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From the Catbird Seat....What if??

Hockey, and sports, are filled with events that I guess you could classify as “near misses.”

We hear about them from time to time. What if the Red Sox hadn’t sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees? What if the Vikings hadn’t traded the farm to get Herschel Walker and instead used their first round draft pick on Emmitt Smith as the Cowboys eventually did?

While at the Xcel Energy Center last week for the state boys hockey tournament, I had one of those thoughts while sitting next to a color man I had never worked with before.

I was asked by BOB-FM radio in the Twin Cities and the Minnesota Sports Radio Network to call two Class A quarterfinal games from “The Big House” — the first winners’ bracket state tournament games I’ve called in 25 years of doing high school hockey — and was working with Minnesota coaching legend Tom Saterdalen.

Prior to becoming a Minnesota coaching legend, though, Saterdalen won two state championships at Superior. He was also the first high school coach of a Cloquet goaltender named Bruce Plante, as a Cloquet assistant to Don Bourdeau.

Sitting next to the man who later coached Bloomington Jefferson to five state championships, two things became apparent: First, this man has forgotten more about hockey than I will ever know, and second, he has a definite link to our town that most people who aren’t real old-timers could never have guessed.

As we called Hermantown’s 6-3 quarterfinal win over Luverne, we shared stories about the elder Plante, whose son Derek is one of Cloquet’s vaunted “Big Three” NHL players.

“It took about two games before I realized that Bruce was too good to play on my team,” Saterdalen said. “I told Don that there really was no need to keep him on my squad.”

Saterdalen assisted in Cloquet for a year before moving to Superior to take over the Spartans program. It was under his care that the program blossomed, and it recently made its 366th trip to the Wisconsin state tournament.

But he also clued me in on a secret. In late 1960, Bourdeau left Cloquet to take the job at Duluth East, which left a vacancy.

“They offered me the Cloquet job that eventually went to Bill Kennedy,” he said during an intermission.

I’ve been following and studying Cloquet hockey for more than 20 years and that was news to me. It may not have been news to the true long-timers around our town’s programs, but I had to ask him about that.

“It’s true,” he said. “They wanted me to come back but I turned down the position. I know Bill and I know he was a great coach but, yes, they did offer me that position.”

Everyone with an attachment to Cloquet hockey either knows Bill Kennedy, knows of him or has heard legendary stories. The coach built the program into what it is today, and when Tom MacFarlane took over the program in the mid-1980s, the rest was history.

Kennedy was a tremendous coach, and brought the Lumberjacks to their first state tournament in 1982-83 with Corey Millen as his star player on a team that eventually featured five Division I college captains.

But Saterdalen’s teams were magical, dominating the state in the early to mid-1990s — and perhaps a bit ironically, knocking MacFarlane’s Lumberjacks out of consecutive state tournaments. Saterdalen’s Jaguars won five state tournaments, bringing the coach’s personal total on both sides of the border to seven.

“There was a bit of déjà vu there for sure,” Saterdalen said. “There were a lot of people on those Cloquet teams whose parents I knew and I remember them as being very hard teams to beat. But we did win the games.”

Saterdalen’s broadcast duties have been curtailed in recent years — not because of ill health, but because of reunions. His state championship teams have held 20-year reunions at the tournament in recent years, and the coach has had to step out of the broadcast booth to attend.

But the man’s passion for the game has never diminished, and neither has his knowledge. Working with him, and knowing that he once wore purple, was a great experience.

But here’s the might-have-been…can you imagine a Cloquet coaching staff of Bill Kennedy and Tom Saterdalen?

All I can say is “Wow.”