DULUTH -- Tom Kurvers, a Stanley Cup champion with the Montreal Canadiens and the first of six Hobey Baker Memorial Award winners at the University of Minnesota Duluth, died Monday morning at the age of 58. Bulldogs hockey social media first announced his death Monday morning.
Kurvers, an assistant general manager with the Minnesota Wild, was diagnosed in January 2019 with adenocarcinoma — a small-cell lung cancer that had spread into his lymph nodes and sternum.
A member of the DECC Hall of Fame, Kurvers came to UMD in 1980 as a 17-year-old out of Bloomington Jefferson High School. He won the Hobey as a senior at UMD in 1983-84 after putting up 76 points off 18 goals and 58 assists. He was also named WCHA Player of the Year and an All-American while captaining the Bulldogs to the 1984 NCAA championship game and the program’s first WCHA regular-season and postseason titles.
He was inducted into the UMD Athletic Hall of Fame in 1991 and to this day still holds school records for career goals (43) and points (192) by a defenseman.
Former Bulldogs coach Mike Sertich said what really put Kurvers over the top in 1983-84 to make him the fourth recipient ever of the Hobey Baker Memorial Award was his character.
“I always thought if my sons grew up to be like Tom Kurvers, I would be a successful dad. He meant that much to me as a player on our team,” Sertich said prior to Kurvers' induction into the DECC Hall of Fame in 2019.
“I think (the Hobey Baker committee) realized his leadership ability. He was an outstanding student. He was very good in the community. Everything I ever asked those guys to do, they did. That was part of the whole story. They endeared themselves to the community during a time when the community needed something to grab onto. Tommy was the captain and the leader of the whole thing. That was very obvious to a lot of people outside of Duluth. This kid is pretty special.”
Kurvers played for seven different teams over 11 seasons in the NHL, starting with the Canadiens, who he won the Stanley Cup with in 1985-86. He was traded three times — from Montreal to the Buffalo Sabres in ’86-87, from Buffalo to the New Jersey Devils before the ’87-88 season and again at the start of the ’89-90 campaign to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Scott Niedermayer.
He played one season with the Vancouver Canucks in ’90-91, three with the New York Islanders from 1991-94 and finally a single season with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in ’94-95.
After playing in the NHL, he’s spent the past 20-plus years as a scout and executive in the league. His first 11 were with the Arizona Coyotes as a radio analyst, professional scout and then director of player personnel. The next 10 were with the Tampa Bay Lightning as assistant general manager and then senior advisor to the general manager. In June 2018 he returned home to Minnesota to serve as the assistant general manager of the Minnesota Wild and general manager of the the franchises’ top minor league affiliate, the Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League.
Those who played with Kurvers and later worked with him credit his “elite” vision — both on the ice and in the front office — for a long and successful career in the NHL.
“His vision both on and off the ice, he’s very cerebral. He’s very intelligent,” Norm Maciver, the Seattle Kraken’s director of player personnel and former roommate of Kurvers at UMD, said back in 2019. “He thinks things through. The one thing about Tom is he asks a lot of questions. It’s not that he has all the answers. He’s very inquisitive. He likes to ask a lot of questions, he likes to converse with people he really respects in the game.
“He’s just got this insatiable appetite to learn and to be a better person, a better executive, a better player. That has carried him throughout his career.”
Kurvers credited his father, Jim, and mother, Julie, for the success he had in hockey.
Jim was a multi-sport athlete in high school at Hopkins. In addition to being an all-state football player and four-year letter-winner in baseball, he was a member of the powerhouse Hopkins basketball teams that won state titles in 1952 and 1953.
Tom Kurvers said his dad knew how to be a good sports parent because he was an athlete himself. Jim Kurvers was supportive, but also knew when to be quiet. He was demanding of his children’s effort and commitment to the game, but didn’t toss in any “extra junk.”
Meanwhile, Julie Kurvers, who passed away from her own battle with cancer in January 2018, instilled grit and defiance into Tom and his four siblings.
“For me, the home I grew up in was a huge factor for any athletic success I had,” Kurvers said in 2019.
Reflecting on 1984
Before being inducted into the DECC Hall of Fame in summer 2019, Kurvers reflected on the Hobey win in 1984 that started it all for UMD. Kurvers said he and the others have benefited from each others’ win, but nothing has shined as bright of a spotlight on him, the Bulldogs and the university more than what Scott Perunovich and company have done the past few years winning back-to-back national championships.
Kurvers said the NCAA titles now properly overshadow the now six Hobey winners, with Perunovich being the most recent in April 2020.
“That has brought more attention to all of us than Jack winning his Hobey Baker in 2012,” Kurvers said after UMD repeated in 2019. “It’s now a championship program, with five winners. It’s quite a story up there in Duluth when you put it in that context. I do think the titles are bigger than these awards.”
Winning the award during the 1984 Frozen Four in Lake Placid, N.Y. was an emotional roller coaster for Kurvers. Sertich initially informed the team of Kurvers’ honor in the locker room following a 2-1 overtime win over North Dakota that sent UMD to the national championship game.
“After we won the semifinal game against North Dakota, he came in and let everyone know. I was surprised,” Kurvers said. “We were already in a real good state of mind after an overtime win. It was pretty cool, but you were already feeling as good as you can feel. It wasn’t like I all of a sudden felt better. I was feeling really happy and really excited about what we had just accomplished.”
The next morning while the rest of the team was practicing for the NCAA title game, Kurvers and Sertich went to the official announcement of the 1984 Hobey winner. Kurvers said as flattering as it was to win the award, he didn’t like the feeling of being pulled away from his teammates the day before the eventual four-overtime loss to Bowling Green State in the NCAA championship.
“I remember I was uncomfortable with that,” Kurvers said, recalling the experience. “I used to talk about it — I haven’t said this in 10 years — I used to think, ‘You got to find a better time to do it. Do it after the game, do it Sunday night, do it a different time. Don’t lay that honor on a player who has to play another game.’ It’s heavy. It’s humbling, it’s great, but you didn’t get there by playing an individual sport. You got there by being part of a good team in almost every single case for the lifetime of that award. Quite a few players have been chosen and then played the championship game the next day. I found it to be rather heavy. One, missing practice on Friday and two, it interrupted the preparation for the biggest game of your life.”
Leave it to Kurvers’ co-captain and longtime roommate at UMD, Bill Grillo, to make his teammate feel better about the award the next morning. While the team was having breakfast, Grillo got up and presented Kurvers with a fake newspaper he somehow procured in Lake Placid with a headline that read, “Kurvers tied Grillo for Hobey.”
Kurvers kept that newspaper. He said it was the memory from winning the award that always stuck with him.