Reusse: Doc Nagobads of Miracle on Ice – “the greatest suturing man of all time” – turns 100

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The United States defeated the Soviet Union in a major loss in Olympic hockey, 4-3, on February 22, 1980. This would have caused a stir in the village of Lake Placid, NY, where the competition took place.

That was also the case here in Minnesota, home to 12 of the 20 players, and it created a patriotic frenzy even in the barren hockey lands of this then-existing country.

Dr George Nagobads, the team medic, had been traveling across North America and Europe with this team for months, and he had been standing next to Coach Herb Brooks on the bench for the entire time. upheaval.

As cowboy hats wearing masses sucked liquor from Lake Placid, chanting the two great anthems of the era, “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Luckenbach, Texas” to each other, Nagobads was asked this week about he had entered the party.

Nagobads leaned forward at a table where lunch was about to appear and he said, “When everyone left the arena, I went to my room to fill out the injury reports. status of players after each match.

“There was a knock on my door. I opened it and there were three players from the Russian team, including Helmut Balderis. He is Latvian, like me, and I had known ‘Baldy’ for a long time.

“The players were saying in Russian, ‘Doc, Doc, we need your help.’ ”

When Nagobads tells a story, he not only provides the details, but also the facial expressions that were probably his at the time.

So, 41 years later, he gave a surprised look and said, “I asked, ‘Why don’t you see the doctors on your team?’

“And Baldy said [in Russian], ‘No, Doc, we need you to come with us to the store where they sell moon boots. Our women want us to have these moon boots, and the people there can’t understand us. And there’s only half an hour left before the store closes. ” ‘

As he has in so many emergencies, the Hockey Doc has arrived – taking a break from the important paperwork to make sure Soviet brides have their moon boots on.

Nagobads speaks five languages: English, Latvian, Russian, German and French. It wasn’t his only Russian conversation on that momentous night. There was a brief one with Vladimir Petrov, a veteran of the Soviet team.

“Herb told me the day before the game, ‘We can win this game if we can keep our legs cool and skate with them,” Nagabods said.

“His strategy was to keep our shifts very short. He didn’t want shifts to last longer than 40 seconds; preferably 35 or 30. “

Nagobads was instructed to stand next to Brooks with a stopwatch and give him a count… “20 seconds, 25, now 30!” As Herbie waited to pull her quick trigger to change.

“Petrov had three face-offs in a shift and each time there was a different American player,” Nagobads said. hell is going on? ‘ in Russian.

“I replied in Russian: ‘Vladimir, you better ask your trainer.'”

Nagobads was the star attraction in mid-October for a lunch at Tavern 23 in Edina which included Lou Nanne (# 23), Murray Williamson and Rob McClanahan.

He will be 100 years old on November 18. An “Expected” document has been submitted to Gov. Tim Walz’s office requesting that 11/18-2021 be declared Dr. George Nagobads Day in Minnesota.

That would seem like an open net, considering the Nagobads’ longevity in medicine and hockey, and the level of admiration they have earned in both – in Minnesota, nationally and internationally.

Visvaldis George Nagobads was born in 1921 in Riga, the Latvian capital. His parents were strong supporters of education and the arts.

“I was at a ball in 1940, when word spread that the Russians had crossed the border in force,” Nagobads said. “My father had a very important job in local schools. He was withdrawn and I was not admitted to college, even with excellent test scores.

“The Germans came a year later and the Russians ran like rabbits. When the Russians came back in 1944, that’s when we left Latvia.

“We thought Germany was safer for us than what the Russians would bring to Latvia. We didn’t learn of the Nazi horrors until much later.”

Nagobads obtained a medical degree from the University of Tubingen in the Frankfurt region. He was working for an international group of refugees in France battling tuberculosis when he learned of the existence of medical opportunities in Minnesota.

George and his future wife, Velta, received their papers and emigrated to Minnesota in 1951. She died in 2005. George visited the burial site regularly, although he was robbed and beaten there in 2015.

He’ll show you the scar on his head if he’s not wearing his traditional fedora for indoor rinks.

Nagabods was working in the health department at the University of Minnesota when Dr. Ruth Boynton, a U of M medical legend, told her in 1958:

“The hockey team needs a doctor to work with them. Are you interested?

Nagobads said enthusiastically: “I played hockey in Latvia. I love hockey. I want to do it.

Nagobads went to what was then the smallest hockey game in Williams Arena, met coach John Mariucci, began his journey as a Hockey Doc: 34 with the Gophers, five Olympic teams, 25 other American international teams.

Williamson, now 87 but still on Doc’s call, coached the 1972 Olympic team and informed at the Denver airport that another doctor would be the team’s doctor in Sapporo, Japan.

“I said, ‘My team medic is Doc Nagobads,” Williamson said. “We won’t get on this plane without him. “

The Hockey Doc smiled and said, “They appointed me coach or something, but I was there with Murray when his team won the silver medal.

Nanne smiled from across the table and said, “You know what Doc gets every gold for? Sewing cuts. He put 100s on me. If one of our kids got cut. on the playing field we called Doc. The greatest suturing man ever. ”

McClanahan paid tribute to Nagobads as a go-between for players and brooks mercurials.

Doc nodded and said, “There’s our unsung hero from Lake Placid.” We had to beat Finland two days after the game against Russia, or not only do we not win gold, we do not win a medal.

“And who scored the winning goal, which broke a 2-2 tie with Finland? Right there. Rob McClanahan.”

To which Doc Nagabods, about to turn 100, still as sharp as he could get, raised a glass.

It was water, but it came from the Hockey Doc, admired and summoned by countless numbers for six decades, even the Russians on a night they miraculously lost and yet needed moon boots.


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