Patrick Reusse
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My first sportswriting job was at the Duluth News-Tribune and Herald, starting in December 1965 as a 20-year-old and for the kingly sum of $76.08 per week.

The frightening part was being in a city enamored of hockey to the point it was building a new arena to house the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs — and my experience with the sport had been watching the 1960 U.S. Olympic team defeat Czechoslovakia to clinch the gold medal on a small-screen black-and-white television.

Sports editor Bruce Bennett took note of my hockey ignorance and restricted my duties for the sport to monitoring the Duluth Hornets, a senior amateur team that played Sundays at the drafty old Curling Club next to the big lake.

Four months in Duluth, and I then escaped to the safety of the St. Cloud Times, where we covered basketball, a little wrestling and more basketball during the winter.

Thus it was I came to the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Dispatch on Labor Day in 1968 still unlearned in the ways of puck. Once winter arrived, I was told: "You are now a hockey expert. Head for Aldrich Arena and don't come back until the Saturday tripleheaders are complete."

Which was OK, but it was not the true enlightenment that took place in that winter of 1968-69.

There were tales making their way to the Twin Cities of this wondrous player from the hinterlands of Warroad — a Native American kid who had learned to fly on ice by skating the river under the moonlight.

Henry Boucha was the name, and on a bitterly cold night, his Warroad Warriors were in town to play at St. Paul Academy's Drake Arena.

I stood down at one end, behind the glass, and waited for the Warriors to take their pregame sweep around their half of the ice.

I swear the "swoosh!" had a different, dramatic sound when it was Henry making the turn in front of us — even different from Alan Hangsleben, his defensive partner who would play 519 games in the NHL and WHA.

On that night, in that frigid, sparse arena, I found a first in-person hockey hero in Henry Boucha, who died Monday at age 72.

In all sports, there are great players, and then there are players that are different.

"I was only a kid, but that's what everyone said all across the Range, all across northern Minnesota," said Pat Micheletti, a Gophers great from Hibbing. "That Henry Boucha was just different."

We all know of Henry being injured in the championship game of the first-ever state tournament played at Met Center in 1969 — hit from behind into the boards, suffering a punctured eardrum that sent him to a hospital.

We also remember Henry-less Warroad fighting back from two goals down to force overtime against Edina, only to lose 5-4.

We all remember Boston's Dave Forbes nearly taking out Boucha's right eye with a stick on Jan. 4, 1975 at Met Center, when Henry was with the North Stars.

Henry was a man of unique talent and bad luck. He also fought the demon alcohol, defeated it for years, and kept moving forward — a proud Ojibwe trying to help future generations.

What we can't remember, because some bureaucrats at the University of Minnesota would not allow it, were the three, maybe four years that Mike Antonovich from Greenway (Coleraine) and Dean Blais from International Falls and Boucha — all Class of 1969 — could have formed a northern triumvirate of greatness for the Gophers.

"We were playing in the summer league at Braemar Arena, waiting to be Gopher teammates, and then the university would not admit Henry academically," Blais said.

The university looked not at culture and background and potential back then — just some numbers.

"I played with him with a U.S. national team and the Fighting Saints, but it would have been so great having him with the Gophers," Antonovich said. "Henry was the best high school player I've ever seen to this day."

Blais played against him, too, and said: "There are reasons — the Christians, the Roberts, the Marvins — that Warroad can promote itself as Hockeytown USA. No one is more important to that than Henry."

An outstanding player and coach now retired, Blais spends his summers back home near the Falls. He played golf in a Warroad hockey fundraiser a few weeks ago.

"Henry came with his grandson," Blais said. "He usually plays, but he was walking bent over, very thin. I said, 'Henry, what the heck?' He said, 'Dean, I've been feeling terrible.'

"Even with that, I wasn't prepared for the news Monday that he had passed."

Neither was Antonovich.

"Henry was so big back then — huge for the time — and skated like the wind," Antonovich said. "And, later, I was able to call him a friend.

"I'm just sad today."

Aren't we all — whether born into the game in the northern climes or drawn in by the first glances at Henry.