Section 104, Row 20 at the Xcel Energy Center no longer includes Bill Murray, one of the boys’ hockey state tournament’s biggest and most tenured fans.
Murray died in January at age 97 having attended the first 75 state tournaments. He was one of the event’s longstanding season ticket holders, since at least 1956, the first year the Minnesota State High School League began keeping track.
There will be one more bag of mini donuts available for purchase this week. A cup or two of coffee that won’t get poured. But his four seats will be filled by family members who will keep his tradition alive.
A St. Paul Johnson graduate who went from skating at nearby Phalen Park to later serving hot chocolate and helping maintain the outdoor ice for young puck chasers, Murray “really held on to both East Side pride and the state tournament,” daughter Patti said. “The tournament provided him the chance to do a lot of socializing.”
Murray’s four seats, in the vicinity of other veteran tournament-goers, made Section 104 “like one big family,” daughter Sue said. And Murray was a celebrity.
“It was like Norm on Cheers,” Patti said, “Everyone looked for Bill.”
Bad hearing in his right ear meant Murray preferred to sit on the far right and keep his company on the left. He marked up his programs during tournaments as teams advanced in the brackets.
He marveled at the play of standouts throughout the decades, from Eveleth’s John Mayasich (1948-51) to Duluth East’s Dave Spehar (1994-96). He watched his Johnson Governors win four state championships from 1947-63 and followed the event from the St. Paul Auditorium to the Met Center in Bloomington, back to the Civic Center, on to the Target Center in Minneapolis and to the capital city once more at the Xcel Energy Center.
“He always instilled sportsmanship in us,” Sue said. “That’s why he liked the state tournament the best. He’d say, ‘You can have pro hockey, where they fight. The state tournament is where the kids skate their hearts out.’ ”
The state tournament celebrated its 75th year in 2019 and brought back six former star players for pregame recognition. One of those players was Mayasich. As part of the festivities, Mayasich joined the KSTC 45 television analysts at the desk located just a few rows above Murray’s seats in Section 120.
Patti and Sue made sure their father, in what turned out to be his last state tournament, made a new memory.
“We almost had to push him out of his chair,” Sue said. “Dad got up there, saw John, and his eyes got so big. John came over and wrapped his arms around dad for a hug. It was so cool to see.”
Murray’s daughters handed out buttons to their tournament friends this year that read: “Do it like Bill Murray. Keep the hockey tradition going.”