Less than a week before the 1956 Winter Olympics began, John “Jack” Petroske, from Hibbing, Minn., was named to the U.S. hockey team’s roster as a replacement for an injured player.
Helping the United States team earn the silver medal at the Games in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, Petroske made an impression on and off the ice.
“It was a challenge to join the team on such short notice,” said John Mayasich, one of three players from Eveleth, Minn., on the team, which was led by Gophers coach John Mariucci. “He was a defenseman and he did well. He paired up with Ed Sampson and they were a good tandem.”
Following the team’s final game, Petroske and teammate Willard Ikola continued to impress.
“I’m a Finlander, but from being around friends and their parents, we all had different ethnic songs,” Ikola told the Star Tribune in 1999. “I had heard Slovenians singing ‘Moja Dekle’ my whole life, so Jack Petroske and I got up and sang it.
“The bar was full of Eastern Europeans and they went crazy. When they heard a Finlander from the U.S. singing ‘Moja Dekle,’ I had free drinks for the rest of the night.”
Petroske, who continued to live in Hibbing, died July 30. He was 84.
Petroske, born Aug. 6, 1934, to Walter and Arlene Petroske, first displayed his hockey talents for Hibbing High School. Petroske joined the varsity team as an eighth-grader and, as a junior, helped Hibbing win the 1952 state tournament.
In the semifinals at the St. Paul Auditorium, Hibbing defeated Minneapolis Southwest 3-1 in what the Minneapolis Tribune called “one of the most dramatic games in the history of the state tournament.”
The game was tied 0-0 after two periods, before all four goals were scored in less than a two-minute span in the third period. Petroske had two assists.
The next night, Hibbing edged rival Eveleth, which had won the previous four state titles, 4-3, as Petroske had a goal and two assists.
In Hibbing’s three state tournament games, Petroske was the tournament’s leading scorer with three goals and a then-record eight assists. He was named to the All-Tournament Team. Earlier this year, he was named by the Star Tribune as one of the top 75 players in the history of the boys hockey state tournament.
Petroske went on to play hockey for the University of Minnesota. After the 1956 Olympics, he returned to the U for his final year of hockey eligibility. As a senior, he was the team captain and was named the team’s MVP.
Petroske also played on the 1958 U.S. National team, which won a bronze medal at the World Championships in Oslo, Norway.
After that tournament, he retired from hockey and returned to Hibbing and went into business. He owned Range Industrial Supply for 30 years before retiring in 1988. His family still owns the business.
“He didn’t talk about hockey much,” said son Michael Petroske. “The only time he did was when he got together with guys from the team. Very few people knew about his hockey exploits. He was most proud of coming back home and building a successful business. And he loved the outdoors.”
Petroske was a 50-year member of the Mississippi Hilton Hunting and Fishing Camp on Lake Winnibigoshish.
In addition to Michael, Petroske is survived by his wife of 63 years, Elizabeth; sons David and Thomas; six grandchildren and a sister, Mary Clare Renfors.
Services have been held.