Postcard: A brush with fame at Mariucci
It was a frigid
Thursday night in January when the kitchen phone rang. My father
called to tell me that my old high school, Warroad, had beaten arch-rival
Roseau 4-1 in the latest round of Minnesota's most celebrated high
school hockey rivalry.
nights, and hockey news from the tiny hometown that sits a slap
shot away from the Canadian border, makes the Warroad boy in me
think of the formative years. We spent many afternoon hours in English
class daydreaming of the evening's coming hockey games. On other
days our teacher, Mrs. Nordine, would have us put away the thesaurus
and the short story collections for an hour, and she'd put a cassette
in the classroom's boom box.
We'd hear the
lilting voice of Garrison Keillor as he delivered another episode
of "News From Lake Wobegon," a popular National Public
Radio show about life in a fictional small town in Northern Minnesota.
From the show's debut in the early 1980s until today, Keillor's
segment always begins with him saying, "It's been a quiet week
in Lake Wobegon."
it was a busy week on hockey rinks all around Minnesota. Rivalry
games like Warroad-Roseau went off at the same time as the Wild
were in the midst of a six-game home stand, and the Gophers were
hosting top-ranked North Dakota –
their historical arch-rival before some guys from Wisconsin wearing
fire-engine red came along.
And the first
week of new Governor Tim Pawlenty's four-year term featured the
Guv hosting a celebrity hockey game at Wakota Arena, in his old
South St. Paul. Pawlenty assembled a team that featured his brothers
and a few notable female collegians, and that was coached by South
St. Paul native and former Gopher skipper Doug Woog. Team Pawlenty
faced off against a squad of self-proclaimed "Minnesota Old-Timers"
led by Wendell Anderson. After he played for the Gophers and skated
on the 1956 U.S. Olympic hockey team (earning a silver medal in
Cortina, Italy), Anderson went on to be governor of Minnesota and
a U.S. Senator in the 1970s.
was no match for Pawlenty's younger squad, and the fear around Mariucci
Arena on Friday night was that the suddenly-vulnerable Gophers would
be no match for the red-hot Fighting Sioux.
Dakota led 3-2 after two periods (en route to a 4-2 win) when I
left the press box for a walk around the arena concourse. At the
second concession stand I passed, I thought the tall gentleman in
line looked familiar somehow, and when he turned toward me, popcorn
in hand, I was face-to-face
with Garrison Keillor himself, for the first time in my life.
an aspiring rock musician from England, meeting Paul McCartney is
probably a memorable event. When you're an aspiring quarterback
from Virginia, bumping into Michael Vick would likely mean something
to you. When you're an aspiring writer from a little town in Minnesota
and you have a brush with Garrison Keillor, ditto.
I approached and said, "Mr. Keillor, I don't want to bother
you. I just wanted you to know that I've always enjoyed your writing."
After he shook
my hand and thanked me, I added, "I'm from a small 'Lake Wobegon-like'
town in Northern Minnesota, so your writing has always hit home
are you from?" he asked, and I replied, "Warroad."
been up to Warroad, but I hope to get there sometime," he said.
"Tell me, do they still play hockey outside there?"
often," I answered, truthfully. "It's just too cold most
of the time."
I hope to visit there sometime," he said. I replied that it
was nice meeting him, and we went back to the game.
I remember Keillor
writing about the beauty of the game of basketball, and of summer
baseball games played by the Lake Wobegon Whippets. He's even
eloquently written about his memories of Gopher football when he
was a student at Minnesota. Before Friday's chance encounter, I'd
never heard him mention hockey.
But with seemingly
all of the state's attention turned to a hockey rink somewhere this
week, it seems fitting to see Minnesota's most renowned living writer
at an arena, watching hockey, eating popcorn, and inquiring
about the state of the game in the small northern towns.
I hope he enjoyed
the game. I hope he gets to visit Warroad sometime. I hope to read
a mention of Minnesota hockey in Keillor's next piece in the New
York Times or TIME magazine. But mostly, I hope for more hockey-filled
weeks like this one.
I learned at
a very young age that Minnesota winters can be long, unpleasant,
and even deadly. But inside the little wooden barns and the glittering
chrome and glass palaces with hockey rinks in the middle of them,
there can be excitement, warmth and magic on those dreadfully cold