Some dressed in suits, many in hockey sweaters. From young to old, they shared many laughs and a few tears. On Sunday, they all gathered at South St. Paul High School for a celebration of life for a man affectionately called “The Wooger.’’
Doug Woog, the standout player and highly successful coach for both the Gophers men’s hockey team and South St. Paul who died Dec. 14 at 75 after battling Parkinson’s disease and other ailments, received a touching send-off. Teammates, friends, family and a former governor saluted the man with the engaging personality and a fierce loyalty to Minnesota and his hometown.
A day after the Gophers honored their coach from 1985-99 by wearing gold sweaters with “Wooger’’ on every player’s nameplate during the Mariucci Classic, it was South St. Paul’s turn to salute him. A stream of hockey community members — including former Gophers coaches Don Lucia and Brad Buetow and current coach Bob Motzko — mingled and traded memories of Woog.
Then came an informal program. Emcee Frank Mazzocco, Woog’s partner on Fox Sports Net’s Gophers broadcasts, said what he remembers the most is that Woog was interesting, was interested, he cared and was vulnerable.
“What I remember the second most, however,’’ Mazzocco said, “is how he scrambled my brain on a regular basis every Friday and Saturday night during the hockey season on live television.’’
Dave Metzen, a longtime friend since childhood in South St. Paul and teammate with the Gophers and on U.S. national teams, remembered Woog the person.
“Doug Woog, you did win the big one,’’ Metzen said, referencing criticism Woog faced for not winning an NCAA championship with the Gophers. “Every person and student you ever coached, you treated with dignity and respect. That, my friend, is winning the big one in life.’’
More than hockey
Metzen also raved about Woog’s versatility as a coach. When South St. Paul began a soccer program, Woog was the coach even though he had no experience coaching the sport. Woog bought a book about coaching soccer, and five years later, the Packers were in the state championship game, “in spite of having Timmy Pawlenty on the team,’’ Metzen said, drawing laughter.
Pawlenty, Minnesota’s former governor and a South St. Paul graduate, was coached by Woog in soccer but not on the varsity hockey team. “Everybody knows that he cut me from the hockey team,’’ Pawlenty said. “It was just another confirmation of his good hockey judgment.’’
Pawlenty credited Woog for his leadership and considers him a role model.
“He was dedicated to being a master of his craft, and his craft was hockey,’’ Pawlenty said — but Pawlenty was especially thankful for his compassion.
“Doug Woog had a spot in his heart for underdogs,’’ Pawlenty said. “I don’t know if it was from South St. Paul or because he was smaller in size. … He always left a little room, it seemed, for somebody who needed a little extra chance.’’
Message from Housley
Phil Housley, South St. Paul’s star player under Woog who went directly from the Packers to the NHL in 1982, couldn’t attend because he had duties as an assistant coach with the Arizona Coyotes. His wife, state senator and fellow South St. Paul grad Karin Housley, spoke in his absence and read a letter from Phil.
One highlight came after Phil was selected for the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015. He was asked to throw out the first pitch at a St. Paul Saints game. Housley threw a strike and awaiting him behind the plate was a surprise — Woog wearing a catcher’s mask.
“That pretty much sums us up,’’ Karin read from Phil’s letter. “Sometimes I was the pitcher and he was the catcher, and sometimes vice versa. But we always had each other’s back.’’
Robb Stauber, the Hobey Baker Award-winning goalie for the Gophers under Woog, credited the coach for his all-Minnesota approach to recruiting.
“He took a lot of risks — huge risks — in taking all Minnesota players and saying, ‘I’m basically going to live and die with that result,’ ’’ he said.
Before the program, others spoke of Woog’s influence.
• Buzz Schneider, a member of the gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic hockey team, was a Gophers star in the 1970s and got to know Woog from hockey camps in his hometown of Babbitt, Minn.
“People on the Iron Range,’’ Schneider said, “are just like people from South St. Paul.’’
• Former Gophers All-America forward John Pohl played for Woog for a year before the coach resigned following the 1998-99 season. Pohl and the Gophers defeated Maine 4-3 in overtime to win the 2002 NCAA championship, and he recalled Woog’s influence on that team.
“Half the team was his recruits, and even though he wasn’t coaching, he was still around,’’ Pohl said. “… There is no doubt that when we won the championship, he had a large impact on that.’’
• In the tight-knit hockey community, the Gophers’ biggest rival, North Dakota, was represented at Sunday’s celebration. Fighting Hawks coach Brad Berry got to know Woog during his broadcasting days.
“He was about passion, in his broadcasts and everything. He was a true Gopher,’’ Berry said. “… They’re a big rival, but at the end of the day, hockey’s a small world, and we’re supporting each other.’’
Concluding the celebration were Woog’s sons, Dan and Steve, with Steve summing it up:
“My sister [Amy] said Dad hadn’t been able to see a hockey game in about a year,’’ Steve Woog said, referencing his father’s declining health. “Since Dec. 14, he’s had one of the best seats.’’