Lou Nanne Interivew
Lou Nanne Minnesota North Stars
Q. Lou, you truly are Minnesota hockey. Your unique accomplishments make you a serious contender for the NHL Hall of Fame. Your career highlights include: 1963 WCHA all star team MVP, NCAA All American 1963, Lester Patrick Award Winner in 1989, International Ice Hockey, and USA Hockey Hall of Fame inductee. That’s quite a resume of your career, that’s for sure. I guess, first off, tell me about your time as a child playing hockey in Ontario.
A. Well, like every kid, I guess, growing up in Ontario, we didn’t have much. We didn’t even have television till I was 13 in our city, so we all passed our time playing sports and obviously hockey was our favorite. We had long seasons because of the winters and we were able to play outdoors every day. Once September came along, it be right through till April, so all of us participated in hockey and played it and it was just a fun thing to do.
Q. Get on your skates, play some shinny hockey at the park?
A. Always, yea, we played every day. Either on the streets or at the park. So we were either on skates or playing road hockey.
Q. It’s almost kind of a lost art with kids, you know, some of these communities aren’t even flooding ice anymore at the parks. Did you ever dream when you were a young boy in Ontario that you would one day play in the NHL and have a life-long career in Minnesota?
A. No, not all. As a matter of fact, growing up all me and my friends wanted to do was make the Senior team which was the Soo Greyhounds, and I guess that’s as far as we dared to dream. It was a sport that we used to listen to on the radio, the NHL. We didn’t have television as I said. It was something we all loved, but we never thought there was the possibility to get there.
Q. That’s great. As a youngster, which hockey player or person did you look up to as a role model?
A. Well, Gordie Howe was my favorite player and still is. He’s just a guy that captivated me and millions of other people. But Detroit was my favorite team. He was my favorite player.
Q. That’s actually the same exact answer Sonmor gave me when I asked him that question as well. In 1967, you played your first NHL game with your then hometown North Stars and became an official US citizen and played on the US National Team. What team was the tightest-knit group you ever played with?
A. I guess, maybe the teams early on in the late 60s and the early 70s. The North Star teams, we had a very close knit team, I think especially around ’71, ’72, our team was, a group, we got along very well together and played hard, played well, and we had good success as a team as well.
Q. How did you feel when you pulled your country’s jersey over your shoulders for the first time?
A. I guess that’s an experience that I wish everybody could have. It’s really a unique thing to do to play for your country. It’s completely different than playing in the NHL or playing in college. It’s a different feeling and different experience. It’s something that you treasure if you have the opportunity to do it. It’s something that I think is really rewarding for the time you put in to play the game, to get that opportunity.
Q. I have heard some former players speak about U of M fraternity, when I interviewed Lance Pitlick, he talked alot about it as well. What is this all about and actually do you ever see games at Mariucci any longer?
A. Oh, sure, I got season tickets to Mariucci, and I watch them when I’m traveling down in Florida, and I’ve got the dish so I catch the games on the weekends. I still stay very close to the program. I like watching the kids there. I love watching the progress, and I think it’s a unique experience to be able to play college hockey, and once you do that I think you maintain your interest in the program, and you desire to see them succeed.
Q. So is that kind of what the fraternity is all about, the coming back and being part of the institution?
A. It’s like, you know the “M” club is a special group. That’s a group that all the athletes that played at the University of Minnesota and hockey is a group within the group, and because you know these people even better than you know the whole group, you gravitate towards them and you enjoy watching hockey together and see each other at a lot of the games.
Q. What don’t we know about John Mariucci?
A. That he was really a kind, caring, giving guy who really wanted to see his players succeed, the kids that he took to the University. He kept a special interest in them long after they were at the University. And he was probably the most influential guy in American hockey in, I’d say, in the last 30 years, of the last century. Well, more than 30, 50 years. I don’t know of anybody in the United States that did more for US hockey from 1950 to 2000 than John Mariucci.
Q. It seems his vested interest in the Minnesota kids was something special at that time he was there, which carried on through yourself and others, like Sonmor, and Doug Woog to name a few. So it was great to see that. Following your magnificent time at the U, you played for the now defunct Rochester Mustangs which was, I read, just on the weekends from ’63 to ’67. Can you elate to your time with them?
A. You know, I was in a contract dispute with Chicago, but I still liked to play hockey, so I could make a few dollars on the weekend, to help support my family, so it was a great experience. We used to travel down on Saturday, played Saturday and Sunday. And then we’d go down one day a week on Tuesdays to practice. So it was a lot of fun. It was a fun experience and it was good hockey, and kept me somewhat honed in the game, not a great deal, but at least I was able to play about 30 games during the year and keep my skills a little sharper than they would have been otherwise.
Q. It seemed interesting that this was just on the weekends, the games must have been just on the weekends then in the USHL, with no weekday hockey. Who were some of your favorite teammates from your playing days?
A. Oh, well you know, I really liked all my teammates. I had a lot good ones. But I guess the closest ones I got to were Cesare Maniago, Murray Oliver, J.P. Parise and Tom Reid. I guess they were probably the guys I got closest to over the years, and Bill Goldsworthy, Goldy was also a very close friend of mine. I mean I really enjoyed all of the ones that I had, but I seemed to have spent a lot more time with them even after our career than anybody else.
Q.I had the opportunity to come to the initial book signing and everyone that you just named was also present as well. Who was the best coach you played for?
A. The best coach I played for was, well I suppose John Mariucci I guess I’d say, and Jack Gordon. Jack Gordon did a great job with the North Stars, and John was a great guy in college. So those two guys were very influential in my play.
Q. Whom was the best coach the North Stars had under you as general manager.
A. When I was general manager, Glen Sonmor was my coach, Glen was the best coach the North Stars ever had.
Q. He talked a lot about yourself and about his contracts with the North Stars, we I sat down to interview him as well. Glen really elated and said that “you and Mariucci were his guardian angels.” After 635 NHL games, did you find it hard to retire or easy because you assumed the role of the North Star general manager and coach?
A. Well, if I hadn’t got that job anyway I was going to retire at the end of the year, so I was going to be 37, so I sat out five years before I turned pro, so then I played ten, so I was at an age where guys usually retire. I think I might have been the oldest player in the league at that time. So I was ready to retire.
Q. I guess it made it easy to step away then. For some guys it seems like it’s a very hard decision to hang up the skates. In your opinion, what were some of the best hockey highlights of your career, either as player, coach, or general manager?
A. Well playing obviously, when the University won, the Olympics was sensational, and playing for the North Stars in the Stanley Cup playoffs was unbelievable. I had the good fortunate to get the winning goal against Montreal when we played them in the semifinals for the Stanley Cup. That was the first time an expansion team every beat an established team, so that was special. I got a hat trick in Montreal which was also special. So those are great. General manager obviously going to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Islanders was the highlight, and something great I was able to experience. And then when I stayed in management with the North Stars after I retired from general manager, we had the opportunity to go back to the finals again against Pittsburgh in ’91.
Q. Yes, some great times at the Met Center. As a young kid, I still have vivid memories of the players coming out of the Met Center tunnel after the game like Neal Broten, Bobby Smith, and Mike Modano. They always stopped to talk to a little youngster like myself while getting autographs. It was something special. I still have my 3 Met Center chairs in my basement to remember all those memories. What person or persons had the biggest impact on your career?
A. Well, John Mariucci undoubtedly had the biggest impact. No one was quite like that. He brought me to Minnesota and he encouraged me to stay around. He was the one that talked me into turning pro when I became a free agent. He worked for me afterwards and he was like my second father, so he’s the one that had the most impact. Walter Bush was the other guy because Walter was the guy that really got the contract in to pass over for me. He was the guy, Walter was and Murray Williamson, were the guys that encouraged me to play with the Olympic team and become a US
citizen, and Walter also helped me go in 1965 with the US on the World Tour team even though I was still Canadian. So Walter also had a terrific impact on my career.
Q. Who is the greatest player you every played with, or against?
A. The best player I ever played against was no doubt Bobby Orr, and the best player I ever played with was, well growing up was you know, Phil Esposito was the best player I ever played with.
Q. Phil was from Sault as well wasn’t he?
A. Yes, from the Sault St. Marie as well
Q. What was your feeling toward the departure of the Stars in ’93?
A. Well, I didn’t like that. I wasn’t very happy about it. I understood that they had to go because the arena wasn’t sufficient enough to generate enough revenue and then the Sports Commission in the Twin Cities plus the politicians both in Bloomington and Minneapolis didn’t want to do anything to refurbish the arena, so they were trying to force them into the Target Center. So it was an unfortunate thing and sad that the team had to leave.
Q. What is Norm Green doing today? Where is he?
A. He’s in Dallas and he’s in a telecommunications company and he’s become very successful.
Q. Do you still have communications with him?
A. Not really. I see him, it seems like one way or the other our paths cross about once a year, at some event.
Q. I bet people ask you that?
A. Yes, he is down there in Dallas.
Q. If there was one thing you could change about modern day hockey, what would it be and what do you think has been the biggest change in hockey since you played?
A. Well, you know, if I could change modern day hockey, I’d go to 24 teams and a 70 game schedule. I think for the hockey fans that would be the ideal thing. You’d have a higher caliber of player on the team, and I think you’d have the right amount of games. I think 82 games is too much, and it’s too much for the fans to absorb, to have the season ticket holder you know 42 times a year countered with exhibitions. I think you’d go about 36. So those would be the things I’d want to change. The biggest change in the game I guess right now is the size of the players. They’re much bigger than we were, they’re faster, and stronger. So I think the physical part of the game is the biggest change.
Q. Do you prefer the NHL rink versus the Olympic size rink?
A. Yea, I don’t like the Olympic size rink. It’s too big. I like contact in the game. Obviously the NHL rink gives you opportunity to have more contact because it’s 15 feet narrower all the way down the length of the ice. So that means your playing on one-third less size of a rink than it normally is. To me, I enjoy that more.
Q. Yes, a little more action. On kind of more of a personal question. When you look back on your career, what has enriched you personally?
A. You know, I guess the friendships that I’ve made and the things that I’ve been, the places I’ve been able to see, and the experiences that I have had. All those unique things, and they game me, afforded me, the opportunity to that I would have never be able to have in my lifetime. And so many you know, different facets of life that you become involved with when you play a sport. Those just enrich your life.
Q. Yes, that’s great. You’ve been part of the State High School Hockey Tournament for many years now, with your play-by-play and commentary. Whom is the best player in your mind that you can remember from previous tournaments that really stands out from the rest?
A. Well there’s so many to tell you just one is really tough, but Henry Boucha was sensational, Housley was sensational, Broten. There’s been so many good ones along the way. Holmgren was good; Paul Martin was good; Zmolek was good; Spehar was good. I saw so many different tremendous performances. The goaltender from Apple Valley, what was his name, his name doesn’t stick in my mind.
Q. Karl Goehring
A. Yeah, Goehring. John Casey was good in the tournament;. The list it goes on and on. You can’t go by just one, Tim Sheehy was sensational. 44 years I’ve been doing it so you will see a lot of different ones.
Q. I hope to see you again on TV again for many years to come, without you the tournament wouldn’t be the same.
A. You will in March.
Q. Yea that’s great. Lastly, what are you doing today?
A. I’m Sales Manager for Voyager Asset Management. It’s an asset manager, money manager, it’s now part of RBC Dain. We manage $32 billion and we work with a lot of public funds, state funds, corporation foundations, and union pension funds, as well as high individual net worth people.
Q. Well Lou, I really appreciate it. Sitting down with you has really been an honor for myself.
A. Alright Kyle, not a problem, it’s nice to see you. Thanks for those wonderful jerseys you got me, they are great.
Q. Oh, yea, definitely. Thanks a lot Lou. I really appreciate it.