him for his ability to score goals and also for his quick temper. The stats support both things. Goldsworthy had 267 goals in 670 games with the North Stars and accumulated 711 penalty minutes, including 110, in 1968-69. Goldsworthy still ranks sixth in all-time goals in the Minnesota/Dallas franchise record book.
“He had an eye for the back of the net,” said Reid, now the Wild radio analyst. “Bill had a terrific wrist shot and a quick release. But he was one of those guys who could snap in a hurry if something were to happen.”
“One game Bill came off the ice,” Nanne recalled, “I was right there. There was a half minute to go in the period and (coach Wren) Blair was going through his usual antics of yelling at Goldy. Goldy didn’t break stride, coming toward the bench, and going full speed he drilled Wren with a right. He dropped him with his glove on. We all piled on (to break it up). We go up in the locker room after the period and Wren says to Bill, ‘Come in my office and we’ll finish this.’ As as soon Bill entered, Wren said, ‘Sit down.’ He knew Goldy would have killed him.”
Because this was hockey in the late 1960s, Goldsworthy was not only not suspended for punching his coach and general manager, but he ended up starting the next period after initially thinking Blair had benched him. “Wren had told Goldy to sit on the bench,” to begin the period, “so Goldy didn’t come out on the ice,” Nanne said. “The referee said, “Wren, get somebody out here.’ Goldy came out and the crowd started cheering.”
Goldsworthy, who added 18 goals and 37 points in 40 playoff games with the North Stars, was traded to the New York Rangers in November 1976 after appearing in 16 games that season. He played two seasons in New York before finishing his career in the World Hockey Association with Indianapolis and then Edmonton in 1978-79.
Goldsworthy would later work for the North Stars before joining the San Jose Sharks as a scout. He also had some minor league coaching jobs. But Goldsworthy’s proudest moment in hockey likely came the night his jersey was retired.
“That whole weekend I remember watching him emotionally manage things and breaking down multiple times behind the scenes,” said Sean Goldsworthy, who was in his 20s at the time. “He needed moments to digest the intensity of the emotions. Getting the franchise from expansion and into legitimacy. Getting out of the Original Six (with Boston) and getting respect in the league. Those years were critical for Minnesota and the NHL. … To see those players re-engage in their relationships and brotherhood (was special).”
Sadly, Goldsworthy passed away in 1996 at the age of 51 after battling AIDS. Goldsworthy, who had battled alcoholism at different points in his life, discussed the situation with the St. Paul Pioneer Press in 1995. “There was a period of three to five years after my divorce when I was really into the bottle and I wasn’t careful about my sexual relationships,” he told the paper. “And there were a few times when I was a scout for San Jose, after I started to drink again, that I wasn’t as careful about sex as I should have been.”
Goldsworthy’s friends and the hockey community rallied around him. Reid recalled a fundraiser for Goldsworthy that was held in the Twin Cities and included “everybody who was anybody in hockey in this area.”
Goldsworthy wasn’t the last former North Stars great to have his jersey retired. Neal Broten’s No. 7 was retired by the Dallas Stars in February 1998 and Mike Modano’s No. 9 in March 2014. Modano, of course, only played a few seasons in Minnesota before becoming a dominant player in Dallas.
In a classy gesture the Stars franchise paid for members of the Goldsworthy and Masterton families to be in Dallas for Modano’s jersey retirement. It was there that Sean had a meaningful conversation with Broten, who had grown up in Roseau, Minn., watching Bill play for the North Stars.
“Neal told me how much he thought of my dad and I reciprocated that to Neal,” Sean said. “I told him that, ‘My dad taught me the game of hockey by watching you.’ To watch Neal emotionally accept that gratitude was really cool.”
As for what playing with the North Stars meant to Bill Goldsworthy, Sean has no trouble recalling his father’s words.
“I remember him saying, ‘There’s nothing more special than playing in Minnesota,'” Sean said. “It was so dear to his heart and nothing meant more to him professionally than to have his jersey retired by the Minnesota North Stars. Thinking back to J.P. Parise, Tom Reid and Lou Nanne, who became surrogate fathers to me when my dad passed. They had a brotherhood that was unmatched, even in today’s game. They raised their families together and played together for a decade. To be recognized by the franchise he put his heart into and loved, he finally felt at peace.”