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Growing up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Lou Nanne became an excellent hockey player and had options.

His NHL rights were held by the Chicago Blackhawks, which could have meant an eventual move there after advancing through the junior ranks in Canada.

And he was being recruited in the United States by the University of North Dakota, which might have taken his life in another direction.

But he wanted to play college hockey in the U.S. and had visions of going to dental school. Legendary coach John Mariucci was recruiting Nanne to play for the Gophers.

"I didn't know where the U of M was," Nanne said recently, recalling the perspective of his 18-year-old self. "But I'll never forget the words [Mariucci] said to me: 'If you come here, you'll never leave.'"

The prophecy came true, to the mutual benefit of Nanne and the entire State of Hockey.

A standout career with the Gophers eventually led to a successful playing career with the North Stars, which seamlessly led into a long career as the general manager of the North Stars.

All of it is part of a broader legacy that has seen Nanne become symbolic of and synonymous with hockey in Minnesota long after his playing days.

On Wednesday, that legacy will be recognized as Nanne is inducted into the Minnesota Sports Hall of Fame during a ceremony at Mall of America.

Nanne credits Mariucci with providing both a path and an example.

"The biggest reason in my mind for the growth of hockey in Minnesota is John Mariucci," he said. "He used to spend 70 to 75 days a year speaking about getting people involved in hockey. His mission was to grow the game in Minnesota and the United States."

It sounds a lot like what Nanne, 81, does now.

"I feel the way he felt," Nanne said. "I feel that hockey is the best game in the world and I'd like to see more people play."

He takes pride in the number of Minnesotans playing at all levels. And he marvels, from his adopted home of Minnesota, at the evolution of the sport.

"The game itself to watch is so exciting. These kids are so talented and gifted," Nanne said, while adding a mention of "incredible" Wild star Kirill Kaprizov. "It was already the fastest game, but it's even faster now. If you can't skate, you can't play. The American public likes three things: speed, contact and scoring. The NHL has increased all those things with changes and the athletes over the years."

And how about that Kaprizov? "I can't tell you," he said, "how much joy I get from watching him."

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Nanne will be inducted into the Star Tribune Minnesota Sports Hall of Fame during a ceremony Wednesday evening at the Mall of America. More information about that free event is here.