Hallowed Hall

Like The Game Itself, The U.S. Hockey Hall Of Fame Museum Has Changed With The Times
Jess Myers

Perched atop one of the highest hills in the heart of Minnesota's famed Iron Range, red, white and blue flags flap in the strong breeze on a beautiful summer afternoon. It's the kind of warm, sunny, dry day that one dreams of in the dead of the State of Hockey's seemingly endless winters. But on this afternoon, surely more than one resident of the far north is dreaming of those cold winter days, and heading to the rink to watch hockey.

Those wind-whipped flags, and a statue of a gloved hand holding a hockey stick aloft in celebration, mark the entrance to the nation's foremost shrine to the game. Just off Hat Trick Avenue in Eveleth, Minn., the United States Hockey Hall of Fame Museum began honoring the country's legends of the sport in 1973.

In June, the class of 2017 was announced and with the addition of long-time NHL referee Kevin Collins, two-time Olympian Scott Young and legendary coaches Jack Parker, Ben Smith and Ron Wilson, there are now 168 individuals and four teams that have received American hockey's highest honor.

Hockey has changed dramatically in the 40-plus years that the Hall has recognized the nation's pioneers on and off the ice, and the museum has changed along with the game. The first few dozen people enshrined in the Hall - including the 25-man inaugural class of 1973, which honored true American hockey immortals like Hobey Baker, Taffy Abel, Thayer Tutt and John Mariucci - were commemorated with large pylon-style monuments on the main floor.

That space quickly filled, and a change was made, with all the Hall's enshrinees now honored on plaques along the main wall. It's one of the many adjustments made to make the Hall a new place to visit, whether it's your first trip or you're there several times per year.

"What hasn't changed is our mission, to have a place where we're honoring those who have made contributions to our sport in the United States," said Doug Palazzari, the Hall's executive director.

An Eveleth native, Palazzari played hockey for Colorado College and more than 100 NHL games for the St. Louis Blues, then served as USA Hockey's executive director from 2000 to 2005. A few years later, when the top job for the top hockey museum in the country opened up, Palazzari jumped at the chance to move home and again work alongside USA Hockey to promote the history of the American game.

That move came after some uncertainty for the Hall in the 1990s and 2000s. Eveleth is the rightful place to honor the roots of American hockey, as it is one of those northern communities where the game first took root. It is also three hours from Minneapolis/St. Paul, and in a relatively remote part of the nation, a far journey from the halls that honor football, baseball, basketball and other American sports. That isolation and a lack of funding led to some hard times, but community support has made a positive difference.

A decade or more ago, there was talk about relocating the Hall to the Twin Cities or another more populous locale, in an effort to attract more visitors. But through hard work, advanced marketing and promotion, along with some generous fiscal assistance from USA Hockey, the Minnesota Wild and others, the Hall is on much more solid ground today.

In addition to financial assistance, USA Hockey maintains a detailed website (ushockeyhalloffame.com) with myriad information about the hall and its members. USA Hockey plans and produces a gala induction ceremony each year in major hockey markets like Buffalo, Minneapolis and Philadelphia, and is currently planning one for 2017.

"There was talk years ago about moving [the Hall], before USA Hockey got back on board in a supportive way, which is good, so we have a strong partnership," said Palazzari, who was a member of the Hall's class of 2000. "We also have a strong board that's dedicated to keeping the museum here, and we have done very well."

Annual attendance leveled off in 2016 after five consecutive years of growth, but the Hall usually welcomes between 10,000 and 12,000 visitors yearly, open every day in the summer and on weekends in the winter, when youth hockey teams often make it a must-see stop when they come to the Iron Range for tournaments.

Inside they find a multi-level, multi-sensory experience, where one of the first Zamboni ice resurfacers sits just below the scoreboard from Disney's first "Mighty Ducks' movie, and displays of the first versions of metal ice skates reside next to samples of the "glowing" pucks that television producers toyed with in the 1990s in an ill-fated attempt to adapt the game to the small screen.

But the Hall is more than just plaques and vintage hockey sweaters hanging from the walls. For younger visitors especially, there are interactive arenas to shoot pucks with full size and mini sticks, hockey video games, bubble hockey and even a radar-equipped shooting gallery where players can measure the speed of their slap shot.

There are notable shrines to the great U.S. teams of the past, along with countless displays to smaller but vitally important elements of the game that should not be forgotten - a sweater worn in the first Minnesota State High School Tournament, a display honoring the first women elected to the hall, a tribute to the CCHA, the WHA and other now-defunct hockey leagues.

While it's definitely remote, the Hall sits just a long wrist shot from a major U.S. highway, and as the game grows, more and more people seem to be making a pilgrimage to see the museum, grab some gear at the well-stocked gift shop and learn about the game's American roots in small towns like Eveleth.

"There was a point where people didn't see a future in it and stopped supporting. Fortunately, we've turned that all around," Palazzari said, pointing out a display of the skates and gloves that Eveleth native Mark Pavelich wore while skating in Lake Placid for the Miracle on Ice team in 1980.

"Eveleth is a big part of the reason it's still here and going the way it does. They're stepped up in a big way. This is one of the birthplaces of American hockey, and that's the reason it's here."




Who is your favorite American NHL player?: