EVELETH — One person could write a book about the history of hockey in this single town of 3,500 people that welcomes arrivals to the Iron Range.
In miniature, the book would tell a good story of American hockey from the beginning to where the game is today.
“We’ve had hockey here since the late 1800s,” said Doug Palazzari, a native of Eveleth and one of the townspeople for whom hockey was a passport to the outside world.
“We’ve had an indoor rink since 1917,” Palazzari continued. “So many players came out of here, it was unbelievable.”
Palazzari is the executive director of the United States Hockey Hall of Fame Museum, based in Eveleth. Built by a local contractor in 1972 and draped in flags bearing images of some of the country’s finest men and women, the museum is situated – like a ready point defender with a slapshot – atop the town along the US Highway 53.
It’s been 50 years since the hall opened in midsummer in 1973. Not to be confused with the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, the American hall attracts 12,000 visitors a year. Open daily in the summer, the hall receives busloads of youth hockey teams during its weekends of operation each winter.
Teams crawl through three levels of exhibits, leave trails of pucks on the interactive shooting screens and generally fill the museum with sounds that mesh with echoes of the past.
“In winter, teams come all the time,” Palazzari said. “In winter, it’s mostly the hockey teams.
Palazzari and Hall of Fame board members Bob Pazzeli and Cal Cossalter guided the News Tribune into the hall last month, two weeks after hosting 400 guests for an open house.
“It was really special,” Pazzeli said. “Eveleth is a proud hockey town. We are so honored and proud to have the Hall of Fame here to honor the American men and women who have played this game.”
Like Pazzeli, retired Iron Range State Senator David Tomassoni played at the University of Denver after his prep career. Tomassoni, living with ALS, was present at the recent open house. He called the museum a “national shrine” and said it was his duty as a former player and state legislator to support the hall and see it through difficult times, including its closure for one year from 2006.
“It means to me that the world is part of it and the fact that Eveleth is the birthplace of American hockey makes it all the more appropriate,” said the Chisholm native whose Italian national team jersey is displayed in the room.
“Hockey runs in the blood,” added Tomassoni. “The outdoor rinks and the tenacity of the sport make all hockey players part of this small world of hockey players’ fraternity.
As he points out items like an old push-cart ice resurfacer, an old skate sharpener and, coyly, his own plaque among the wall of Hall of Fame inductees, Palazzari, who played on national teams and formerly led USA Hockey as a senior executive. , objected to the selection of a single piece of jewelry from the room’s collection.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t want to put one thing on top of another.”
Among the room prizes on display:
- The annual Gretzky Award, given to a foreign influencer – and American Herb Brooks – who has an impact on American hockey. “When ‘Herbie’ died they pretended he was an international,” Palazzari said of the legendary coach. “Other than that, they’re all foreigners.”
- Team USA’s 1980 upset against Russia at the Winter Olympics is televised on a loop in the venue, allowing visitors to relive Al Michaels as he utters “Do you believe in miracles?” with 3 seconds left in the game.
- Television footage of the 1960 USA Gold Medalists playing at the Squaw Valley Winter Olympics in California.
- A majestic powder blue flag from the 1980s Lake Placid Olympics hangs above the main gallery.
- Minnesota North Stars Alumni Retired Number Flags. “These are from the old Met Center,” Palazzari said.
- One of the Vezina Trophies won by Mr. Zero of Eveleth, the late Frank Brimsek, for being the best goaltender in the National Hockey League.
During its financial difficulties at the start of this century, USA Hockey arranged with the museum to take over the annual induction ceremonies, moving them to places like Boston, Philadelphia, Denver, Dallas and Buffalo.
This is a godsend for the museum.
“The beauty of it all is that we don’t have to choose them,” Cossalter said. “We just celebrate them.”
USA Hockey, based in Colorado Springs, described it as an ideal partnership.
“The group at Eveleth and beyond: Congratulations to them,” USA Hockey chief spokesman Dave Fischer said. “They were way ahead of their time. It’s a wonderful celebration of our sport and a shrine to the heroes of American hockey and its history.
USA Hockey is working with the Minnesota Wild to bring the next induction ceremony back to the state in December. The last classes of winners will be announced in August.
“We wanted to share the inductions with the country and that’s been good — we’ve been all over the east and west,” Fisher said. “But for the 50th, we’re looking to get back to Minnesota.”
The thought tickles Palazzari, who in 12 years at the helm of the museum has never raised ticket prices beyond the current general admission of $8.
“If you go to our website, you can get a half-price coupon,” he said. “You can’t beat that.”
He helped shore up funding by also partnering with the NHL’s Wild and Minnesota Historical Society. An annual golf tournament in August is the museum’s main fundraiser, along with men’s and women’s Face-Off Classic hockey games that rotate across the country and feature collegiate powerhouses.
“I only see good,” Palazzari said when asked about the future of the venue. “We have the right people involved who want it to be great in the long run, and it is. We have a great product, and we want to keep making it better and better over time.
Palazzari noted that an upcoming exhibit in the hall will honor sledge hockey and injured veterans.
Coincidentally, the racetrack town of Eveleth, where so many of the town’s hockey stars brought the region’s attention to the ice, also celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.
Margie Koivunen is a native of Eveleth and longtime owner of downtown Roosevelt Bar. Long ago, Hamm’s Brewery funded the wooden bar behind which Koivunen stood. She sells sweatshirts for a fundraiser at the Hippodrome behind the bar, and her place is the site of many team and class meetings.
“Hockey is its own little community,” she said. “And they’re all related.”
She helped organize the hall of fame museum’s open house, which at one point decades ago was debated to be hosted in Boston.
“That’s where it should be,” Koivunen said. “It’s definitely where it should be. The group that’s involved right now has done a fantastic job promoting it, and it’s definitely a hockey community.