DECC Athletic Hall of Fame: Ross led Falls to hockey greatness
Gaining the confidence of his players was not a one-way street for International Falls High School coach Larry Ross. He wanted to hear what they had to say and would take them out of class or come to their home to talk hockey. "Larry had the abil...
Gaining the confidence of his players was not a one-way street for International Falls High School coach Larry Ross.
He wanted to hear what they had to say and would take them out of class or come to their home to talk hockey.
"Larry had the ability to connect with young people, and that meant so much to young men when I was in school," said former International Falls goalie Mike "Lefty' Curran, 66, who went on to play professionally. "When he talked with you, everything was well-thought out and measured. He was making a point and listening to you."
That coaching acumen served Ross and the Broncos well. He was behind the bench for 31 seasons in compiling a 566-169-21 record, making him America's winningest high school hockey coach when he retired in 1985. His resume included six Minnesota prep titles in 1957, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1966 and 1972. In the decade from 1957 through 1966, International Falls was 228-25-8.
Ross died in 1995 at age 73, after spending seven years as a scout with the NHL's San Jose Sharks. He enters the DECC Athletic Hall of Fame on Sept. 15 at the Harbor Side Convention Center in an enshrinement class with ski jumper Jim Denney, baseball pitcher Jerry Ujdur and track and cross country coach Roy Griak.
Ross was the second-youngest of seven children of James and Margaret Ross, who emigrated from Scotland, settling in Duluth's Norton Park neighborhood. James Ross was a stone mason who helped build the steel plant in Morgan Park and built the brick family home at 84th Avenue West.
"Larry was the best athlete in the family. He was a great goalie, he was a great golfer," said Jack Ross, 85, of Hibbing, the last of the siblings and a retired engineer. "He was very easy to get along with; a good guy, a good brother and deeply religious."
Ross was a 1940 graduate of Morgan Park High School, served in the Navy in World War II, and was an All-American goalie at the University of Minnesota in 1951. He came to International Falls in 1954 and taught social studies.
With the Broncos he had stars like Curran, Huffer Christiansen, Bob Mason, Tom Neveau, Tim Sheehy, Ron Beck, Oscar Mahle and Steve Ross, his son. He matched wits with iconic Minnesota coaches like Hibbing's George Perpich and Edina's Willard Ikola and in one stretch, from 1962-66, International Falls won 59 straight games.
"One criticism people have of me is that I'm too easy," Ross told the News Tribune in 1985. "I don't scream and holler. I developed a philosophy that the players I had played for the love of the game. I never believed in making threats or any of that talk about packing your bags or hitting the road if you didn't do it my way. I believed you played for the love of the game, your family, your community."
The most memorable high school game for Ross was the 1964 state final against the St. Paul Johnson Governors, who had beaten the Broncos 4-3 in overtime for the 1963 championship. Johnson had won 30 straight games and hadn't allowed a goal to that point in the playoffs. International Falls won 7-3.
"The beauty of Larry Ross was that, although there was a softness to him, there was no room for losing," said Curran, a retired semi-truck salesman, who played at North Dakota, was MVP of the United States silver-medal team in the 1972 Winter Olympics and was with Minnesota in the World Hockey Association. "He didn't suffer weakness or lack of effort. He expected and demanded success."
Ross and his wife of 47 years, Dorothy, raised two children, Steve and Patty. They often came to Duluth for family get-togethers at the home of his brother, James, on Arrowhead Road.
"Larry was held in the highest regard by his family. He was gracious and personable, and if you were a hockey player, he took care of you with equipment," said nephew Jamey Ross, 50, of Duluth, a Carlton County assistant attorney, who played at Duluth East.
When not on a hockey rink, Larry Ross loved golf and at one time had a 2-handicap. He was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988.
Dean Blais was among the Ross proteges who went into coaching -- including a stint at International Falls -- and now as head coach at Nebraska-Omaha. On the occasion of Ross' death, Blais paid homage to his mentor in a News Tribune story:
"More than anyone, Larry Ross inspired me and molded me as a player and coach. He taught me the mental preparation and dedication to the game. When coaches get together to talk about the best coaches, his name is still brought up."