with the Denver hockey team in various capacities for four years,
there are three images of the program that are burned into my
mind. One is the bushy eyebrows of coach Murray Armstrong. The
second is the angular jaw and close-cropped haircut of standout
forward Bill Masterton. The third is a
cover from a 1970 issue of Sports Illustrated featuring
the fresh face and gap-toothed grin of Chicago Blackhawks rookie
defenseman and former Pioneer star Keith Magnuson.
Denver star Keith Magnuson (photo courtesy Chicago Blackhawks)
who was killed in a car accident earlier this week outside of
Toronto, earned just about every honor possible. He was a member
of two national championship teams. He twice earned All-American
status and was an all-WCHA selection on three occasions. He was
conference's most valuable player in 1968, the year after he garnered
league rookie of the year accolades. His name appears on a variety
of college all-time teams – the NCAA 50th anniversary team,
the American Hockey Coaches Association All-Time West team, the
Hockey News All-Time WCHA team – and was chosen
as one of the WCHA's Top 50 Players in 50 Years.
He had a great
college career, no question. Still, that SI photo, the one that
looks like it was taken moments after Magnuson skated off the
Chicago Stadium ice
following practice, the one that featured the Saskatoon native
sans Chiclet, remains my lasting impression.
didn't have the greatest hockey skills but he more than
made up for it with hard work, his attitude, desire and
dedication for the game. He had the biggest heart of any
man I know, on and off the ice." –
former Denver and Chicago teammate Cliff Koroll.
one of the most popular athletes in Chicago – not just
in hockey but in the history of sports. That's quite something,
when you think about all the sports there." – Calgary
Flames GM/head coach and ex-Blackhawk Darryl Sutter.
was the heart and soul of our team, and one of the most outstanding
young men I ever had the privilege to be around. I'm just
devastated to hear what happened...my wife and I are crushed."
– legendary DU coach Murray Armstrong.
world, never mind the hockey world, has just lost a tremendous
human being. Most people remember 'Maggie' for his hockey
but I'll always remember 'Maggie' for his big heart."
– former Pioneer goaltender Gerry Powers.
never forget when we arranged to have Keith address us in
the media interview room at the 2002 WCHA Final Five. He
spoke passionately for about 15 minutes on what attending
and playing college hockey meant to both him and his development
as a person. It literally gave me goosebumps." –
WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod.
man by all accounts (see right), his presence can be found all
around Magness Arena. A framed photo of Magnuson hung on the wall
of the Pioneers' players lounge. George Gwozdecky had one of Magnuson's
Blackhawks sweaters – a crisp, clean,
white home jersey with a black No. 3 outlined in red trim –
signed, framed and hung on his office wall. Run your finger down
the list of donors to the Denver hockey program and you'll find
his name...close to the top, I might add. It's also engraved on
a plaque in one of the lockers in the team's dressing room, just
one of the many alums to give to the cause.
was Mr. Pioneer," Gwozdecky said. And he was right. With
the program's greatest player – Masterton, the victim of
an fatal injury he sustained while playing with the Minnesota
North Stars in 1968 – gone, Magnuson was the face of Denver
hockey. He not only played in the NHL at a time when it wasn't
easy for a college guy to get a shot in the bigs, he spent 11
seasons with the Blackhawks and served as a team captain from
1976-80. In '77, he became the 'Hawks' lone captain, taking over
for Stan Mikita. No pressure there.
News of Magnuson's
passing sent me to my basement where I had stashed a stick signed
by a number of former Pioneers at the program's 50th anniversary
reunion a few years ago. Looking up and down the stick, I saw
signatures of guys like Gerry Powers, Eddie Miller, Marshall Johnston
and Jim Wiste, names that meant something to me – a
lot to me – but little to just about anyone else. I
flipped the stick over and gazed at the blade, the only spot I
had yet to check.
Perched on the blade's
toe, sandwiched between Jerry Walker and Cliff Koroll, he had
scribbled "Keith Magnuson #3." Pretty lucky, I thought,
to have my own memory of that guy with the gap-toothed grin.