Tom Kurvers will go down in hockey’s history books as a breakout star for Bloomington Jefferson High School, the first Hobey Baker Memorial Award winner from the University of Minnesota Duluth, a Stanley Cup champion with the Montreal Canadiens and a highly successful NHL scout and executive for the Coyotes, Lightning and Wild.
What Kurvers’ former Bulldogs teammates, coach and college rival will remember most, however, is that he was a good person.
Gracious, kind and caring was how the Bulldogs described Kurvers on Monday after his death at the age of 58 following a two-and-a-half year battle with lung cancer. He’s survived by his four children — daughters Madison and Rose, and sons Weston and Roman — and wife, Heather.
Kurvers played four seasons at UMD from 1980-84, capping his career by winning the Hobey Baker in 1984 and captaining the Bulldogs to the national championship game. Not even the leading scorer on his own team in 1983-84 — the honor belonged to Bill Watson — UMD coach Mike Sertich said it was Kurvers' character that put him over the top for the award that season.
The world lost a great person today. Tom Kurvers made everyone in the room feel important. As a young coach, I’m thankful for our insightful conversations and how he never made me feel less than him. TK was a tremendous person who will be greatly missed.— Adam Krause (@AdamKrause26) June 21, 2021
And Kurvers’ character and values continued to endear after his time at UMD. What you saw is what you got, Sertich said.
“He was a Cadillac guy. He was smart, he was intuitive, he was gracious, caring,” Sertich said Monday, having last spoken with Kurvers two weeks ago. “As I’ve said to you before, if my sons could grow up to be what he became, what he is, I would be a successful dad. And I meant that about him and some of the other kids we’ve had here. He’s one of those guys that come through your life, you’re just blessed to have been a part of it and letting me be a part of his life.”
Whether it was on the ice or off it, Sertich said Kurvers was a selfless person, who always put others before himself and did what was best for his team, his family. Even throughout his battle with cancer, Kurvers’ top priority was being there for his children.
“It was never, ever, ever, ever, about him,” Sertich said. “Ever. It was always about what is best for us.”
Bob Mason, the former goaltending coach for the Minnesota Wild, played two seasons with Kurvers at UMD from 1981-83, and then again for a short stint in the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks in 1990-91 after Kurvers was traded there from Toronto. They would reunite one more time in the NHL with the Wild when Kurvers was hired as the assistant general manager in 2018.
Mason’s wife, Victoria, died two years ago following a 22-month battle with urothelial cancer, and Kurvers was right there by his teammate’s side until the end.
“He knew her really well. He and Heather would visit the hospital with us. He was really good at the end there when she was getting close to the end,” said Mason, who last visited with Kurvers on Friday. “It was just kind of crazy ironic that all of a sudden he’s got … I remember sitting in Dallas and getting the word from Paul Fenton that (Tom) had lung cancer.
“He wasn’t afraid of it. He said, ‘I’m going to live with cancer.’ That’s what Victoria, my wife, was trying to do too, live with cancer. … He was going to live with it and go as far as he could.”
Watson, who played two seasons with Kurvers at UMD from 1982-84 before winning the Hobey in 1985, recalled a dark moment in his life in which Kurvers was there for him and his wife, Molly. It was 30 years ago when they lost their first son, Jack, to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
“I’ll never forget the first call we got was from Tommy,” Watson said. “A family member of his had gone through something similar. I never forgot how quick he was there, that’s something I’ll never forget. He even came up that summer out of the blue and spent some time with us as we were grieving.
“He’s just a good human being. To watch him interact with his kids was always cool. The door was always open.”
Norm Maciver was also a teammate of Kurvers’ for two seasons, and his roommate in 1983-84. Maciver said Kurvers was the guy he and his teammates always turned to for advice, even after their playing days.
“Very intelligent, very humble, gracious, and he was always there for you. And it was always in a thoughtful way,” Maciver said. “He’d say, let me chew on it for a day and I’ll get back to you.’ That’s the kind of person he was. He thought things out.”
Jefferson Hockey is sure sad to hear of the passing of former Jaguar great, Tom Kurvers. This is from 2018 when he took the time to speak to our team before a Wild game. Humble. Gracious. Classy. Our sincere sympathies go to his family. @JagHockey @JHBCHockey pic.twitter.com/RFqaiMovXu— Mike Terwilliger (@twigmaster) June 21, 2021
Kurvers was the person Maciver said he turned to after retiring from playing in 1999. Maciver initially went back to UMD to complete his degree, but didn’t know what to do next. Kurvers told him to go to the NHL Draft — even though he was unemployed — that summer and to hang around the hotel lobbies, mingle, see who you run into.
Maciver said it was great advice and a springboard for his post-playing career in hockey. Kurvers, then a scout for the Coyotes, later helped Maciver land a job as an assistant coach with the Coyotes’ minor league affiliate, the Springfield Falcons of the American Hockey League.
“He was really instrumental in me landing my first job in pro hockey after I retired,” said Maciver who went on to coach two seasons with the Boston Bruins before moving into the Chicago Blackhawks front office. Maciver now works as the director of player personnel for the expansion Seattle Kraken.
Because he lives in Duluth, Maciver said he spent a lot of time scouting for the Blackhawks during Minnesota Wild games at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. He’d often run into Kurvers, the Twin Cities resident, who had a stint as part of the Lightning front office between working for the Coyotes and Wild.
Julien BriseBois on remembering Tom Kurvers: pic.twitter.com/el4MeKOa08— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) June 21, 2021
After the game, they’d talk shop on their drive home, which for Kurvers was much shorter than Maciver’s trek back up Interstate 35.
“I’d be driving back to Duluth and he’d be driving home. We’d wait for Jacque Lemaire’s press conference to be over and then as soon as it was over, I’d get the call on my phone and we’d either talk about what Jacques was talking about in the postgame or we’d talk about the game,” Maciver said. “Man, it would seem a lot of times he would get me to Hinckley or Moose Lake some nights. I would be kidding him, ‘Where are you?’ And he goes, ‘I’m in my garage. I’m at the kitchen table.’ That went on virtually every Minnesota Wild game we were at together. That was my drive home, even as late as this past season.
“It was always easier when he was there at the game because I knew the calls would be coming and he’d get me at least halfway home.”
While he didn’t make the trip up and down I-35 as many times as Maciver did, it was a drive Kurvers became very familiar with over the past decade, initially with the Lightning and later with the Wild.
Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin recalled seeing Kurvers plenty from 2010 to 2012 while the Lightning pursued college free agent J.T. Brown, which Tampa Bay signed in 2012. Kurvers and the Lightning later spent four years pursuing another college free agent from UMD, Alex Iafallo, though he wound up signing with the Los Angeles Kings following the loss in the 2017 national championship game in Chicago.
Sandelin was originally a rival of Kurvers in college as a defenseman at North Dakota. They later became teammates briefly in the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens. As coach of the Bulldogs, Sandelin said Kurvers was always supportive of him, and there to pat him on the back, even when things weren’t going well.
“He was a great human being. He cared about people,” Sandelin said. “He was awesome to me — I knew him from playing against him and to some degree as a teammate in Montreal — when I got the job here. He’s just a good person, just a really good person. We lost a good human being today.”