In December 1980, several months after a dozen Minnesota-raised hockey players produced the “Miracle in Ice,” another winter sports pursuit, barely-known bandy, took root on a local outdoor rink.
Less than one year later, a group of 14 players, all of them local products except coach Gunnar Fast and Swedish athletic legend Bjorn Nordquist, took their bandy experiences from Lewis Park in Edina to Sweden for the first international match played by a United States team.
Chris Middlebrook helped bring U.S. bandy from novice to the national stage. And for 38 years, the Minneapolis Washburn graduate excelled in a sport that took him throughout Europe and deep inside the Cold War-era Soviet Union.
Middlebrook's self-published book, "The Bandy Chronicles-My Pursuit of a Forgotten Sport," was released in late 2019. It contains 118 short stories, many humorous, some touching and all informative, about a nearly four-decade dedication to a sport that turned many local hockey players into this country’s bandy team.
“The stories encompass far more than who won or who scored goals but all have bandy as a connecting theme,” said Middlebrook, a Minneapolis-based lawyer.
Readers unfamiliar with bandy, a fast-moving, fluid mix of ice hockey, field hockey and soccer, will appreciate the deep Minnesota connections to the sport. Hockey fans will recognize names such as Eric Strobel and Steve Christoff, who in their post-Miracle years were bandy players. Gopher hockey fans of more recent vintage will recognize Mike Carman, who joined the national team in 2015 for the world championships in Khabarovsk, Russia, and has skated for the U.S. in every world championship since.
Prominent bandy females included in the book are current Minnesota Whitecaps professional women's hockey players Winny Brodt Brown and Allie Thunstrom, the latter part of the national team.
But the stories are through the eyes of Middlebrook. The many sub-zero nights in the Nordic countries and the Soviet Union, battling foes on the ice and enjoying good comradeship afterward.
In 1983-84, he became the first North American to skate for a Swedish league club (Skovde BK). The next season, he represented Harnosands AIK as the first fully professional bandy player. He later captained U.S. national teams for 15 years. He still coaches the U.S. men's and women's teams in international tournaments.
His accounts contain bandy action, sure. But there is also a love story (his wife, Cathy) and a meditation on what it means to go from an infant held in his father arms as the two skate Lake of the Isles to a father of a hockey-playing daughter and a bandy-playing son. "The Bandy Chronicles-My Pursuit of a Forgotten Sport" is available online at www.bandychronicles.com