"Nick Wasnie had one of the hardest shots the pros have ever seen," said John Mariucci, the former NHL star, Minnesota University coach and present Minnesota North Stars' assistant to the general manager when he addressed Amateur Hockey Awards night in Brainerd March 29.
Mariucci thus disclosed to a new generation of hockey players in Brainerd that a great one is in their midst.
To be sure, he's now 66 years old and his glory days were largely in the '30's, including a pair of Stanley Cup championships while with the Montreal Canadiens in 1929-30 and 1930-31; but there are many who still recall how this Selkirk, Manitoba native, suddenly flashed upon the pro ranks in 1925 and drew reams of copy in newspapers all over the United States and Canada.
Wasnie, who retired from the grocery business here in 1961, having operated the present Dandanell's grocery on Oak Street from 1934, keeps busy building and redecorating houses in the area with help from his son, Ken, who starred on the 1954 state basketball championship team from Brainerd as its center.
Wasnie and his wife, Marie, who died in 1956, didn't miss any of Brainerd's three night games at Williams Arena, cheering on their 6-3 son. The grocery business was purchased from his wife's parents, the Gabourys, who had come here from Canada. His wife operated it in the early years while he was pursuing his hockey career with the Minneapolis Millers and finally the Kansas City Greyhounds, with whom he played four seasons before retiring in 1942.
NICK WASNIE, former Brainerd grocer who played with two Stanley Cup championship hockey teams of the Montreal Canadiens, shows the colored picture of the first of those clubs here, an enlargement of himself in full uniform is shown above. Wasnie is now 66, but his powerful shots are still recalled by followers of the professional sport.
Queried about that "hardest shot" statement made by Mariucci, Wasnie said his was a straight shot because "there were no slap shots being taken in those days. I had a crooked stick and was able to put a curve to my shots. I was the only one who had one and after I broke it I got another with a bow in it."
Although he has yet to take in a North Stars' hockey game at the Met Sports Arena, he watches a lot of hockey on television and until the last few years had made it a point to take in at least one University of Minnesota game annually.
Today's hockey he finds a much faster game and he credits the change in blue lines for this. In the old days, there was no center line, there being a blue line in each end and no passing was permitted until you had reached the blue line.
"Now, you've got three-fourths of the ice to receive a pass, making for a faster game. We had more body checking and that slowed down the game."
In his recollections of Montreal beating out Boston in the Stanley Cup semifinals in 1929- 30 (best two of three) before beating Chicago in the finals, Wasnie says, "We were lucky. They had lost only seven games all season and we were lucky to finish fourth and make the playoffs."
But the writers of the era thought the Canadiens had a great line and what they had to say about Wasnie's hockey playing ability could have filled many a scrapbook had all of these stories been made available to him. Here are some which were:
"NICK WASNIE Always High-Powered Scorer; Six Years in Big Leagues and He Likes That Right Wing" read a Minneapolis Tribune headline over a story bylined by the present color man for the Minnesota Twins' broadcasts, Halsey Hall. Said Hall: "That black-haired, slender guy shooting down the right lane -- that's Nick Wasnie. Watch him stick-handle and, if he gets an opening, watch him shoot. Whether it beats the goal-minder or not, it'll be a good shot, hard and true and it's been the medal of efficiency that has marked Mr. Nicholas Wasnie through many years of big time hockey.
"Nick is up in Eveleth now wit h the Millers who play against the Rangers there tonight, and over the day of idleness yesterday, he doubtless passed some moments thinking of other days, days of past greatness.
"They were days when he skated on a Montreal Canadien forward line with Howie Morenz and Aurel Joliat, two of the immortals of hockey; they were days when he was once with the Chicago Blackhawks and the Ottawa Senators and the Montreal Maroons, to say nothing of the St. Louis Eagles, ugly ducklings in percentage right now in the National league.
"Scoring? Say the boy has done plenty of it. There have been nights when it would have taken an injunction to keep him from peppering in goals and he remembers with pardonable pride, his largest evening of this kind. It occurred when he was an amateur around Winnipeg and his club beat somebody 9 to 2. All Nick did that night was to score seven points with five goals and two assists.
"Wasnie came into good hockey after only two years' experience with the fast Selkirk amateur team. He was with the Winnipeg Maroons and he was sold, along with the unforgettable Charley Gardiner, to the Chicago Blackhawks, The Hawks passed him to the Canadiens in a deal and he went from there to Montreal's sister team, the Maroons although he spent a year as a farmhand in between at Quebec City.
"He was loaned to the Americans and they sent him to Ottawa and, during this tenure of big league office which embraced six years, he played on two championship teams with the MontreaI Canadiens. The Habitants were the monarchs then, thanks largely to a great defense and the forward wall of Morenz, Joliat and Mr. Wasnie.
"Incidentally, it was during that career that he achieved his highest fame. The Canadiens beat the Boston Bruins in a playoff tussle, 4 to 3, and Wasnie got two goals and an assist for three points."
Also citing his play with the Canadiens was another article which stated: "Scoring 12 goals and 11 assists for 23 points is a pretty fair record for any National leaguer. That's what Wasnie did in his first full season in the major loop. What's more, he was credited with two goals and a pair of assists in the Stanley Cup series which the Montreal club won by beating out the great Boston Bruins, who had Cooney Weiland and his 43 goals and 30 assists that same season.
"Les Canadiens took the first game of the finals series with ease, 3 to 0 but the second game was a hot one. With the score deadlocked at 3-all, it was Wasnie who drove home the winning goal to clinch the coveted trophy after previously scoring a goal and an assist.
"Les Canadiens again won the Stanley Cup in 1931. After collecting 11 points during the regular campaign, Wasnie helped himself to four goals and one assist in the playoff, during which he and his mates turned back Boston and the Chicago Blackhawks. Nick also played with Montreal the following season but moved to the New York Americans for the 1932-33 campaign. That season was another good one since he counted 11 goals and 12 assists for a team which won only 15 games during the course of a 48-game schedule.
Last year was a disastrous one for the new Miller. He suffered a torn groin tendon early in the season. After getting back to action, he came up with a knee injury which put him on the shelf for almost the rest of the season.
"Why does this veteran of major league hockey like his new environment? First of all, he sees plenty of action and that's what he likes. Secondly, he's close to his Brainerd, Minn. home where he has established himself in the grocery business and where the new Mrs. Wasnie takes care of the cash register."
"Wasnie started his hockey career at the tender age of 14, playing on the same forward line with Joey Thorsteinson, also now a Miller, and Frankie Sheppard in the midget ranks of Winnipeg. It was nothing for his team to score from 15 to 20 goals per game in those days, and Nick himself propelled 10 or 12 of them himself. After two years in midget hockey and two more in junior competition, Nick moved into the senior ranks at Coleman, Alberta. It was there where he started for the professional ranks, in one game scoring five goals and two assists in a nine goal contest."
Alfred Dayton, a N. V. sportswriter in headlining a story "Wasnie Wins for Americans," had this to say: "Nick Wasnie, a castoff from the Canadiens, slammed across two goals for the Americans at Madison Square Garden, Dave Trottier scored the lone Maroon goal and so the Star Spanglers won, 2-1, It was thrilling game and Wasnie, besides being the outstanding player on the attack, also saved his team with some fine clearing around the goal. All in all he delivered just about everything expected of a hockey forward.
"The writer first met Wasnie three years ago on a trip from Boston to Montreal. It was his first season with the Canadiens. and on that train ride, which ended in a Canadien championship, he seemed far too quiet and retiring for the effervescent Frenchmen. He had been brought from the Winnipeg Maroons earlier in the season and no doubt his subdued nature worked against him. At any rate the Canadiens asked waivers on him last summer and the Americans lost no time in putting the hooks around him.
"He is still quiet and retiring, but in the last month, he has started to play just about the best hockey of any forward in the league. The Canadiens, fighting for a play-off berth, no doubt could make good use of some of the goals he has scored for their arch rivals, the Americans. Later, when he played with the Minneapolis Millers, Irv Rudick, a Minneapolis Tribune sportswriter, headlined a story: "Nick Wasnie Stars as Millers Win; Oklahoma City Outclassed in Clash at Arena; Minneapolis Right Winger Tallies Three and Assists in Fourth Goal."
Wrote Rudick: "Nick Wasnie, a dark-haired right winger, went on a scoring spree against the Warriors from Oklahoma City at the Arena and the Millers skated off with a 4-1 triumph. The speedy forward, showing better form with each start, reached his peak since joining the Minneapolis sextet nearly a month ago to slam three shots past Goalie Hub Nelson and assist in all four of his team's scores."
"Possessing one of the hardest shots of the league, Wasnie had been unable to find the range with any degree of consistency before Wednesday night. He plunked one in here and there and assisted in others, but it has been a long, long time since the mild-mannered Wasnie had a night like that against the Warriors. His first shot was a sweeping curve of which even Dizzy Dean would have been envious."
Another article in the Minneapolis Tribune called him "The best stick handler in the league," quoting "an old Arena standby who watched Nick Wasnie put on an exhibition that one would expect in the National league and not in the Central."
The writer added. "He was pretty close to the truth for 'Pale Face' Nick with his expressionless face can guide that puck through a group of big and little opponents as niftily as one could ask. He's really a polished hockey player."
In his Lowdown on Sports column, the Tribune's long time sports editor Charles Johnson noted: "Minneapolis and Central league hockey fans never will be able to explain why or how their steadily improving team ever got Nick Wasnie out of the NHL. When one realizes that this major circuit is scouting almost every minor loop game in search of new material, Wasnie's departure from the NHL is almost unbelievable. There isn't a more finished performer in the Central league than this same Minneapolis right winger. Certainly he is a far better player than any one that has been purchased so far this winter and much more valuable than any one that has gone out of this hockey territory in recent years."
Reproduced from the Centennial Edition of the Brainerd Daily Dispatch (1871-1971).