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Hockey great Dean Talafous headed to Badger Athletic Hall of Fame

Dean Talafous of Hudson has been selected for University of Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame. Talafous won a national title with the 1973 Badger hockey team and went on to a career in the National Hockey League, followed by coaching the UW-River Falls and Alaska-Anchorage college teams.1 / 2
Dean Talafous during his NHL playing days with New York Rangers. Talafous played over 500 games in the NHL for the Atlanta Flames, Minnesota North Stars and the Rangers. (Submitted photo)2 / 2

Dean Talafous said he was surprised when he got the call from University of Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez’s office telling him he’d been selected for the Badger Athletic Hall of Fame.

“It’s been 40 years,” Talafous said. “I think it’s safe to say I thought they probably forgot about me.”

Talafous, a hero during the Wisconsin hockey team’s first NCAA title run in 1973 and coach of UW-River Falls’ 1995 national championship team, is one of eight individuals who will be inducted into the Wisconsin Athletics Hall of Fame Friday, Aug. 30, and honored at halftime of the Badger football team’s game against Massachusetts the following day.

Talafous will be joined by Jamar Fletcher (football), Peter Tegen (track and field coach), David Greenwood (football, track) Claude Gregory (basketball), Andrea Kirchberg (softball), Jack Reinwand (wrestling), and Chuck LaBahn (special service) in the Class of 2013.

Talafous cemented his place in Badger hockey lore during the team’s 1973 NCAA title run. Trailing Cornell, 5-4, in the national semifinals, he scored a goal with five seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime, then scored the game-winner in a dramatic comeback victory. In the NCAA title game against Denver, he scored the game-winning goal in the Badgers’ 4-2 victory and earned tournament MVP honors.

The Badgers’ assist and game-winning goal leader in 1972-73 and 1973-74, Talafous went on to have a successful career in the NHL, where he played over 500 games during eight seasons for the Atlanta Flames, Minnesota North Stars and New York Rangers before retiring in 1982.

Talafous said he was touched by the call from the Hall of Fame.

“Barry Alvarez called and asked me how I felt about it and I said I feel like I’m 17 years old again and just got offered a scholarship to play for the Badgers,” he said. “To be inducted into the Hall of Fame -- Badger sports -- all sports; to be part of that group, I’m really honored and humbled.”

Talafous, a Hastings, Minn. native who now lives in Hudson, is the third member of the Badgers’ 1973 team to enter the hall, joining former teammate Steve Alley and legendary coach Bob Johnson, the man who offered him the scholarship to play at Wisconsin he was 17.

“What a wonderful coach and a wonderful man,” Talafous said about Johnson. “We would lose a game and he’d come in the next day and say, ‘It’s a great day for hockey,’ and he’d be smiling and tapping you on the pads. He’s the reason Wisconsin hockey is what it is; that Badger hockey is what it is. He was an amazing guy.”

Talafous said he will never forget the 1973 Frozen Four, which was played at the famed old Boston Garden.

“We had 3,000 fans at Boston Garden. Back then on the road you might have 20 or 30, mostly family,” he said. “But here there’s 3,000 fans, all in red, in Boston Garden, and everyone at home had their ear to the radio. We go down 5-1, then 5-2, then we tie it and win in overtime. It was incredible. Then we go on and we beat Denver. They had nine guys who went on the play in the NHL. I was the only one from our team.”

He said football and basketball received most of the attention in Madison back then, but the 1973 team changed all that.

“Here you have Bob Johnson and a young team winning a national championship; Wisconsin’s first national championship, and the town went nuts,” he recalled. “To anybody who was around and following Badger hockey in Madison, it was a special time.”

Talafous went on the play eight seasons in the NHL before becoming an assistant coach at the University of Minnesota. He served as head coach at UWRF from 1989-96, and guided the team to three NCAA Division III Final Four appearances, including a national championship in 1995. He won the American Hockey Coaches Association Coach of the Year award in 1996 before coaching five seasons at the University of Alaska-Anchorage.

Talafous said another special person in his life, both on and off the ice, was Mickey Keating, the Atlanta Flames scout who recognized his talents as a college player and later became Talafous’ assistant coach at UWRF.

“Mickey was a scout for the Atlanta Flames and he saw this tall, skinny kid playing for Wisconsin and he told the Flames they had to draft me,” Talafous recalled. “We bonded together. When he went to New York and I was with the North Stars at the time, he called and said, how would you like to come here? So I signed with New York. Years later I saw him at a Kansas City Chiefs practice in River Falls and he had lost about 30 pounds. So I called his daughter and she said he had cancer. The next day I called him and said, ‘How would you like to help me out Mickey?’”

Keating spoke at the 1996 AHCA Coach of the Year banquet honoring Talafous, and Talafous said there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

“He said hockey had put years onto his life,” Talafous recalled.

Following his coaching career, Talafous founded Total Hockey in Hudson with his wife, Jax, and son Pete, Hudson High School’s career scoring leader. He sold the business and retired two years ago and handed the reins over to his son.

“That was Bob Johnson written all over it,” he said about the decision to start Total Hockey. “Bob Johnson believed in focusing on individual skills, and I thought, I could do that. What was most exciting was seeing the hundreds of kids over the years at the B and C level move up a level, sometimes two. A kid would call me up and say, ‘I made the A team,’ and three years ago he could hardly handle the puck or skate.”

He said Pete and the staff at what is now called Exceed Hockey have continued that success.

“Pete is one of those guys who has lots of friends,” Talafous said. “He’s like the Pied Piper where I was more of a drill sergeant. He really does things the Bob Johnson way, something I could never quite master.”

Talafous, a member of the first Hastings High School hockey team ever to reach the Minnesota State Tournament, said like Keating, he’s grateful for the role hockey has played in his life.

“I’m very fortunate,” he said. “I’ve been a player, coach, hockey dad, started a hockey business. I’ve met a lot of nice people along the way. I feel very blessed to have been a part of a lot of really neat experiences.”

Talafous said he’ll always cherish the memories of the 1973 Badger team.

“Just about every one of my teammates has called me, and that doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “That’s why we won a championship together. It was a special team. Every one of those guys on the team was a leader and that’s what a championship team is supposed to be. It was a special time in our lives.”

Talafous said he never dreamed about becoming a hall of famer, but he’s looking forward to next weekend when he’ll join a long list of Badger greats in the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame.

“I love the game of hockey, and I love to compete,” he said. “I never thought about winning championships or being MVP or making the hall of fame. The one dream I had ever since I was a Bantam was to play in the NHL.

“I played on two national teams, two Canada Cup teams with Team USA, over 500 games in the NHL, won a national championship as a coach,” he added. “Other than the ’73 championship team, this is probably the highlight; this is special.”

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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