Doug Woog, who was an All American hockey player for the Minnesota Gophers in the 1960s, and later coached the program to nearly 400 wins over the course of 14 seasons, died Saturday afternoon, Dec. 14, at 75.
Woog, a native of South St. Paul, Minn., was known by many as much for his smile and sense of humor as his success on the ice and behind the bench. He was a prep standout for the South St. Paul Packers, going to four state tournaments with the team, although he admitted hockey was his second choice of youth sports.
“I actually tried to be a basketball player. That was my dream. But I failed my first physical in fifth grade and I couldn’t play due to heart trouble,” Woog said in a 2017 interview. “So I had to sneak over the hill to skate on the local mud hole. I didn’t have hockey skates or any of that stuff. I had white figure skates that I took liquid dye and made them look black. It was just a pond. There weren’t even boards. If you shot the puck 20 yards, 30 yards over the net, you had to go find it. If we didn’t have any snow it was easy. If there was new, fresh snow, you might be gone for a week.”
A four-year regular for the Gophers under coach John Mariucci, Woog was a member of the U.S. National Team in 1967, then began a long-time teaching and coaching career. He coached the St. Paul Vulcans of the United States Hockey League in the 1970s, then had a successful high school coaching run with his alma mater before being tapped first as an assistant coach for the 1984 U.S. Olympic Team, and then for the Gophers head coach job in 1985.
It is well-known that Woog was the third choice of the Gophers athletic department, after first Herb Brooks and then Minnesota Duluth coach Mike Sertich were offered the job and turned it down. Pulling a coach directly from the high school ranks to coach the top level of college hockey raised some eyebrows at the time.
“I’d have never hired me. I wouldn’t hire someone who hasn’t been coaching at that level before,” Woog said in that 2017 interview, with a laugh. But he brought some advantages to the U of M as well. “I’m a good teacher of skills, and I’m really good at reading the game, because I learned from watching the Russians and being in Sarajevo, and from playing college. I got exposed to all of it.”
Woog led the U of M to the NCAA Frozen Four in each of his first four seasons there and won conference regular season or playoff titles eight times. He was dismissed from the job in 1999 after two consecutive sub-.500 seasons, finishing with 388 wins, which was a program record at the time. Woog then moved to the broadcast booth, providing color commentary for Gophers television broadcasts for several years.
“Every day he came to the rink, it was a good day,” said former Gophers captain Larry Olimb, who played for Woog for years. “He just had that energy and enthusiasm, and he was a Gopher through-and-through from his playing days to his coaching days. Coaching at that level is intense, but he truly cared about his players.”
Once a fixture on the ice in Inver Grove Heights, Minn., helping coach his grandchildren’s youth hockey practices, Woog had dealt with Parkinson’s for the past several years and was in an assisted living facility at the time of his passing.
He was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2002, and in 2015 the rink in South St. Paul was renamed Doug Woog Arena in his honor.
Funeral arrangements are pending, with the Woog family planning a public remembrance event sometime after Christmas.