Breezy Point artist creates Mariucci sculpture to be as sturdy as 'Godfather of Minnesota Hockey'
EVELETH, Minn.—John Mariucci was known primarily as a defensive-minded bruiser in his 5-year career with the Chicago Blackhawks.
The native of Eveleth finished his National Hockey League career with just 11 goals and 45 points in 223 regular-season games, but he totaled 308 penalty minutes. He tacked on another 26 penalty minutes in 12 playoff games.
Before playing in the NHL, Mariucci polished his reputation as a rugged player at Eveleth High School and the University of Minnesota. When his playing career ended in 1951-52, he was hired as the Gophers' head coach, leading them to two NCAA runner-up finishes, six conference championships and a WCHA Tournament title in 13 seasons.
Jeff Kreitz of Breezy Point, Minn., is in the process of sculpting a tribute to Mariucci out of various metals. The likeness of the "Godfather of Minnesota Hockey" will be dedicated at 5 p.m. July 3 and will be installed by the world's largest free standing hockey stick and puck in the center of Eveleth.
The sculpture is about 75 inches tall and 400 pounds of stainless steel, brass, copper and bronze, metals as sturdy as Mariucci's reputation as a player. All parts of the sculpture are welded together.
The sculpture portrays Mariucci as a Gophers player. It will include maroon and gold Gopher colors as well as Mariucci's blue eyes and the curly, black hair he sported as a youth.
Kreitz, who specializes in creating wall sculptures, gates, furniture and custom fireplace door systems out of different metals, said this is a direct metal sculpture (no foundry involved). He added that sculpting a human is challenging.
"If I do a certain person, I've got to do a face and it's got to look like somebody," Kreitz said. "It's much more of a challenge to do somebody's face and then to recognize them. It takes me weeks extra to do that.
"If it's a generic player, I don't have to get involved with a face. I've done a sculpture of a woman (in bronze) before so I know what a challenge it is. It's huge."
Kreitz said part of the sculpture is made of the same steel (A606 or Corten) as is used to build bridges.
"It rusts," he said. "Then it builds a protective layer, then it quits. The breezers are A606, and there's some on his gloves which are real heavy. They're made out of steel with stainless welds in the seam area.
"There are a lot of different metals. The type of things I've built I use a lot of different metals. I don't paint sculptures. It's maintenance-free for good."
Eveleth officials saw Kreitz's website and contacted him about the possibility of sculpting a hockey player to commemorate Eveleth's rich history with the sport. The request evolved from a generic hockey player to Mariucci who was inducted into the inaugural class of the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 1973 and was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder in 1985.
Kreitz said he and employees Brandon Coffel and Bob Pelzl have been working on Mariucci since about Christmas. He estimates the project so far has involved more than 600 man-hours.
"It's to a point now where my guys can't help me with it," Kreitz said. "You can't have someone paint your painting for you, so guess what? You've got to do it. Building the body and such the guys were a great help then. It would take you forever to do it—times that times two—without help. You have to have guys that know what they're doing too.
"I love the Iron Range because I've always really liked metal—that's what I am—ever since I was a kid. My dad taught me how to weld when I was really young. He did metal sculpture so I always liked the Range, the iron mines. That's where a lot of my material comes from."
Once it's complete, Kreitz will hoist the sculpture via forklift into a pickup truck for the 127-mile trek from Breezy Point to Eveleth. It could be a sight for oncoming motorists to see a giant Mariucci in the back of a pickup but Kreitz wouldn't be surprised if it doesn't cause a scene.
"Some people don't see past their hood ornament," he said. "They're focused on what they're doing, what they're thinking—driving. They don't see things but some people do."