There is no denying that snowy Minnesota is the heartland of hockey in the United States.
But do you know who was the first Minnesotan to play in the National Hockey League?
The answer is Elwyn Romnes. He was better known as Doc, which he was absolutely fine with. He reported his given first name. He earned the nickname early on because he used to carry his skates in what appeared to be a physician's bag.
Romnes was born on New Year's Day, 1907 in White Bear Lake but by the time he was emerging as high school hockey hero he had moved to Saint Paul. This was back in the 1920s, before the days where Minnesota's high school stars would naturally star at the University of Minnesota or some other academic institute. Romnes turned pro in 1927 with the Saint Paul Saints, playing three seasons in the American Hockey Association.
In December 1930 the Chicago Black Hawks signed Romnes. In addition to being the first Minnesotan, he was one of the first American players brought to Chicago by owner Major Frederick MacLaughlin who was interested in turning the Hawks into a team of all American players.
That never materialized. But as one of the first Americans, Romnes found it tough to fit in with his Canadian teammates.
“There were times when nobody on my own Chicago Blackhawk team talked to me," he told Don Riley of the Pioneer Press in 1985. "They treated me a little like I was a thief. They wondered what an American was doing invading their preserve. Gosh, how I’d try to be a good teammate and set them up! That’s why I became a good playmaker, setting those fellows up so that they’d talk to me. I eventually got accepted, but it wasn’t easy.”
But Romnes did fit in, spending nine seasons in Chicago. Twice he helped the Black Hawks win the Stanley Cup - in 1934 and 1938. He led all Chicago scorers with seven assists and nine points in the 1934 championship run.
Including short stints with the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Americans late in his career, Doc Romnes skated in 360 NHL games, all in the 1930s when the schedule was only 48 games long. He scored 67 goals and 136 assists for 203 points. He added seven goals and 27 points in 47 Stanley Cup playoff games.
Romnes was a notably clean player, only taking 42 penalty minutes in his career. He won the Lady Byng Trophy for gentlemanly play in 1936 after setting career highs with 13 goals, 25 assists and 38 points while taking just three minor penalties.
Romnes went on to an impressive coaching career at both Michigan Tech and the University of Minnesota.
Doc Romnes was a charter member of the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 1973. He passed away in 1984.
“Doc” (He hated his given name Elwyn and got his nickname because he carried his skates in a physician’s case) later preceded John Mariucci as Minnesota’s headman in 1947 and helped lay the groundwork for Mariucci’s early success in reaching the NCAA Finals in his first two years. Gopher legend John Mayasich has paid high tribute to Romnes coaching skills.
He was among the charter enshrines to the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 1973 and died on July 21, 1984.