While former pioneer fights ALS, State Senator David Tomassoni helps inspire Denver’s NCAA hockey title – The Rink Live

ST. PAUL – Like so many stories involving Minnesota hockey or Minnesota politics, or both, this one starts at Mancini’s – the legendary steakhouse on West Seventh Street, which is roughly the same distance from the Xcel Energy Center and the State Capitol.

Davie Carle was an assistant coach at the University of Denver, and the Pioneers ate a team meal there a year in March before playing in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff. A Minnesota politician ran over to their table and introduced himself, telling the players he knew a little about Denver hockey.

Long before he spent 30 years in public service, State Senator David Tomassoni was a defender on the Pioneers’ blue line, skating in the NCAA Frozen Four with two of coach Murray Armstrong’s Denver teams in the 1970s. Both times the tournament was in Boston, and both times the Pioneers failed to bring the big trophy home to the Front Range.

Tomassoni continued to play 16 years of professional hockey in Italy, skating with the Italians at the 1984 Winter Olympics, before returning to his home Iron Range and winning a seat on the state legislature in 1992. He quickly gained a reputation as a tireless fighter on behalf of his northeastern Minnesota constituency.

A year ago, Tomassoni knew there was something wrong with his body. He tried to ignore the problems, but they did not go away. He sought medical attention. A series of tests were run and came back with some brutal news. In July 2021, Tomassoni announced that he had been diagnosed with ALS – a disease for which there is no cure that affects the connections between the brain and nerve cells. ALS causes irreversible degeneration of the body, but leaves a person’s mind intact.

“I’m fine and I want to be here for a while yet,” Tomassoni told friends at the time. In fact, even though the disease has evolved, depriving him of many of the things he can do physically, Tomassoni has actually worked hard to get legislation passed to fund ALS research. In March 2022, he was the driving force behind a bill to dedicate $ 20 million to the ALS fight in Minnesota. And of course, throughout the match, he has still been seen on the hockey field.

In October 2021, when Minnesota Duluth hosted Minnesota, he and his son Dante sat in the top row of Amsoil Arena’s bottom bowl, with Elder Tomassoni proudly wearing his Denver hockey hat. He was one of the legislators working behind the scenes to help build the Bulldogs’ home ice a little over a decade ago, and he has always been respected in the Twin Ports, despite his status as an alumnus of one of the Bulldogs. ‘conference rivals.

In December 2021, when the Pioneers came to Duluth for a two-game series, and with Tomasson’s ALS progress, both hockey programs felt it was time to honor the senator for his work on the ice in Denver and in the halls of power in St. Louis. Paul. UMD invited Tomassoni to drop the first puck for a game between the Bulldogs and Pioneers. Denver coach David Carle went a step further and asked Tomasson’s sons to take their dad to the team’s Saturday, December 11th.

“We surprised him with a jersey with his name and a ‘C’ on it because he was captain here,” Carle said. “After training, the team revolved around him and thanked him for everything he has done for Denver hockey, and he shared a few words with the guys.”

Tomassoni later admitted via text message that it was an emotional moment and words were hard to produce, but when he thought of his two disappointing trips to Boston as a Pioneers player and when he knew the tournament was back this season, his message simple and powerful.

“I just have a piece of advice for you,” he said with the team gathered around him. “When you play in the national championship game, it wins f-ing stuff.”

He had more to say, but his emotions and the pioneers who cheered and beat their sticks on the Amsoil ice cream drowned it all out. Later, he had a few moments to speak a little Italian with Denver freshman center Massimo Rizzo, who – like Tomassoni – grew up in a home where Italian was spoken by the elders.

Senator Tomassoni, in his classic DU jersey, lost the puck before that match surrounded by family. Bulldogs won. The pioneers won part of the NCHC title. The Bulldogs flipped the script in the conference playoffs and won that trophy. They met once again in the Loveland Regional, and Denver got the last laugh.

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Flanked by his sons Danny (left) and Dante (right), Minnesota State Senator David Tomassoni (center) dropped the ceremonial first puck between UMD’s Noah Cates (21) and Denver’s Cole Guttman (19) ahead of a match at the Amsoil Arena. in Duluth, Minn., Saturday, December 11, 2021.

Contribution / UMD Athletics

Dante Tomassoni took dozens of photos that December day and night in Duluth. As a thank you to Carle, he got a framed one that showed his father speaking to the pioneers and sent to the team offices at the Magness Arena in Denver. The inscription read; “David Tomassoni, 1971-1975 – ‘When you play in the national championship, you win the f-ing thing’.”

On Thursday, April 7, the Pioneers’ top-ranked Michigan disrupted overtime to advance to the Frozen Four title fight. The next day, as the Denver players entered their hotel banquet hall, where team meals were being served, the picture and Tomasson’s message to his old team were on display.

One night later with five goals in the third period against Minnesota State Mankato, they did exactly what the senator asked for and won the case, bringing a record ninth NCAA hockey title back to Denver.

Challenges and a party

Dante Tomassoni watched the Pioneers Championship comeback from Florida, where he played in a men’s league tournament on a team with two other former Denver hockey players.

Tomassoni - ALS news conference

State Sen. David Tomassoni, a Chisholm independent, on Tuesday, March 1, 2022, introduces a few bills to provide funding for care services for people with ALS and research to treat and cure them with the disease.

Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service

In Minnesota, David Tomassoni also participated. His ALS has developed relentlessly, but it has not touched his mind or robbed him of his ability to communicate. He can no longer talk and uses a wheelchair to get around, but can via WhatsApp write messages with his eyes or with the help of the family and exchange texts with the Denver coaches late Saturday night. They showed him the picture and how it had been a source of inspiration for the team to hoist the biggest trophy

“It was just so cool and so meaningful for the program, our players, for David and his family,” Carle said. “It’s one of those fateful moments that happens in a championship season.”

Next season, when the pioneers’ search for an unprecedented 10th NCAA Championship begins, a picture of David Tomassoni will approach their team in Duluth and give them advice, which they followed a few months later in Boston, at the coaching offices. His inspiration will no doubt be remembered for generations to come.

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