Reunion in Saint Paul

by Arthur Bowman and David Ekberg

[The Championship Tournament of college hockey reunited two North Parkers after 36 years. They each, unknown to the other, composed an account of it for Pietisten. — Ed.]

The Frozen Four

by Arthur Bowman

Hockey enthusiasts have never been known for being “creative types” and so their naming of the NCAA tournament to crown the top college hockey team in the US as “The Frozen Four” can be forgiven them. Alliteration aside, using the word “frozen” in the name of the tournament is a misnomer. There is nothing frozen about this tournament. The games are played in warm arenas. Fire flares from the mouths of frenetic fans. Tempers reach the boiling point. Only the ice is frozen.

A ticket to this year’s Frozen Four was a much-sought-after commodity, especially since the venue was St. Paul, Minnesota, and the University of Minnesota was one of the four teams competing. Hockey is a religion in Minnesota thus making this year’s Frozen Four akin to an old-fashioned revival meeting. A puck’s real presence in the opponent’s goal is sacramental for Minnesota hockey fans. So it was with great anticipation that I journeyed down to the Excel Energy Center in St. Paul to look for the man who had promised me a ticket to the final game and the NCAA College Hockey Tournament.

The ticket holder whom I was to meet was not a stranger to me, but since I had not seen him for over 36 years I was a little nervous that “ships might pass in the night.” We had scheduled our meeting for the corner of Kellogg and West Seventh. But people change over 36 years and maybe we would fail to connect because we wouldn’t recognize one another. If push came to shove, I wondered if I would be so nervy as to stand on the corner and shout out “Skeets” to get David’s attention. I hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

David Ekberg and I had been roommates during our junior and senior years at North Park College. After graduation we parted company, our only connection has been correspondence at Christmas. As I looked for David on the busy corner of Kellogg and West Seventh, his father’s words at graduation were still ringing in my ears. David’s Dad, Milt, stated professorially, “Today you boys are on top of the totem pole; tomorrow you will be on the bottom.” I don’t think Milt was passing judgment on the value of a B.A. from North Park College, but it did make me wonder. I wondered as I walked toward my hoped for meeting with David about that totem pole and how high or low each of us might now be on that pole. Try as I might to say that the totem pole was a “works righteousness” metaphor and thus not worthy of true Christian sentiment, its image had wormed its way into my soul.

I spotted David right away. I considered for a moment just staying my ground and waiting to see if he would recognize me. David soon spotted me and our reunion began. There would be a bit of tension in this reunion as Dave would be rooting for the Maine Black Bears to beat my Minnesota Gophers. I slipped into the conversation that the Gophers were favored. For the first two periods of the game it looked like the prognosticators were right and the Gophers would win, but Maine tied the score, and then went ahead. With just over two minutes left in the game Maine was winning by one goal. I was silently preparing my congratulatory speech.

Reunions have a tentative quality about them. I hoped this reunion would all be positive. I didn’t want the outcome of the game to ruin it so I held in check my desire to yell and scream for the Gophers. But Minnesota needed to win this game to assuage the poor image the school had built up because of various problems in the Athletic Department. More was at stake than just the outcome of a hockey game. When Minnesota tied the score in the waning minutes of the last period, my pent up emotion burst forth with a wild cheer. Overtime loomed and I was getting a headache.

Minnesota scored the winning goal in overtime. I hope I was as gracious in victory as David was in defeat. It seems so as we have e-mailed since and look forward to more shared time together. And the totem pole? I really didn’t think much about it once we had settled down to talking about the things that really mattered.

Two ’64 Vikings in Puckhead Heaven

by David Ekberg

Though we had seen very little of each other since we were graduated in the venerable Class of ’64 from North Park College and Theological Seminary (that’s what is printed on our diplomas even though we both earned only B.A.s at the time), Rev. Arthur M. (Skeets) Bowman, III and I had no difficulty quickly and warmly reuniting in early April at the Xcel Center in St. Paul for the NCAA Division I Hockey Championship Final between the University of Maine and the University of Minnesota.

Skeets arrived at Burgh Hall in September, 1960 from California; I from Massachusetts. We were suitemates as juniors and seniors and played on what we believe was the finest intramural football team in North Park history. We both tried earnestly—and failed abysmally—to gain the sustained attention of the most beguiling woman in our class.

Along with other close friends, Skeets and I helped engineer the best campus pranks of our era—the “relocation” of every book in the college bookstore to a place beneath the risers in a music practice room under the gym where they remained undetected for several days; the 10:00 p.m. broadcast of Ray Charles’ “Tell Me What’d I Say” through the speakers in the Old Main Cupola; the baptism of every piece of silverware from the dining hall into the diving end of the swimming pool; the placement of a VW Beetle in the reading circle of the periodical section of the Library; and the ferrying of a live Canada goose up the freight elevator into the top floor of the nurses dorm at Swedish Covenant Hospital.

Subsequently, Skeets took his M.Div. from the Seminary. I went to Saigon and then earned an MBA. We have each been married to our first wives for over thirty years and have children scattered from Minnesota to Melbourne, Australia (his) and Massachusetts to Bend, Oregon (mine). Both recovering Covenanters, Skeets has served a succession of Lutheran churches and I was once a Trustee of our local UCC parish. Skeets enjoyed a stable and successful career within the ministry and I experienced the mercurial pattern of a career within the financial services industry. He is now comfortably retired and I am still a struggling capitalist. Perhaps there’s a lesson in here somewhere.

There we were among nearly 20,000 hockey faithful at the highest altar of college hockey. The arena was awash with the Maroon and Gold raiments of the rabid followers of the host school. I was one of a small, but lusty, group of supporters of the Maine Black Bears.

As the stadium rocked with the “M-I-N-N-E-S-O-T-A … ’sota…’sota…goooooooo Gophers” cheer, Skeets and I followed the outstanding play and played our own game of “where-are-they-now?” The Gophers scored first. We talked about the North Parkers he sees in the Twin Cities and the few I encounter in Greater Boston. Maine tied it at 1-1. We swapped stories about mutual friends’ divorces, business successes, unusual life paths—even deaths.

The decibels reached a deafening level when Minnesota went ahead again, 2-1. We tried to communicate about our permanent and evolving values—which became a bit easier after the Black Bears tied it at two all. We exchanged insights, remarkably similar, about North Park’s fiscal irresponsibilities and alumni cultivation failures. When Maine took its first lead, 3-2, in the third period, the arena became quiet except for the Maine band and the comparatively weak “M-A-I-N-E…goooooooo Blue.” Then, with less than two minutes left, the Gophers’ coach pulled the goalie and added a sixth skater. A face-off to the left of the Maine goalie was controlled by Minnesota; the puck was deftly passed to an open Gopher who blasted the tying goal with 50 seconds left. Gopher Nation went absolutely nutso and the structural integrity of the new arena was put to perhaps its toughest sound stress test ever.

Skeets and I had an opportunity to talk even more while the ice was resurfaced for overtime. We shared an understanding of how much has changed—and how much has remained the same; how important it is to have “lived a little along the way” so that you don’t wake up in your late 50s and discover that your life has been unbalanced, no matter how financially comfortable you may or may not be, so that you have missed too much of your now-grown children’s lives, deferred travel adventures, under-nurtured old and new friendships, and left too many good books on the “to read later” shelf.

Then the Maroon and Gold and the Blue and White came back on the ice for “sudden death” OT. We made no further attempts to philosophize or reminisce. Minnesotans and Mainers alike were now in such an elevated level of delirium that there was only enough mental and emotional energy to be laser-like focused on the game. Maine’s team hailed from Ontario, Massachusetts, British Columbia, Slovakia and, yes, Maine. Consistent with its long-standing tradition, Minnesota recruits only in-state talent—with just one exception, a player from just across the Red River in Grand Forks. The “us vs. the world” feeling was palpable. End-to-end action. Clean, hard checking. Great passing. Disciplined shooting. Amazing goaltending. The game—and the crowd—roared back and forth. The refs were “lettin’ ’em play.” Then, a huge collision near mid-ice; the Gopher got decked—and the Bear was assessed a tripping penalty. Minnesota went on a power play. And the one Minnesotan from North Dakota scored the winning goal. What can only be described as a rare form of hockey glossolalia then opened puckhead heaven as the enraptured Gophers claimed the national title.

Skeets and I agreed we should meet like this more often.

Arthur Bowman, former Covenant and Lutheran pastor, works for the Archdiocese of St. Paul as an Interim Parish Life Administrator. Presently he is on assignment to St. Joan of Arc in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

See all articles by Arthur Bowman

David Ekberg, a North Park College graduate, lives in Southborough, Massachusetts.

See all articles by David Ekberg