Longtime state tournament TV analyst Lou Nanne, middle, has grandsons (Louie Nanne, left, and Vinni Lettieri) starring at both Edina and Minnetonka as sophomores.
The clear dasher boards at the old St. Paul Civic Center came and went.
So did the Civic Center, for that matter, demolished in 1998.
The great International Falls teams of the 1960s had their moment in the spotlight.
The early 1990s were Bloomington Jefferson’s dynasty years.
Henry Boucha, Tim Sheehy, Neil Broten, Phil Housley, Reggie Miracle, Dave Spehar, Johnny Pohl, Mike Crowley -- the names are legendary.
There’s no forgetting the epic Duluth East vs. Apple Valley in “The Game That Wouldn’t End.”
The one constant, through 47 years of the madness and mayhem that is the Minnesota state boys high school hockey tournament, is Lou Nanne.
When the 69-year-old Nanne says he’s seen everything, well, when it comes to the state tournament, that’s about right.
“When a name becomes synonymous with a team or an event, you know they have reached another level with their involvement,” Benilde-St. Margaret’s coach Ken Pauly said about Nanne, who for the 47th year will be a TV analyst for the state tournament that begins March 9 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. “Not that they have transcended the event, but they certainly have become ingrained in it.”
Nanne could add “Voice of the State Tournament” to his business cards and not have to worry about copyright infringement. Who else would dare lay claim to that title?
“When I first saw it in 1959, I went to the games when I was a freshman at the University (of Minnesota),” said Nanne, the former Gophers standout defenseman who played for the Minnesota North Stars and later became the franchise’s general manager and coach. “Oh my gosh, has it changed over the years.”
One of a kind
Nanne said he’s never seen an event like the state tournament.
“The unabashed enthusiasm of the players,” Nanne said about what makes the tournament special. “There’s not one second of relaxation. I don’t know if anybody plays harder and enjoys and an event more.
“It is undoubtedly going to be one of the highlights of their lives.”
If anyone associated with the tournament can match the players’ enthusiasm, it’s Nanne. His passion for the event all but drips from his signature sport coat.
Minnetonka coach Brian Urick said he met Nanne for the first time before the Skippers’ quarterfinal game against Lakeville North. Nanne was gathering material for the game’s broadcast.
“The one thing that really surprised me is how much passion he had in his voice for high school hockey,” Urick said. “Here is a guy who grew up in Sault Ste. Marie (Ontario). And for someone that famous and that well off in the hockey community, high school hockey usually isn’t that important to them.
“It was like, ‘Wow, he really does love it.’ ”
Looking back, Nanne remembers with pride the interview he conducted seated atop a Zamboni while it was cleaning the ice.
“I’m certain I’m the first guy to do that,” Nanne said. “That was in 1964. People had never been on the Zamboni. I asked if they could shoot me interviewing the driver.”
Nanne also recalls fondly the interview he did in the stands with Reginald Lisowski, the deceased professional wrestler better known as “The Crusher.”
“He was holding a goalie stick when I interviewed him,” Nanne said with a chuckle.
Nanne’s four-plus decades of unabashed enthusiasm for boys high school hockey has earned him a spot in the Minnesota Hockey Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He will be inducted during the Hall of Fame banquet on Thursday, March 10, at the RiverCentre in St. Paul.
“What really comes through when Lou is doing the games how much he loves the event and how much he loves high school hockey,” Pauly said. “He shows leadership as someone who cares.”
Nanne was providing the analysis in 1984 when Edina beat Bloomington Kennedy 4-2 in the championship game. Nanne’s son Marty scored the winning goal for the Hornets.
“People ask me how I was able to do that broadcast,” Nanne said. “On the outside I was calm and matter of fact. And on the inside it was all turmoil.”
More family ties
Last year Nanne broadcast Edina’s 4-2 victory over Minnetonka in the Class 2A championship game, when his freshman grandson Louie Nanne registered an assist. Louie Nanne and the Hornets qualified for the state tournament again this year.
Another grandson, Minnetonka sophomore Vinni Lettieri, recently completed a standout season for the Skippers.
“I’ve got to do it until my grandkids are done going through,” Nanne said about how much longer he plans to work the state tournament. “I’ve got to wait until then.”
In true ambassador fashion, Nanne refuses to single out a single player when asked who he has enjoyed watching the most over the years.
“(Duluth East’s) Dave Spehar, with hat tricks all the time, that was really unique,” Nanne said. “(International Falls’) Tim Sheehy, he was so dominant.
“(Elk River’s) Paul Martin really put on a show. I just remember such a dominant performance on defense from him. I remember going over to the Wild and saying that you have to draft this guy.
“There have been so many memorable players.”
The state tournament is assured of a new cast of characters each year. When Nanne retires, the replacement will not come so easily. If at all.
“When I think of Lou Nanne, I think of the state tournament,” Pauly said. “The day he steps down, there will be a void there.”
Added Urick: "You will lose a little bit of the state tournament there. Because I don’t know if it will ever be the same."