Hardcore followers of Gophers hockey who felt the urge to express an opinion on the state of the team had an easy method of access to head coach Doug Woog. They could find his name in the South St. Paul phone book.
“Always the phone book,” said Dave Metzen, a friend of Woog’s from childhood. “Why not? Doug loved to talk to people.”
Woog, 75, died on Saturday after dealing with Parkinson’s disease and other ailments in recent years. Known widely as “The Wooger,” he coached the Gophers for 14 seasons from 1985 to 1999. He had a tremendous record of 389-187-40 (.664), went to 12 NCAA tournaments and took the Gophers to six Final Fours, but his teams never won an NCAA championship.
In high school, Woog starred at South St. Paul in hockey and as a single-wing tailback in football (graduating in 1962), coached the Packers for eight hockey seasons starting in 1977, and in 2016 the name of the hometown hockey arena was changed from Wakota to Doug Woog Arena.
He was special to South St. Paul, and why was that place was so special to him?
“It was the connection,” Woog said in January 2016. “You knew everyone, and you cared about everyone.”
The Metzen boys — Dave, Jim and Tom — lived four doors from the Woogs and they grew up playing on outdoor rinks, including the “Mudhole,” a slough that froze in the winter.
“Doug’s parents, Jake and Wanda, owned a bowling alley and bar down by the stockyards,” Dave Metzen said. “And Doug turned out just like his dad. If some guy couldn’t pay his bar bill, Jake would say, ‘That’s OK.’ Half the drinks he served, he gave away.
“And Doug was the same — just a good guy. Never big-timed anybody, never got a big head.
“I was a couple of years ahead of him. I saw him turn into a great hockey player, three times All-State, and an All-State football player, and outstanding coach, but I will remember Doug Woog foremost as a wonderful person.’’
Pat Micheletti was a Gophers senior for the 1985-86 season, when Woog replaced Brad Buetow as coach.
“The coaching change was a transition of epic proportions for me,” Micheletti said. “I went from playing 25 minutes a night to 15. Wooger insisted that I become a well-rounded player, not just offensive. I went from a pond hockey player to someone that was relied on … and that was thanks to Wooger.
“We had a few screaming matches, expletives flying, during that transition, but Wooger never held grudges, not with his players.”
Woog was 5-foot-7 and 155 pounds as a Gophers All-America — smaller than that when he broke into South St. Paul’s lineup and became All-State as a high school freshman.
What made him an exceptional athlete?
“Right away, I’d say great vision,” Metzen said. “He could see the rink, what was going to happen. He could see the football field. And he just loved to play, to compete, to be around sports. He was a counselor at South St. Paul, and they asked him to start up a soccer team, and four years later they were in the state tournament.”
Wild goalie Alex Stalock, a South St. Paul guy himself, spoke about Woog on Saturday night after the Wild’s victory in Philadelphia.
“He’s South St. Paul,” Stalock said. “… He was a special man.”
Woog’s first significant coaching job was with the St. Paul Vulcans. This was in the early ’70s, the formative years for junior hockey in the Midwest. Current Gophers coach Bob Motzko was a kid in Austin, Minn., and never missed a visit by the big, bad Vulcans.
“They were the giants, and Doug Woog was the coach,” Motzko said. “… I was in awe.”
Motzko paused and said: “I was walking near him in a corridor at a Wild game a while back. And every step he took, people were calling out, ‘Woooog-er.’
“That’s him. ‘The Wooger,’ the blue-collar friend to all hockey people.”
Woog was inducted into the Gophers’ M Club Hall of Fame in 2000, the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2002, and received the Minnesota Hockey Coaches Association’s Cliff Thompson Award for long-term contributions to the sport in 2015.
No surprise that Woog married his high school sweetheart, Jan, and raised three children, Amy, Steve and Dan, and, yes, you could find all of them by calling the home number in the South St. Paul phone book.
Staff writer Sarah McLellan contributed to this report.