EVELETH — A famed oil painting of hockey great John Mariucci was a fixture in the family residence in Eveleth for decades.
That artwork now has a new home — a place that seems more than appropriate — the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Museum in Eveleth.
The house was sold last year — after being in the family for 107 years — and a decision had to be made on where the one-of-a-kind piece would be displayed.
“We felt the best place to bring it was the Hall of Fame,’’ Mariucci’s nephew David Ferroni said in a telephone interview. “I’m very happy that painting is there.’’
USHHFM Board Member “Chaz’’ Demm said, “The best place to expose this iconic piece of art would be at the Hall of Fame. USHHFM Executive Director Doug Palazzari welcomed the opportunity to put it on display. “We’re elated at the hall to enjoy this very valuable piece of hockey art,’’ Demm added.
“The State of Hockey’’ and visitors, alike, can see it in an art form that is not that common, according to the board member.
The piece was created by a Chicago artist from a black and white photo of Mariucci and shows his aggressive defensive style for the Chicago Blackhawks, Demm said. Mariucci played for the Blackhawks for five seasons in the 1940s.
According to Ferroni, Mariucci brought the oil painting to the family home (shared with the Ferroni and Moroni families) in the 1970s or 1980s. “He said he wanted that oil painting (proudly displayed) in the home in Eveleth.’’
For Demm, the distinctive painting allows the Mariucci story to continue on.
“The spirit of hockey continues throughout the Range,’’ he said. “The foundation is there and it’s because of guys like Mariucci and others who contributed their lives to building the game of hockey. He wanted more girls and boys playing hockey. Hockey now has spread from Minnesota’s pine trees to the cactus of Nevada.’’
Mariucci helped develop that foundation throughout his career as a hockey player, coach and administrator.
“His personal history has made the man often referred to as ‘Maroosh’ an American legend and immortalized as the ‘Godfather of Minnesota’ hockey,’’’ Demm stated.
Born in 1916 in Eveleth, Mariucci starred for the Eveleth hockey and football teams before going on to play both sports at the University of Minnesota. He spent five years with the NHL’s Blackhawks and later became the U of M’s head hockey coach after his playing career ended. He was also the head coach of the U.S. Olympic team that won silver in 1956.
While coaching the Gophers, he was famous for not recruiting Canadian players and seeking out American-born players to help Minnesota youth and high school programs grow.
His efforts were successful, Demm said, as the number of high school hockey teams grew from just a handful to about 150 from 1952-1980. “His influence grew with kids all the way up to the pro levels.’’
Ferroni added that Denver University was recruiting 20-year-old kids from Canada back then, and Mariucci refused to play them because of it. That showed his dedication to American hockey, which has benefited United States’ players ever since. “The sport grew because of that,’’ his nephew added.
Mariucci went on to be named the assistant to the general manager of the Minnesota North Stars. He held that position with the North Stars until his death in 1987.
The painting of Mariucci, who was honored last year with a statue in Eveleth’s Big Stick Plaza, is bright and exciting, said Demm. “That’s what John brought to the game.’’
Both Ferroni and Demm have heard stories about Mariucci being such a rugged defenseman and an infamous fight with Detroit’s “Black Jack’’ Stewart. According to gophersports.com, the fight with Stewart “kept the fans cheering for half of an hour, and still stands in the NHL record books as the longest fight ever.’’
Both were quite battered up, Demm said, and the on-ice encounter earned Mariucci a two-week “vacation’’ in Eveleth.
“They say he (Mariucci) was one of the toughest ever to play the game,’’ according to Ferroni. His on-ice reputation and off-ice personality were far different, as well. “He was rough on the outside, but a marshmallow on the inside,’’ he added.
Ferroni stated his uncle was a “great public speaker,’’ had a “natural charisma’’ and was “very humourous’’ as one of the best after-dinner speakers of all time.
As a coach, he had a special way of talking to his players at the U of M, also. “If the team wasn’t playing well, he would tell them they were playing worse every weekend. Tonight you’re playing like next weekend.’’
Considering the historic nature of the oil painting (along with Mariucci’s hockey skills and charisma), Demm said, “I think people will enjoy seeing it.’’
The painting is now on display in the Hall of Fame’s Mariucci display.
Demm hopes to have smaller, color 8x10s matted for purchase in the gift shop, which can be bought as a keepsake. “It’s a topic of conversation for sure.’’