30 years after Hrkac Circus, UND legend still has fond memories
Thirty years ago, Tony Hrkac arrived on campus optimistic. "We had a few new faces," he said. "Like anything, you're not totally sure, but you're optimistic about the season." Then, the 1986-87 UND men's hockey team started playing. It blew out i...
Thirty years ago, Tony Hrkac arrived on campus optimistic.
"We had a few new faces," he said. "Like anything, you're not totally sure, but you're optimistic about the season."
Then, the 1986-87 UND men's hockey team started playing.
It blew out its first eight opponents by the scores of 6-2, 7-1, 5-2, 11-5, 8-4, 6-4, 9-4 and 6-2. At that point, Hrkac knew the team may be special.
"About six or seven games into it, we were going pretty well," Hrkac said. "Our goaltending was good. Eddie (Belfour) was a freshman, and he was coming into his own. When your goalie is playing well and you have confidence in your goalie-and after the first month, we did-things start to pick up."
By the time the season ended, Hrkac and his teammates completed the most prolific season in school history, setting records that stand today.
UND won the MacNaughton Cup as the Western Collegiate Hockey Association regular season champions. It won the Broadmoor Trophy as WCHA playoff champions, beating Minnesota for the title.
It won the regional, sweeping St. Lawrence in a two-game series. And it won the national championship, beating Michigan State 5-3 in Detroit's Joe Louis Arena in the final game.
Hrkac, who played on a line with his roommates, Bob Joyce and Steve Johnson, racked up 116 points-an NCAA record that may never be broken. He was named WCHA Most Valuable Player and won the Hobey Baker Award.
Joyce scored a school-record 52 goals and was named a first-team all-WCHA player. In fact, four of the six first-teamers were UND players. Defenseman Ian Kidd and Belfour also earned first-team honors. All four were named All-Americans, too.
UND's final record of 40-8 still stands as the best in program history.
"You're in the moment," Hrkac said. "You play games, and you try to win as many as you can. We were on a roll that year. We kept rolling, and had a fun time doing it. We had no control over how people would remember us. We were just trying to win games."
Everyone also remembers the nickname for the top line, the Hrkac Circus. A fan came up with the nickname in a contest by the Grand Forks Herald.
Hrkac and Joyce were together the entire season. Their third linemate, at times, rotated, but Johnson was the most frequent.
Those three combined for 275 points that season.
"Bob was very good down low in the offensive zone," Hrkac said. "He was strong on the puck, which means he had the puck a lot. I drew players to me. Steve and Bob, being very smart players, they knew how to get open, and they got open. They knew how to receive passes and get shots off quickly.
"We started clicking together. And after the first few games, we knew what each other was going to do."
After the 1986-87 season, Hrkac turned pro, signing with the St. Louis Blues and immediately playing three playoff games.
Hockey has been part of his life ever since.
He played professionally for 19 years, suiting up in the NHL for the Blues, Quebec Nordiques, San Jose Sharks, Chicago Blackhawks, Edmonton Oilers, Dallas Stars, New York Islanders, Anaheim Mighty Ducks and Atlanta Thrashers.
After a three-year retirement from playing, Hrkac came back to play for the Houston Aeros in the American Hockey League. He was one of the Aeros' leading scorers in the playoffs at age 42 in 2009. His last year as a pro was at age 43.
Hrkac then got into coaching. He spent five years as the head coach of Concordia-Wisconsin's Division III startup team, one year as the head coach of the Milwaukee Admirals U18 team and one year as an assistant for the Madison Capitols in the United States Hockey League.
Hrkac now is in his second year as a professional scout for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"It's fun," he said. "You get to see a lot of hockey, and it's nice being on the other side of the team for once. I was always a player. You never really are part of the management. You get to see how teams are built and managed and how you have to look for the future. There are a lot of things that go into building a team. I'm learning a lot, and it's fun to be part of that."
Because he was out scouting, Hrkac was not in Tampa to see UND win its eighth national championship, but he was following closely.
He attended UND's final series of the regular season against Western Michigan and helped present the team the Penrose Cup after it.
"I got to see them play last year," he said, "and that was quite a team."
Hrkac still keeps in touch with many of his teammates; many still live in Grand Forks. His daughter recently attended UND, too.
"I'm just happy to be part of the program," he said. "Whenever I see guys who played for the program, we have that bond. We were all part of the same program and tradition."