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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


The impressive rise of hockey...

Posted 7/23/19 (Tue)

When it comes to sports, North Dakota has recently had some success with players getting into the NFL and others breaking into Major League Baseball.

But North Dakota has had supremacy in hockey since UND won its first national collegiate championship in 1959.

For all these years, UND has been the holy grail of hockey in North Dakota, but that’s beginning to change, or should I say it’s becoming a complement.

Just think about some of the groundbreaking efforts that have taken place in North Dakota hockey in just the past 20 years.

High school hockey

 The state had a string of teams from the larger cities until Hazen became sanctioned by the North Dakota High School Activities Association.

About the same time, St. Mary’s High School in Bismarck dropped its hockey program. A few years later Park River merged with Grafton and the entire sport kind of stagnated across the state.

Suddenly, teams in Mandan, Dickinson and Williston emerged, then Fargo Davies and West Fargo Sheyenne.

Both East and West teams are now very competitive and don’t be surprised if we see Bismarck Legacy, Watford City and Mayville-Portland joining the high school ranks.

Former NHL players

When we think about former NHL players who have become coaches, the first name that comes to mind is Mike Peluso, who singlehandedly built Bismarck High School into a powerhouse in North Dakota high school  hockey with domination in the West for many years.

Marty Murray is the head coach of the Minot Minotauros, a team that struggled for years but has gained a lot of fan support and is now a winning team.

Murray played 261 games in the NHL with the Calgary Flames, Philadelphia Flyers, Carolina Hurrincanes, and the Los Angeles Kings.

Ironically, he grew up just 70 miles north of Minot in Lyleton, Manitoba and played four seasons with the Brandon Wheat Kings.

Famous coaches

In addition to Peluso, there have been four very successful coaches who have either lived in North Dakota or came here to coach.

Perhaps the most successful is Gino Gasparini from UND. He spent 16 seasons with the Fighting Sioux, winning three national championships in 1979, 1982 and 1987. Gasparini also played for UND in the mid 1960s.

A native of Fort Frances, Ontario, Gasparini found his calling at the University of North Dakota.

Dave Hakstol coached UND for 12 years until he was hired to be head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers in 2015.

Hakstol didn’t win any national championships, but he compiled an impressive 289-141-43 overall record.

He played at UND from 1989-92, then went on to play for the minor league Minnesota Moose and Indianapolis Ice, the same professional team Wayne Gretzky played for initially.

Grant Paranica has a storied career in hockey as well. He is currently the head coach at Grand Forks Central and was a four-year player with UND. He started out in his hometown of North Battleford, Saskatchewan and after a year with the Milwaukee Admirals, returned to Grand Forks to coach the Central Knights.

There’s also Dean Blais, a native of International Falls, Minn., who coached at UND for 10 years, winning two national championships in 1997 and 2000. Blais compiled an impressive 262-115-39 record. He went on to become associate coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets and later coached at Nebraska-Omaha and Team USA.

Serge Gambucci was also affiliated with Grand Forks Central for many years. After growing up in Eveleth, Minn., Gambucci coached high school hockey in Crookston, Minn., until 1955 when he came to Grand Forks.

He spent 15 years as head coach of Grand Forks Central, winning 10 state championships.

When he left high school hockey, he became a professional scout at UND games.

Girls hockey

From zero to 11 teams in just a few years, the girls program in the state was inspired by UND’s women’s program.

Monique and her twin sister Jocelyne Lamoureux grew up in Grand Forks, played high school hockey there and went on to be major players with Team USA in the Olympics.

All these people have inspired a lot of kids to take part in hockey and make it a successful sport.