Patrick Reusse
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St. Cloud State used muscle against Boston College and Minnesota State Mankato used suffocation against the Gophers for decisive hockey victories on March 28.

The results of those upsets have St. Cloud State and MSU meeting Thursday in the first semifinal of the Frozen Four in the Penguins' arena in Pittsburgh.

The Huskies and the Mavericks have a longtime rivalry, although it has not always been on a grand stage. In fact, MSU has not always been thus, changing its nickname from Indians to Mavericks in 1977, and the school name from Mankato State to Minnesota State in 1998.

Contrary to popular sentiment, Herb Brooks was not the founder of men's hockey at St. Cloud State in his one season of 1986-87. The school has hockey records dating to 1931.

The Huskies played home games outdoors until St. Cloud's first indoor ice sheet opened at a municipal complex for the winter of 1972-73.

The Huskies' outdoor rink was located down the rise from the new Halenbeck Hall in the mid-1960s, when I worked at the St. Cloud Times. Mankato State made its varsity hockey debut on that rink in 1970.

Don Brose coached Minnesota State Mankato’s program from its beginning in 1969-70.
Don Brose coached Minnesota State Mankato’s program from its beginning in 1969-70.

Star Tribune file

Don Brose was in the minority for state college coaches when he started a club team at Mankato in 1965 because he actually had played hockey.

Brose had played for strong St. Louis Park teams and then at Concordia in Moorhead. He had been recruited to a teaching/coaching position in Heron Lake, Minn., with this sales pitch: "We have the best duck hunting in the United States."

He was the head coach in football and baseball, and an assistant in basketball. "When they told me I was going to be the head coach in basketball, too, not even the duck hunting was enough incentive," Brose said. "I had heard Mankato State was hiring."

Brose landed a position in the college's phy-ed department, with one duty being: Start a club hockey team.

"We didn't have an outdoor rink in the city of Mankato in 1965," Brose said. "There was a rink in North Mankato, but that was crowded. We rented the outdoor rink at Gustavus; played at Shattuck in Faribault; wherever."

Dick Koppenhaver, the Mankato AD, informed Brose in 1969 that hockey would become a varsity sport. "He came from Grand Forks, so he had an appreciation for the sport," Brose said.

He didn't go overboard with that appreciation.

"He gave me a budget of $5,000," Brose said. "Dick was so impressed with getting the program started that the next year he cut my budget by $500."

Charlie Basch led St. Cloud State at the start of its rivalry with Minnesota State Mankato.
Charlie Basch led St. Cloud State at the start of its rivalry with Minnesota State Mankato.

Star Tribune file

The first varsity game for Mankato State was scheduled for Jan. 16, 1970, in St. Cloud. Charlie Basch was the Huskies coach. He had been hired in 1964 as a football assistant, and when that important season ended, Charlie shifted to hockey duties.

Those included rounding up the players to join in flooding and maintaining the rink.

Charlie was an outstanding halfback in football and played a season of minor league baseball, but he never played hockey in high school or in college at Concordia.

Basch now lives in eldercare in St. Cloud. Dave Reichel, a standout player for the Huskies in the late 1970s, visited him last week and Charlie said: "It was a good rivalry, and we seemed to lose as many as we won. Playing outdoors, sometimes the conditions were terrible."

None worse than Mankato State's first-ever competitive weekend.

"We were scheduled to go up there and the forecast was for it to be way below freezing," Brose said. "I called Charlie and said, 'Are we going to do this?' Charlie said, 'Come on up. It'll be good, it'll be good.'

"We got there and it was 13 below at the rink and the wind was blowing. We broke three pucks from hitting pipes and boards. We had players with black toes from frostbite when they took off their skates and one had to stay at the hospital.

"Charlie said, 'I guess it was too cold; we can cancel tomorrow's game.' I said, 'Charlie, we're not going home now. We're playing.' "

St. Cloud won those two games 8-2 and 7-0. When there was a return series at Mankato, Brose's club got a split. The hockey part of the best sports rivalry among public colleges in Minnesota was on.

Basch stepped down in 1984, replaced by John Perpich for two years, then Brooks came in for 1986-87 for a final year of D-II hockey that vaulted the Huskies into Division I.

Brose led Mankato State into Division I for the winter of 1996-97, two years after the Minnesota State University Board initially had roadblocked the school's attempt to do so.

MSU's first campaign in the WCHA was Brose's last of 31 seasons as the program-starter, a 21-14-1 record in 1999-2000 that concluded with a 6-4 loss to the Gophers in the Final Five.

The increasing Division I success for these programs in excellent facilities is phenomenal, but it can't be much more fun than the early, lower-classification battles in the swashbuckling late '70s.

Mankato State won its first Division II title in 1979-80. Both teams were loaded. Steve Martinson was a rugged winger on St. Cloud's first line. Later, he would have more than 300 fights as a pro, and now he's a minor league coach with more than 1,000 victories.

"Those games were something," Martinson said. "There was always bad blood, and then we both had a Passolt, Jeff for us, John for them, and that added to it.

"I only remember one fight on the ice, and it wasn't a great one. What I do remember is we stayed over one Saturday night at the end of a series in Mankato. We ended up at a party, and that turned into a real fight.

"I've been gone from Minnesota a long time, but my Huskies against Mankato in the national semifinals … that is tremendous."

Write to Reusse by e-mailing sports@startribune.com and including his name in the subject line.