Sunday, Feb. 5, 1956: ‘Russia too good,’ Mariucci says

Posted on January 26th, 2006 – 12:47 AM
By Ben Welter
John Mariucci in 1956: Newspaper artists of the era used white watercolor paint to mask out parts of an image.

One more hockey story, in the spirit of the 2006 Winter Olympics, before we let that sport rest for a while:

Eleven Minnesotans, including Gophers legend John Mayasich, anchored the U.S. hockey team that won silver at the 1956 Winter Games in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. Coach John Mariucci, on leave from the Gophers, spoke to the Tribune’s Dick Gordon by phone after the Americans beat the Czechs 9-4 in the final game. This sidebar appeared on the front of the Tribune’s Sunday “Peach” sports section next to stories on the U.S. victory and the Soviets’ 2-0 win over Canada.

The Tribune devoted a lot of space to the Olympics that year — but didn’t send a single reporter or photographer to Cortina, Italy, to cover the games. Instead, the paper used AP, UPI and the occasional staff-written story based on a phone interview.

Mariucci by Phone: ‘We Rose to Heights; Russia Too Good’

Sunday Tribune Staff Writer
Copyright 1956 Minneapolis
Star and Tribune Company

The voice on the other end of the transatlantic phone, thousands of miles away in the Olympic headquarters at Cortina, Italy, was that of Minnesota’s own John Mariucci, when he said Saturday night:

“Ordinarily you never figure on going for anything but first place, but in this case, over-all, I’ll take second. Russia was out of this world. And Canada, the Swedes and the Czechs were great, too.”

Then the United States Olympic hockey coach from Eveleth, Minn., condescended to talk long distance to the Sunday Tribune in English even though he insisted “Italian is my native tongue. I’ve been speaking it a lot more than English since I got here.”

Elaborating on the Russian hockey team which completed its sweep of all Olympic opponents yesterday with a 2-0 victory over Canada, Mariucci said: “We rose to the heights against them, played even better than we did in beating Canada. Our game (won by Russia 4-0) could have gone either way, but they are still far superior.

“If we played all week, they’d win six out of seven. They skate faster. Gosh, how they fly! And they pass like machines. They’re never out of position, seldom make a mistake.

“Canada body-checked them tough today but it still didn’t make any difference.”

How would Russia fare against one of the top American collegiate teams packed with Canadians like the Michigan powerhouse of recent years?

“Could you hear me laugh,” said Maroosh. “It wouldn’t be a game. Russia would kick the heck out of them. They’d do the same to any amateur team I’ve seen. After all, I still think this American team of ours is pretty good, and look what they did to us.

John Mayasich of Eveleth, Minn., scored a hat trick in the Americans’ 4-1 upset victory over Canada in the championship round.

“We were in top condition, the boys had tended to business perfectly, but they must’ve been in even better condition.”

He was asked how Russia could shut out two goal-happy teams like the U.S. and Canada on successive nights. “They just never gave us a chance to get a break,” he said.

Do they back-check? “It’s terrible they do it so well.”

Talking about his own Minnesota-dominated American team, which took runner-up honors in the Olympic tournament with 11 boys from the home state, Maroosh said, “We were lazy until after that loss to Czechoslovakia in the preliminaries. Then we started to go. I’d been bawling them out ever since we got to Europe and we finally got going.

“We played pretty well against the Czechs in our last game today.”

How did John Mayasich emerge from his slump, which had bothered him during the exhibitions on this side of the water?

“He’s a very determined boy, you know,” said the leave-of-absence Gopher coach. “But when it counted, he was as great as he’d ever been before, the best man we had on the forward line. And that Ikola – he was terrific. I may be wrong, but I think they’ll make him the all-world goalie tomorrow.”

Mariucci added that Jack Petroske, the defenseman who was called up in an injury emergency, was “one of the best men we had on the back line and really helped us a lot.”

The irrepressible world traveler sounded almost tired when he said, “It’s two in the morning here now. This has been the worst week of pressure I’ve ever experienced. There never was a letup. Not only were the Russians superior to us, but the Czechs and the Swedes were good enough to beat us as often as we beat them. These Europeans really can skate.”

Mariucci, whose parents and grandparents were born in Italy, will visit an aunt in a town called Prugia today. Then after a series of exhibitions through Europe, he’ll lead his Olympic runner-up back home the last of February.

“Tell Marsh Ryman (Gopher coach) good luck against Denver and the rest of the way,” he concluded.

Some members of the 1956 U.S. hockey team. Front: John Matchefts, John Mayasich, Dan McKinnon, Jim Sedin, Wendell Anderson, Gene Campbell. Back: Ed Sampson, Richard Dougherty, Ken Purpur, Willard Ikola, Gordon Christian, Dick Meredith.

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