Bob Peabody fought polio, an organized blood clot, surgery and stitches to help UND win a national championship in 1959
UND’s first NCAA national championship team didn’t waste any time trading old stories Friday as they gathered for a 60-year anniversary of the 1958-59 season.
They laughed at the thought of how they used to have to share showers with their opponents in the Winter Sports Building.
They proudly spoke about how one of their teammates -- Ed Thomlinson -- went on to be a New Jersey Devils scout, where he won more Stanley Cup rings than Bobby Orr. They mentioned that another teammate -- Bernard Haley -- became an elite referee who called the 1980 Miracle on Ice team’s gold-medal clincher against Finland in Lake Placid, N.Y. He was such a fast skater that once in the 1980 Olympics, a Russian player passed him the puck, thinking he was a teammate.
Art Miller even brought along the stick and “helmet” he used during his career at UND.
Soon, the topic will surely turn toward that special weekend in Troy, N.Y., where they defeated St. Lawrence and Michigan State in back-to-back overtime games to lift UND to its first NCAA title in Troy, N.Y.
And they’ll probably reminisce about the postgame celebration, where they went to New York City, walked the nearly two-mile Holland Tunnel after their bus broke down, saw the bright lights for two days and even skated on the Rockefeller Center rink.
Ten players and two student managers are expected to be back Saturday tonight. They’ll be honored during the first intermission of UND’s game against Colorado College in Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Among the players who will be in town are Miller, Thomlinson, Reg Morelli, Joe Poole, Guy LaFrance, Les Merrifield, Bart Larson, Gerry Walford, Julian Brunette, Bob Peabody and managers Ted Kotyk and Tom Neil.
Those who aren’t expected to make it include: Haley, Pete Gazeley, Ralph ‘Trucker’ Lyndon, Stan Paschke and George Gratton. Team members Bob Began, Bill Steenson and Ron King have passed away.
“We were always close together,” Peabody said. “We always kept in touch with each other.”
Of all the wild stories of the 1959 championship team, Peabody perhaps has the most improbable one: he fought polio, he battled an organized blood clot in his head that would cause him to pass out sometimes, he had five knee operations and 240 facial stitches en route to becoming an NCAA national champion.Overcoming adversity
Peabody, who was born in East Grand Forks and raised in Grand Forks, came down with polio at age 7. He was put into isolation in East Hall, a dormitory near the old Ralph Engelstad Arena on UND’s campus. For months, the only time he was able to see his family was through a second-story window.
At night, hospital workers would strap Peabody to his bed and put hot packs on him to try to keep him from being deformed.
“People would probably say it’s not humane today,” Peabody said.
Many of his roommates died, usually at night.
“It is not a fun time to remember,” Peabody said.
After about four months, he was allowed to leave East Hall and return home. Because of the disease, the muscles on his left side didn’t grow at the same rate as his right side. Dr. Ralph Leigh suggested that Peabody learn to skate and swim to try to strengthen his limbs. It wasn’t until his college freshman year that Peabody felt the left side had caught up to the right side.
“I’m one of the fortunate ones who has very, very little leftover from the disease,” Peabody said.
Peabody learned how to play goalie without any fancy equipment. He sometimes used magazines as shin pads. Although he had plenty of success -- Peabody played on five all-star teams growing up -- he had no intention of playing college hockey when he enrolled at UND.
Coach Al Renfrew needed another goalie, though, and lured Peabody to the team with a $120 scholarship.
Freshmen were ineligible to play back then, so Peabody didn’t see the ice until his sophomore year, when he had another incident that will surely be discussed this weekend.
Peabody had an organized blood clot in his head that formed after taking a slap shot from a Minnesota player in the head.
“If I got hit on it or touched real hard, I would black out,” Peabody said. “We were in Denver and I was the only goalie we had. I got hit there and I was in La La Land.”
Coach Bob May asked the officials to go to intermission and finish the second period after intermission. They agreed.
The coaches told Began that he may have to play goalie in the third period. Began had never played goalie before in his life.
The team took Peabody’s jersey and chest protector off and put him in the shower -- still with gear on -- and ran cold water over him, trying to get him to back.
“They were able to bring me back to the point where I played in the third period,” Peabody said. UND won the game.
UND made it to the NCAA national championship game that season of 1957-58, but fell to Denver in the championship game. With most of the players returning next season, UND knew it had a chance to make a run at a championship.
During that offseason, Peabody was told that he probably shouldn’t play hockey anymore. Word got to the Grand Forks Herald, which published a story about it. After that, Peabody was determined to play one more year.
He came back for the 1958-59 season and led UND to the Frozen Four in Troy. During warmups before the tournament, he took a puck between the eyes and his eyes swelled shut. UND tried everything it could to get them to open back up.
They used wooden matches to roll his eyelids back. They taped his eyelids to his forehead for the semifinals against St. Lawrence. It worked for two-and-a-half periods.
“I cried so bad that the tears built up to the point where I couldn’t see,” Peabody said.
During the third period, Peabody skated off the ice, accidentally going to St. Lawrence’s bench first because he couldn’t see anymore. George Gratton came in to finish that game and play in the championship.
After Morelli scored the overtime goal to lift UND to the championship, Michigan State’s student manager gave Peabody the Michigan State banner. He brought it out for this weekend as a memory of that season.
Peabody said he’s enjoyed watching the program grow over the years, and he and his teammates are proud of the role they played in its growth.
UND coach Brad Berry said Friday that he often ran into Thomlinson on the road when Thomlinson was scouting for the Devils, but he never saw him wearing his Stanley Cup champion rings.
“He was always wearing the green one,” Berry said.
Peabody said: “There’s no program that I know of that has come from basically zero into the level that the university’s program is at now in basically a 65-year period. That’s from a spectator standpoint, from a facility standpoint, from a coaching standpoint, from an academic standpoint.
“The other schools, I’m not saying anything bad about any of them. They’ve all done a reasonably good job. But when we first started playing, it was the Michigan schools, Minnesota, Wisconsin, the two schools in Colorado. Nobody has done what we’ve done. There’s no if, ands or buts about it. Nobody has a dressing room like we do. Nobody has a structure like we have. It’s the premier program.”