When the Philadelphia Flyers came to St. Paul 21 years ago for the first home game in Minnesota Wild history, it was a perfect confluence of Paul Holmgren’s life and career. Holmgren, 65, grew up on St. Paul’s East Side and served in every role except Zamboni driver for the Flyers — player, assistant coach, head coach, scout, general manager, team president, etc. — over the past six decades.

For one season, between high school at St. Paul Harding and signing with the Flyers in the spring of 1975, Holmgren wore maroon and gold for coach Herb Brooks’ Gophers, scoring 10 goals in 1974-75, which ended with the U falling to Michigan Tech in the NCAA title game.

“Paul has always been one of my favorite people. He has a heart of gold,” said Joe Micheletti, the Hibbing native and New York Rangers broadcaster who was a teammate of Holmgren’s with the Gophers. “When you think of team players, you’d put him right there at the top of the list. He’d do anything for the team and would do anything for a teammate and he was the same way off the ice as well. Just a really, really solid person.”

This week, Holmgren got the call when it was announced that he, alongside Stan Fischler and Peter McNab, would be inducted in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame’s Class of 2021.

“I can’t begin to express how deeply humbled and grateful I am for this honor,” Holmgren said in a Zoom call with reporters. He got the news of his induction in June, via a call from USA Hockey executive director Pat Kelleher. “It was a very emotional day for me at that time, and I told (Kelleher) I was going to a family reunion, which I hadn’t been to in over 30 years. Pat, I didn’t tell anyone at the reunion about our phone call, because I’ve got a lot of blabbermouths in my family.”

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After playing 500 games with the Flyers and making two trips to the Stanley Cup Final (in 1976 and 1980), Holmgren came home to Minnesota for his last 27 NHL games when he was traded to the North Stars in 1984 and retired as a player one season later.

Friends and teammates recall that as kind and generous as Holmgren was off the ice, as a competitor he was as intense and hard-nosed as they come on the rink, and in any other pursuit with a winner and a loser.

“I still tell people that back in our college days when we used to play racquetball, Homer was the only opponent who would take the man (not the ball),” Micheletti said. “He was a good racquetball player, but if he started losing, look out.”

On the international stage, Holmgren played for Team USA in 1974 when the first IIHF World Junior Championship tournament was held. He was an assistant coach for the Americans in the 1988 Winter Olympics and in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey. He has been an assistant general manager for a number of American international teams since then.

Holmgren was a classic Minnesota rink rat as a kid, and recalled skating on a vacant lot next to his family’s home that was flooded in the winter.

“It was a tiny lot, like 40 feet wide by 100 feet long, so not a very big rink and everybody in the neighborhood’s skating on it at the same time,” he said. “That’s kind of where it started for me, and then two blocks away was East View Playground, where I started playing peewee hockey and moved on to bantam.”

Holmgren becomes the 18th former Gopher inducted to the hall, which is based in Eveleth, Minn. Previous inductees with ties to Gophers men’s hockey are Dean Blais (2020), Dr. V. George Nagobads (2010), Aaron Broten (2007), Gary Gambucci (2006), Murray Williamson (2005), Dick Dougherty (2003), Doug Woog (2002), Mike Ramsey (2001), Neal Broten (2000), Lou Nanne (1998), Reed Larson (1996), Bob Johnson (1991), Herb Brooks (1990), Larry Ross (1988), Ken Yackel Sr. (1986), Jack McCartan (1983) and John Mayasich (1976).

Gophers junior defenseman Emily Brown. University of Minnesota Athletics
Gophers junior defenseman Emily Brown. University of Minnesota Athletics

Gophers women pegged for 3rd in WCHA

The notion that the women’s WCHA is nothing but a two-team league can be put to rest now. After a decade where the standings were “Minnesota, Wisconsin and then everyone else” a third player has been seated at the table.

As evidence, the Gophers were picked to finish third in the conference, behind defending national champion Wisconsin and Ohio State, in the annual coaches poll, released this week. The Badgers grabbed seven of eight first place votes (coaches could not vote for their own team) with the Buckeyes got the other first place vote.

The Gophers (11-8-1 overall) finished fourth in the WCHA last season and failed to make the NCAA’s eight-team tournament, which still has many fans rankled. Behind the Badgers, Buckeyes and Gophers, Minnesota Duluth was picked fourth, Minnesota State University-Mankato was fifth, Bemidji State and St. Cloud State tied for sixth and newcomer St. Thomas was picked for eighth.

Former Patty Kazmaier Award winner Daryl Watts, now a Wisconsin senior, was picked as the preseason Player of the Year. Defender Emily Brown was the only Gopher picked for the preseason All-WCHA team, while Gophers incoming forward Payton Hemp was among a trio of players receiving two votes for preseason Rookie of the Year.

The Gophers will get an early taste of how they match up with the Buckeyes, as those teams open the season with a two-game series Oct. 1-2 at Ridder Arena.

Single game tickets on sale

With a full contingent of fans welcome back inside 3M Arena at Mariucci this season (after capacity was limited to 250 or less for much of the 2020-21 campaign, due to the pandemic), single-game tickets went on sale this week.

Prices vary by opponent and by seat, with tickets for early non-conference games versus Alaska and Mercyhurst available for as little as $20, while the best seats for rivals like St. Cloud State, Minnesota Duluth and Wisconsin going for as much as $115. The athletic department has cut prices on some seats for a few years in a row in hopes of bolstering attendance at Gophers games. In almost all pro and college sports, there has been a steady decline in in-person attendance due to a variety of factors.

Ticket information can be found at the U of M’s athletics website.