69 years of MN hockey tournament for Texas man

Life is good — so far — at the venerable Minnesota high school hockey tournament. The private schools are getting knocked off — should’ve spent less time working on the hair, perhaps — and the Moorhead Spuds — the greatest team name in all of sports — are moving on.

Robert “Badger Bob” Smalley is here for the hockey. Again.

He’s 88 now, the Fargo Forum reports, and his first state hockey tournament — 1949 — seems like a long time ago.

He hasn’t missed one since
He’s only missed four since. That’s believed to be a record in Minnesota.

Smalley lives in Austin, Texas now, but that doesn’t stop him from migrating north around this time every year.

This year marks the 73rd tournament. Robert Smalley has attended all but four of them, watching in excess of 1,000 games. A few stand out, including Duluth East’s five-overtime loss to Apple Valley in 1996 — “That was probably the best game I’ve ever seen,” Smalley said — but he’s witnessed so many memorable moments, players and teams that Smalley can’t keep them all straight.

“I don’t remember all of the names, but I can sure picture them,” he said.

He recalled ex-East star Dave Spehar, the Brotens from Roseau and the iconic International Falls clubs coached by Larry Ross.

“He’d come down here and play two lines against three,” Smalley said. “You couldn’t do that now.”

Talk to Smalley, and you’re reminded of the Forrest Gump line: “I just felt like runnin’.”

Smalley just feels like watching hockey. It’s why he was at last week’s Section 7AA final between Duluth East and Grand Rapids, and why he and Kevin came to St. Paul a day early to take in Tuesday’s Wild game. Smalley never tires of this sport.

Smalley says he always backs the teams from northern Minnesota.