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Passing On The Pros, Mayasich Was America’s Finest Amateur

Seth Cole

John Mayasich led the United States to its first gold and silver medals at the Olympics. For all he accomplished in college and the Olympics, Mayasich never played a game as a professional.

It was impossible to not notice. Wherever John Mayasich played, whether it be high school, college, National and Olympic Teams, or the United States Hockey League, he produced amazing numbers to help his team win.

Yet when professional teams came knocking, Mayasich stayed true to his roots, and in turn became arguably the greatest amateur hockey player the United States has ever seen.

Mayasich began turning heads as a teen-ager in the late 1940’s as he guided Eveleth (Minn.) High School to four consecutive undefeated seasons and state championships. His name can still be found throughout the state tournament record book and his 36 total goals is a mark that could stand the test of time.

After playing for local coaching legend Cliff Thompson at Eveleth, Mayasich skated for another Eveleth native and coaching legend, John Mariucci, at the University of Minnesota. All Mayasich did as a Golden Gopher was lead the team in scoring all four seasons, help Minnesota reach the NCAA Championship game as a sophomore in 1952, become a two-time All-American, and amass a school-record 298 points in just 111 games.

“John brought college hockey to a new plateau,” Mariucci once said, reflecting on the only Golden Gopher to have his college number retired. “He was the Wayne Gretzky of his time, and today if he were playing pro hockey, he would simply be a bigger, stronger, back-checking Gretzky.”

Following college, Mayasich spurned professional offers and instead represented his country at the 1956 Olympics in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, where he helped lead the United States to a silver medal, equaling its best finish at the time. As a defenseman four years later in Squaw Valley, Calif., Mayasich helped guide Team USA to a 7-0-0 record, its first-ever Olympic gold medal, and its first victory against the emerging world power Soviet Union.

Mayasich also starred on five U.S. National Teams. In 1962, the last time the World Championship was held in the U.S., Mayasich led Team USA to a bronze medal. It proves to be the last Pool-A medal the U.S. Men’s National Team would win for the next 34 years.

Despite unprecedented personal and team success, Mayasich refused to make money playing hockey, and instead spent parts of three decades as a player-coach for the amateur Green Bay Bobcats. In his first four seasons as a coach, Mayasich led the Bobcats to a remarkable 92-25-3 record.

A U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inductee in 1976, Mayasich made an impression that no other American hockey player has.

“The words to describe the boy haven’t been invented,” said Mariucci. “When I say he’s the best, that’s totally inadequate.” 

Seth Cole is the 2002-03 Brian Fishman Intern.

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