Tom Hansen: NHL players come to Mars Lakeview Arena

It was standing room only at Mars Lakeview Arena last week, and it wasn't to see a high school or college hockey game. The NHL made a quick stop in Duluth last weekend. Plenty of fans turned out to take in the action. 'The best part was seeing th...

It was standing room only at Mars Lakeview Arena last week, and it wasn't to see a high school or college hockey game.

The NHL made a quick stop in Duluth last weekend. Plenty of fans turned out to take in the action.

'The best part was seeing the faces on the little kids who were in line getting autographs from their Minnesota hockey heroes.

The Duluth Marshall boys' hockey team was all smiles as well. They were selling tickets, taking tickets, working the concession stand and acting as goal judges as well as other game operation duties. Prior to the contest they were also cleaning the building, preparing it for an NHL exhibition game.

Toppers Head Coach Brendan Flaherty helped organize the event at the rink and had all of the players doing some kind of work during the night. It was work they didn't mind doing. He said, "It was a great experience for our kids."


Marshall looked at the game as a way to show its appreciation to the local hockey community. He added, "It was a good way for the kids to give something back to youth hockey and at the same time they were able to get into the locker rooms after the game and get autographs from Sean Hill, Andrew Brunette, Jordan Leopold and Paul Martin. It was a pretty big thrill for some of our high school kids."

About a dozen current NHL players were joined by other former pro hockey players and many former UMD Bulldogs to raise money for youth hockey. Nearly $20,000 was raised at the game in Duluth.

Flaherty enjoyed watching his players interact with the NHL stars just as if they were their neighbors -- which in some cases they are.

Duluth Marshall is ranked seventh in the state and is heading into a tough part of its schedule. It will be playing five games in seven days. The Hilltoppers played Two Harbors on Thursday. They will host Warroad on Saturday and then take on Lake of the Woods on Monday, Hayward, Wis., on Tuesday and close out the regular season Thursday against Proctor.

The game featured several Duluth based players and was an effort to raise money for youth hockey in Duluth and Hermantown. The Hermantown team won 11-9. They then moved up to play in Coleraine the next night.

Duluth East grad Sean Hill, who has played in the NHL for 13 years, signed plenty of autographs. Hill played many games at Peterson Arena during his younger days and was more than happy to help out.

Hill has played in 682 NHL games and has 244 points. He is now with the Florida Panthers and that's his 6th NHL team.

He won an NCAA championship at Wisconsin and was a member of the 1992 Olympic team. He also won a Stanley Cup title with the Montreal Canadiens in 1993.


Former Duluth Denfeld hockey player Mike Vukonich also played in the Minnesota Hockey Heroes games. He helped the Hunters reach two state tournament appearances and played on Harvard's 1989 NCAA championship team before playing for several professional teams.

Another Duluth East grad, Rusty Fitzgerald, also played. The former Bulldog was on Team Duluth and played his NHL hockey with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

I can't forget Butch Willaims. He didn't miss a beat out there, playing with the younger kids. The Duluthian played his NHL hockey with St.Louis and the California Seals. Butch played in the NHL for three seasons, playing in 108 games and scoring 14 goals and 35 assists.

Many former Bulldogs also took part in the event, most of those still living in the area. 1993-1994 Hobey Baker winner Chris Marinucci scored the first goal of the game. The former Bulldog played his NHL hockey with the New York Islanders and the Los Angeles Kings.

Flaherty thought the night was a success. "My thanks to all of the pros that came into town. Darby (Hendrickson) did a lot of work on it. I thought it was real neat, and everyone was real selfless in the whole event. It was just fun to see those guys at the game."

David Kolquist was also a major planner for the event and dozens of others were also involved, including Todd Luoma of Mission Hockey. You could tell it went well by looking at the children. Their smiles were hard to miss.

Tom's takes:

  • Duluth East grad Erika Quigley continues to rake in awards in the North Central Conference. For the fourth time this year, she was named the NCC Player of the Week in women's basketball. She had 31 points and 12 rebounds against UMD last Saturday, in an 85-76 UMD win. Her shooting percentage for the week was 65 percent, and she was a perfect 11 for 11 at the free-throw line.

UMD Coach Karen Stromme admired Quigley's play but was thrilled to get the home win. Stromme said, "It's not a one person game; it's a team game. ... I was really pleased that we had four players in double figures, and that's what it's all about. We were challenged to go out and shoot it, and we did."
It marked the second time that they beat the Huskies this year. UMD is ranked 23rd in the country and beat Augustana on Wednesday night, 84-67. The women are now 16-5 overall and 5-2 in the NCC.


  • The UMD men's basketball team also won on Wednesday, 83-80. Denfeld grad Sean Seaman had 13 points. He led the team with six assists. The Bulldogs are 11-11 and 3-4 in the NCC.
  • Three area boys' hockey teams are ranked this week in the Let's Play Hockey/Associated Press poll. Duluth East is ranked ninth in the Class AA and Duluth Marshall is seventh in the Class A poll. The Hermantown Hawks are eighth.
  • Duluthian Patricia Elsmore was back in the nets for the UMD women's hockey team last weekend. The Bulldogs beat Bemidji State 4-0 on Sunday, and she earned the shutout. It was her first game back since the Bulldogs won the 2003 NCAA Championship at the DECC against Harvard. Elsmore has already helped Switzerland reach the 2006 Winter Olympic Games. UMD is at North Dakota this weekend.
  • The Duluth East boys' basketball team ended one of the longest winning streaks in the state of Wisconsin last week. The 'Hounds topped Randolph, 42-40. Randolph up until that point had won 58 straight games.

East's Cory Johnson had 19 points and even had the game winning basket. He also had nine rebounds.
The state ranked 'Hounds have won seven straight games. They are 16-3 overall this year after they beat Esko 67-52 on Tuesday. Johnson had 28 points to pace the 'Hounds in that one.

East has moved up to fourth this week in Class 4A in the Minnesota Basketball News basketball poll. According to the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, Johnson has already been receiving plenty of college scholarship offers from around the country. The paper reported that Minnesota, Iowa, Iowa State and Marquette have already made offers to Johnson.

  • The Hermantown girls' basketball team is now 20-0 and still the top ranked team in the state in Class 3A. It beat Esko and Two Harbors this week and had a date with Duluth East on Thursday of this week.

Tom Hansen writes a weekly sports column for the Budgeteer News. He may be reached by email at .

What To Read Next
Get Local