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The Verdict: Magnuson a Blackhawks family favorite

Thursday, 11.07.2013 / 1:00 AM / The Verdict
By Bob Verdi  - Blackhawks Team Historian
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Dr. Doug Feldmann was back home visiting Chicagoland just before Christmas in 2003 when he heard the tragic news. Keith Magnuson, a cherished member of the Blackhawks family, had been killed in an automobile accident.

“I had to pay my respects,” recalled Dr. Feldmann. “I drove to the funeral home in Lake Forest. It was a cold, cold night, but there was a line of people outside, all the way around the block, waiting 30 or 40 minutes to make their way inside.

“As I stood there with hundreds of others, I was taken by how nobody was complaining about freezing. They were exchanging stories about Keith: his fights, those great games in the old Stadium. Probably most of the people there had nothing to do with hockey, but that was Keith’s legacy. I only wish I could have had the privilege of meeting this special man.”

Dr. Feldmann, a professor at Northern Kentucky University, has produced a special work. Through extensive research and comprehensive interviews, he authored “Keith Magnuson: The Life and Times of a Beloved Blackhawk,” recently published by Triumph Books. Ten years after the loss of an athlete who died too young, we are provided vivid reminders of a player who touched so many individuals beyond the arena.

When Maggie showed up at training camp in 1969 as a promising defenseman out of Denver University, it was presumed he would be sent to the minor leagues for seasoning. But he provided instant grit and spirit to a team needing both, and was an integral part of a rookie class, including Tony Esposito and Cliff Koroll, that helped propel the Blackhawks to first place in the East Division—one year after they had finished last.

Whether for practice or for real, Maggie would scale stairs from the Stadium’s locker room below, reach the ice, then skate around the rink as if his pants were on fire. At first glance, veterans thought the redheaded kid was a bit daft, but soon they realized his passion. Maggie was there for them. Maggie was there for everybody.

“As I went on and on in this project, I kept hearing the tales of how Keith reached out to the community,” said Dr. Feldmann. “He’d meet complete strangers, treat them like long-lost friends, not see them again for a long while, then still remember their name. A neighbor’s daughter is sick for a couple weeks; he brings her meals and chicken soup every day for two weeks. And it’s not like Keith wasn’t busy. He was in perpetual motion. But he always made time for you. All heart.

“Growing up in Algonquin, I became a fan when I was 9. I started listening to games just about when Pat Foley started as the Blackhawks’ great broadcaster. My parents thought I was sleeping. I had the transistor under my pillow. Keith was a family favorite. But the idea of doing this book didn’t hit me until I met his nephew, Mark, who is also in my field, education. That was in October 2003, only a couple months before Keith left us.”

Dr. Feldmann, who attended Rockford College and Northern Illinois University, has written extensively. His impulse to salute Keith Magnuson in print percolated for a while. Then he reached out to Maggie’s wife, Cynthia, and their children, Kevin and Molly.

“We were honored when Doug approached us,” said Kevin. “He thought highly of Dad, and after we got to know Doug, we felt he was the right guy. He has captured exactly what Dad meant, not only to the Blackhawks and hockey, but throughout his life in business, charitable causes and involvement with the Blackhawk Alumni Association that he helped start.”

That organization, arguably the best of its kind in professional sports, has awarded more than $1 million in college scholarships. Koroll, also a Denver grad and Maggie’s best pal, has carried on the tradition of his fallen comrade. They were inseparable, even after both married. But as single roommates, Koroll was the perfect rock of reason when Maggie drifted off into the netherworld.

“He was always writing notes to himself, then trying to figure out what they meant,” Koroll said. “Did ‘phone bill’ mean he was supposed to telephone Bill, whoever that was, or pay his phone bill? Maggie was a beauty. Not a day goes by when I don’t think of him.”

As Dr. Feldmann notes, Keith Magnuson scored 14 goals in his career. Yet he was instantly recognizable wherever he went, a reluctant celebrity. He wore No. 3, a number previously belonging to Pierre Pilote, a Hall of Famer. Each has a banner displayed at the United Center.

Maggie is not in the Hall of Fame, but he didn’t need to be bronzed to leave a mark. He just had to be himself.