Obituary: Wren Blair / Colorful first coach of hockey's Minnesota North Stars
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The Minnesota North Stars hired Wren Blair as their first coach and general manager partially because he was an entertainer.
And Mr. Blair delivered.
"He was a character, he really was," former North Stars defenseman Tom Reid said. "The things he used to do on the bench and in the dressing room were crazy. He was the type of guy who could scream and holler, and be your best friend two minutes later."
Mr. Blair, who also served as president of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the '70s, died Wednesday at his home in Whitby, Ontario, at age 87.
"Wren was really flamboyant, he was outgoing, he was gregarious, he was demonstrative," said Lou Nanne, who played for Mr. Blair and later became the North Stars coach and general manager, too. "He really enjoyed life, and he was wild. He was very unpredictable, and he loved hockey, and his players, and working with the game."
Mr. Blair's first claim to fame was finding and signing Bobby Orr, then a 14-year-old phenom, for a Boston Bruins-sponsored team in 1962. Mr. Orr is considered one of the greatest defensemen in hockey history and led the Bruins to two Stanley Cup championships.
Mr. Blair was general manager of the Minneapolis Bruins, a Central League team that played for two seasons (1963-65), before his jump to the National Hockey League. Walter Bush, a partner in the Bruins and the first North Stars president, hired Mr. Blair as general manager/coach to put together the expansion North Stars for the 1967-68 season.
Mr. Blair had two tenures as coach and remained as general manager until 1974, when he was fired and replaced by his coach, Jack Gordon.
Following his North Stars days, Mr. Blair served as president of the Penguins from 1975-77, then spent six years as player personnel director for the Los Angeles Kings before staying involved in junior and minor league hockey.
"The Bird" was known as a wild man on bench, often climbing on boards to profanely berate officials and his players.
"I had to do something to get some attention," Mr. Blair told the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 1991. "The Twins, the Vikings and the Gophers football team owned the town.
"One night, a reporter asked me about the crowd. I said, 'Ah, they are nothing but a bunch of phlegmatic Swedes, sitting up there on their hands like pieces of stone.' [Jim] Klobuchar wrote a column in the Minneapolis Star, saying he was offended because I had ignored all of the phlegmatic Norwegians, Italians, Germans and Irishmen.
"By Christmas time, that building was full."
First Published January 8, 2013 12:06 am