With a teammate in the penalty box, Mayasich could take the puck, and waltz and weave around the rink without ever passing or losing the puck, until the penalty had been killed.
In the middle of the 1952-53 hockey season, the Golden Gophers trailed conference-leading North Dakota, 7-1, heading into the third period of a critical Midwest Conference matchup. Suddenly inspired, Minnesota rattled off four goals in the final period, two by a budding sophomore superstar named John Mayasich, giving him a hat trick for the game. Minnesota lost that game 7-5, but the third-period rally served as a springboard for the rest of the season. Subsequently, Mayasich and his teammates won 10 consecutive games, including three over UND and two over Michigan. The Gophers stole the Midwest Conference Championship, and went all the way to the NCAA Championship game in Colorado Springs before losing a heartbreaker to Michigan.
This was the dawn of modern Minnesota hockey, and John Mayasich led the way. Looking back, Coach John Mariucci once put it this way: “John brought college hockey to a new plateau. He was the Wayne Gretzky of his time. And today if he were playing pro hockey, he would simply be a bigger, stronger, back-checking Gretzky.”
The Eveleth native was a wizard on the ice. A velvety-smooth skater, he had a sixth sense for how a goalie was going to move. He was the first collegiate puckster to develop a slap shot, a weapon that made opposing coaches fear for the health of their players. With a teammate in the penalty box, Mayasich could take the puck, and waltz and weave around the rink without ever passing or losing the puck, until the penalty had been killed. But he was a great passer, as well. In fact, he was often criticized for passing too much.
That he was criticized at all is difficult to believe, when you consider that, in his career, he tallied Golden Gopher hockey bests of 298 career points and 144 goals. His totals work out to an amazing average of 1.4 goals and nearly three points per game. To put the totals in perspective, the next Minnesota player on the career goal-scoring list, Pat Micheletti, has 24 fewer goals despite playing in 51 more games. Looking at it another way, Micheletti, in his 162 games, would have had to total 435 points (166 more than his career total) just to match Mayasich’s per-game average!
The Iron Ranger is also in the Minnesota record books for most goals and most points in a single game. He scored an amazing six goals against Winnipeg his senior year, and tallied eight points against fierce conference rival Michigan that same season.
Mayasich received numerous honors during his hockey life, including being the first Minnesotan to be voted into the national high school athletic Hall of Fame in leading his Eveleth High School team to four straight state tournament championships. He was also a multiple collegiate All-American. But his greatness as an athlete was matched only by his humility. When he found himself in the limelight, he never failed to share the credit with his teammates and coaches.
Because of military obligations and the lack of professional opportunities, Mayasich did not turn pro after his collegiate career. But he did put on the Red, White and Blue for two Olympic teams and several national squads. In 1956, he joined a host of Minnesotans in traveling to the Winter Olympic Games in Italy and surprising the world by taking a silver medal. Against Canada, which had won seven of the eight gold medals up to that point, Mayasich played the game of his life. He convinced his teammates that the game was winnable by scoring two goals in the first period, and completed the hat trick before the unbelievable 4-1 victory was accomplished.
He was also a key player on the United States Olympic “Team of Destiny” in 1960. In the game against the Russians, Mayasich made several key defensive plays, covering or poking away the puck when the Soviets were in position to score. The U.S. held on for the win, marking the first time an Olympic hockey team had beaten the mighty Russians, and giving the Americans their first hockey gold medal ever.
John Mayasich was arguably the best player ever to don the Maroon and Gold sweater, and one of the best players in this country to ever lace up skates. But the man of many words, John Mariucci, probably put it best. “The words to describe the boy haven’t been invented,” said Mariucci. “When I say he’s the best, that’s totally inadequate.”