Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Sad day in St. Paul

In life there are a handful of days that you will never forget. Some that we all share are the day you get married, the day your children are born and when you lose a loved one.

As the city of St. Paul morns the loss of one of their own, restaurateur Nick Mancini, I can remember when I met him for the first time like it were yesterday.

It was the spring of 1989 and the Frozen Four was being held in St. Paul. My dad gave me some miles on American Airlines and I took off to do some writing for College Hockey Magazine. I knew nobody. I was wide-eyed and looking to watch some great hockey and meet some new people.

Four great teams were left. Shawn Walsh's Maine Black Bears, Ron Mason's Michigan State Spartans, Doug Woog's hometown Minnesota Golden Gophers and Bill Cleary's eventual champion, Harvard Crimson. TRIVIA time - who scored the game winning goal for the Crimson and what happened to him the next year?

I shared a cab with Notre Dame hockey coach Lefty Smith to the Radisson Hotel in St. Paul. I had met Smith in the Chicago airport as we were both on the same flight and delayed. We got to talking and having a good conversation that lasted the entire flight. When we arrived, Smith introduced me to Steve Klein and Neil Koepke. He told them that I was a good kid and they should get to know me. So the two men looked at this young kid and each other and then invited me to join them for dinner that night at Mancini's Char House. Being me, of course I accepted their kind invitation.

So I meet them in the lobby on March 29, the night before the semifinals, along with some other folks that night and head over to Mancini's for dinner. Standing at the door was Nick as if he knew we were coming and as if he had known all of us for 1,000 years. He sat us and then joined us for most of the evening on and off to talk hockey. He bought us a few drinks and we had an incredible night. The food was very good and the place was packed with people. It looked like a steak house out of the 50s in Vegas or New York City. He gave us hats and shirts and all kinds of trinkets to say thanks for coming in.

He was a great host and an even a better man. Every time I have gone back to St. Paul, I have made it my goal to go their as often as possible. I will continue to do so, but it just won't be the same.

That night was part of a trip that changed my life forever. I met people that weekend that have become lifelong friends and one in particular in Steve Klein who hired me for jobs that I can never repay him for. Klein's friendship, guidance and love are the reasons why I ended up in Atlanta and why I have all of the wonderful blessings in my life that I have. Not sure I say it enough Steve, but thanks.

And those relationships started that night at Mancini's.

Thanks Nick for being a great person who just got it. No question we need more of your kind on the planet. You will be sorely missed.

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