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Outside the arena

John Mayasich doesn't have far to look to bring back memories of playing outdoor hockey. The legendary Eveleth High School and University of Minnesota player lives in an apartment that overlooks an area where he and his teammates skated virtually...

John Mayasich doesn't have far to look to bring back memories of playing outdoor hockey.

The legendary Eveleth High School and University of Minnesota player lives in an apartment that overlooks an area where he and his teammates skated virtually every moment they weren't in school or asleep. While that rink has long since been torn down, the memories remain.

Although his high school team played on an indoor rink, games at sites such as Warroad, International Falls and Grand Rapids were played outside.

"I liked playing outdoors," Mayasich said Tuesday, four days before he'll be in Baudette to watch Eveleth-Gilbert and Lake of the Woods play on Baudette Bay as part of a daylong celebration titled Hockey Day in Minnesota. Mayasich, 74, and several teammates from the USA's 1956 Olympic silver medal-winning team will be honored at the game.

Oddly enough, that Olympic tournament was played outdoors at Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy. Four years later in Squaw Valley, Calif. -- when the U.S. pulled off the first "Miracle on Ice" -- the sun shone through an open end of the arena and melted a portion of the ice.

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Mayasich has memories of outdoor high school games, too. Like the time in Warroad when Eveleth played in subzero temperatures.

"Somebody said [it was so cold] the puck had broken in half," he said.

In Grand Rapids, half the team would sit in a warming house while the other half played.

"You had to skate to stay warm," Mayasich said.

Those Eveleth teams, led by Mayasich, revolutionized the sport. The school won the first state championship in 1945 and then, during Mayasich's tenure, captured four in a row from 1948-51. He led the state tournament in scoring for three straight years (1949-51) and still holds records for most goals (36) and points (46) in a career, a single tournament (15, 18) and single game (7, 8). He scored a goal in all 12 tournament games, a feat that never will be challenged.

A state tournament is out of the question for the current Eveleth-Gilbert team. At 5-17, the Golden Bears aren't a contender for the Section 7 title. But at least this group will get to experience playing a high school game outdoors when they meet the other Bears at 10 a.m. Saturday.

"We're playing because of our tradition and what our hockey greats have done in the past," Eveleth-Gilbert coach Todd Kreibich said.

Players are geared up for the chance to play on TV and in front of the Northland's past immortals, such as Mayasich.

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"Everybody's very excited. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we want to make the most of it," senior defenseman Chris Florey said. "We're trying to make [the old-time players] proud."

In preparing for the game, Eveleth-Gilbert twice practiced outdoors -- including last Tuesday in 15-below temperatures.

"People were driving by looking at us like we're crazy," Kreibich said.

Senior defenseman Marco Leoni said some players wore sweatpants, turtleneck sweaters or even Spandex underneath their uniforms to stay warm, while others just wore their regular outfits.

"Everyone said, 'It's too cold to skate,'" Kreibich said. "I said, 'What happens when we show up Feb. 9 and it's 30-below? Do we tell them we're not going to play?'"

They'll definitely play, and at the same time hope to create a few lasting memories such as the ones that Mayasich still recalls 60 years later.

* Fox Sports North will show Eveleth-Gilbert's game against Lake of the Woods live (Charter cable channel 37) with the Roseau-Blaine game shown later in the day on tape delay, all part of 16 hours of hockey coverage.

RICK WEEGMAN can be reached at (218) 723-5302, (800) 456-8181 or at rweegman@duluthnews.com .

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