Gophers legend's new book offers a front row seat for the growth of American hockey in the 1960s and '70s
Now 88, Murray Williamson's new book “The Road to Respectability” chronicles some of the legendary foundational moments.
MINNEAPOLIS — In modern international hockey, the marketing and promotion of a national team is treated with the same importance as the men and women who actually play the games. It is safe to say that Murray Williamson’s time in international hockey was a different era.
Williamson came to the University of Minnesota from Winnipeg to get an education and play for the Golden Gophers in the late 1950s, and made his home in the State of Hockey. Now 88, Williamson's new book “The Road to Respectability” chronicles some of the legendary foundational moments in the growth of American hockey in the 1960s and ‘70s.
While coaching the 1968 and 1972 American men’s Olympic teams — the latter of which won the silver medal — Williamson had a front row seat in the days when the red, white and blue would get booed by fans in Wisconsin during an exhibition game versus the Badgers, or when officials at Cornell offered the nation’s two dozen finest hockey players a run-down dormitory to stay in prior to a game versus the Big Red.
“There are so many stories about the 1968 team and the 1972 team that went untold, and I always flew under the radar,” Williamson told The Rink Live. “I didn’t walk around promoting our team, so I wanted to write this book to preserve some of this stuff, and as a legacy to my family.”
The 1960s were a turbulent time in America, not only in terms of things civil rights and the Vietnam War, but on the hockey rink as well. After winning Olympic gold in 1960, American hockey hit some hard times. Three years after standing atop the international hockey podium, the Americans suffered a humiliating 17-2 loss to Sweden, which prompted then-U.S. President John F. Kennedy (who knew the game from his time in East Coast prep school and at Harvard) to ask derisively, “Who are we sending over there, girls?”
Williamson came on the scene a short time later, befriending and learning from hockey legends like Anatoly Tarasov, the father of the Russian hockey machine which dominated international play for three decades. Not only did the former Gopher lead the Americans in the Olympics, Williamson helped develop promising young coaches like Herb Brooks, and coached the American entry in the first World Junior Championships in 1974. In the summer, Williamson and friends would run a hockey school in Bemidji, which was the top destination for warm-weather training in an era where it was common for hockey players to take the open water months off.
“I’ve talked to Murray quite a bit. He’s definitely a storyteller, and a great hockey guy,” said current Gophers coach Bob Motzko. “You bump into him and whether you’re talking about the Bemidji hockey school, his USA Hockey days, Gophers, he’s pretty much got it all covered.”
The book, which Williamson co-wrote with John Schaidler, retails for $39.95 from Beaver’s Pond Press and features a foreword by another Gophers legend, Lou Nanne. It contains not only endless hockey stories, but dozens of photos from a formative era in amateur hockey in Minnesota and throughout the nation.
Note: Williamson will be signing copies of his book at the Gophers men’s hockey game versus Penn State on Friday, Nov. 11, 2022.