EVELETH — The facial scars, the curly hair, the eye brows and the blue eyes all stood out as Eveleth’s John Mariucci statue was unveiled in the Big Stick Plaza Tuesday.
“The godfather of Minnesota hockey’’ was recreated in bronze, copper, stainless steel and brass and Iron Range hockey legends John Mayasich, Willard Ikola, Jack Petroske and “Buzz’’ Schneider looked on in approval at the ceremony.
Besides being a standout hockey and football player for Eveleth and the University of Minnesota, Mariucci was remembered for fighting for the American player as coach of the Golden Gophers from 1952-1966.
Mariucci was so adamant about not recruiting Canadian players for the U of M that “he would refuse to play Denver at one time because of their recruitment,’’ said Dave Ferroni, Mariucci’s nephew.
In addressing the large crowd attending the unveiling, Ferroni thanked everyone “that gave us this amazing sculpture.’’ He added that his uncle would be “beaming with pride.’’
Mariucci’s accomplishments are well known. He was a standout for the Eveleth hockey and football teams, led the U of M to an undefeated AAU championship in 1940 and went on to play for the Chicago Blackhawks for five seasons. He was known primarily as a defensive-minded bruiser.
“He was one tough dude,’’ said emcee Doug Palazzari of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. One specific fight against “Blackjack’’ Stewart was epic, said Palazzari, who couldn’t really tell who won. Ferroni added his “rugged face’’ had 300 stitches.
Mariucci went on to coach the Gophers and the 1956 Olympic hockey team (silver medal) and also served as the assistant general manager for the Minnesota North Stars.
Mayasich, who played for the legend, had nothing but good things to say about Mariucci.
“John was so great to all of us,’’ Mayasich said. “Not only the hockey fraternity, but to everybody in town. He represented us well.’’
“You think of all the coaches he developed,’’ Mayasich added, from Eveleth to 1980 U.S. Olympic coach Herb Brooks and more. “It wasn’t only his playing and coaching, it’s what he meant for the game of hockey.’’
“It’s well deserved,’’ Mayasich said later. “You can’t say enough about him.’’
Schneider, a gold medal winner for the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, spoke about Mariucci being honored with the first statue.
“I think it’s wonderful. I think it’s great for Minnesota hockey. I think it’s great for American hockey. He’s an icon in my mind. He was a great promoter of Minnesota hockey, which I think is wonderful.’’
Schneider played for Mariucci in a couple World Championships and said the man was a great coach, a great mentor and a great supporter of USA hockey. “I’m glad they did something like this.’’
He added there was most likely pressure to recruit Canadian players for the University of Minnesota, but Mariucci wanted nothing to do with that. “I’m sure there was (pressure), but he made the decision he wanted to go with Minnesota kids.”
While Mariucci, who died at age 70 in 1987, is now a hockey legend, basketball was originally his first choice, according to Ferroni. However, he get on the basketball team and switched to hockey. “That was the day his high school hockey career began.’’
Sculptor Jeff Kreitz of Breezy Point, Minn., was also one of the stars of the day after bringing Mariucci to life in metal.
After putting about 800 man hours into the statue, Kreitz said it was a “huge, huge challenge.’’ The difficulty came from stainless steel being hard to work with (that’s what the head is made out of) and several other metals were involved, as well.
Work on the three-dimensional sculpture began around Christmas was made 15 percent bigger than life. Kreitz said that was fitting, especially considering it was placed under one of the biggest hockey sticks in the world.
“So it doesn’t hurt to cheat a little bit. John being bigger than life so you can make it a little bigger,’’ Kreitz said.
The statue came from a citywide effort to reenergize Eveleth’s downtown.
The City of Eveleth and its economic development authority aimed to improve the overall beautification of downtown Eveleth through community projects. The first project was the hockey-themed cityscape project, “A Salute to Hockey”.
With Eveleth being renowned worldwide for its rich hockey history, city and Economic Development Authority officials thought there was no better way to kick off the effort than by highlighting one of Eveleth’s greatest past times.
The project is a collaboration between the city and its economic development authority and is made possible by: a Downtown and Business Corridor grant from Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation; financial support from the city and its economic development authority, and the United States Hockey Hall of Fame Museum; and a donation of the taconite slab the sculpture is mounted by United Taconite.