Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

Minnesota Now and Then: Henry Boucha's legacy and impact on Minnesota

Boucha-postgame
Warroad’s Henry Boucha, shown here being interviewed at the Met Sports Center during the 1969 state tournament, was as much a celebrity as he was a hockey player.
Photo by the Minneapolis Tribune, courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

Henry Boucha was a Minnesota hockey legend. When he died this September, he was remembered as a hometown hockey star from Warroad, an Olympic silver medalist, and a player with the NHL’s Minnesota North Stars and Detroit Red Wings. But just as often, he was remembered for the “eye incident”— an act of on-ice violence that essentially ended his career in 1975.

MPR News contributors Robbie Mitchem and Jamal Allen and producer Britt Aamodt are taking a look back at the hockey great and the event that changed the trajectory of his life in our history series Minnesota Now and Then.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: Henry Boucha was a Minnesota hockey legend. When he died this September, he was remembered as a hometown hockey star from Warroad, an Olympic silver medalist, and a player with the NHL's Minnesota North Stars and Detroit Red Wings teams.

But just as often, he was remembered for the eye incident, an act of on-ice violence that essentially ended his career back in 1975. MPR news contributors Robbie Mitchum and Jamal Allen, with writer Britt Aamodt are taking a look back at the hockey great and the event that changed the trajectory of his life in our history series, Minnesota Now and Then.

NARRATOR: Henry Boucha didn't mean anything to Dave Forbes, and Dave Forbes didn't mean anything to Henry Boucha. They were two National Hockey League players in a rink in Bloomington, Minnesota, with a game time set for 8:00.

It was January 4, 1975, when they hit the ice at Mets Stadium to a sell-out crowd, Boucha in the green and gold of the Minnesota North Stars, and Forbes in the black and gold of the Boston Bruins. Boucha had the hometown advantage.

The 23-year-old had grown up in Warroad, just miles from the Canadian border. His family was Ojibwe on both sides, and there were nine of them. Yet by the time the high school senior led his team to the 1969 boys' state hockey championship, the number was down to six.

Three siblings had died. A gun accident, a fire, a heart condition, circumstances that spilled into the local papers after Warroad loss to Edina in the final game.

JOURNALIST: Tragedy trial.

NARRATOR: Wrote one journalist, giving an update on Boucha, who'd come from the tournament with a burst eardrum and hospital bills. Friends fund-raised to cover the costs. Still, Boucha seemed to be touched by magic.

He was one of the best players to ever come out of Minnesota hockey, and within three years, he went from world hometown hero to silver medallist on the 1972 US Men's hockey team and a rising star with the NHL. He was living every hockey player's dream. And in his first season with the North Stars, he'd already distinguished himself as their top goal scorer.

That's why at tonight's game, the Boston Bruins coach tapped left-winger Dave Forbes to ride Boucha and get in between him and the puck. Forbes had had to work hard to get to where he was, but he'd landed on one of the most powerful NHL teams of the decade.

He shared the Bruins roster with hockey royalty like Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito. Last season, the Bruins had finished first in their division, and the North Stars second to last in theirs. The Stars were hoping to beef up their ranks with the addition of Boucha. Plus, the guy just cut a figure. In an era before mandatory helmets, he stood out with his green or gold headband.

Early in the first period, Boucha chased a puck into a corner. Forbes came after him, doing his best to shadow the North Stars player. But this was where the night unraveled.

[DRAMATIC MUSIC]

Forbes checked Boucha hard against the boards. Boucha spun and gave the Boston player such a knock, he crumpled to his knees. Both landed in the penalty box. Seven minutes ticked down. It was said that Forbes sat there and stewed, and that he screamed, I'm going to shove my hockey stick down your throat.

What did happen was that as soon as they got out of the boxes, Forbes speared the butt end of his stick into Boucha's eye.

[HOSPITAL MACHINE BEEPING]

Boucha's eye was permanently damaged. Later, Forbes would be prosecuted in a criminal trial.

JOURNALIST: The first witness of the day for the prosecution was a medical doctor who was an eye specialist. Dr. Allen Larson of Edina was the doctor who tended to Boucha following the game. He said that Boucha's eye was cut with an object that could have been a hockey stick.

And on the basis of his medical experience, Larson said he ruled out the possibility that the cut and bone fracture was inflicted by the blade of a skate or a blow from Boucha falling to the ice. Larson said that surgery to repair damage done to Boucha's eye during the fight has not been successful in eliminating the double vision that has plagued Boucha ever since.

Following Campbell's testimony, the prosecution, headed by--

NARRATOR: Ending in a hung jury, and sued in civil court. Boucha won the suit, but his hockey career was over. Whatever these men could have been in hockey, they were forever tied to an anecdote about the eye incident.

Boucha eventually moved back to Warroad and was able to put the incident behind him, immersing himself in Native culture, spirituality, and by returning to hockey as a coach and mentor. He was done with the past.

But in 2020, Dave Forbes suddenly got in touch. There was something he'd wanted to say for 45 years.

DAVE FORBES: I'm sorry.

NARRATOR: Henry Boucha said--

HENRY BOUCHA: Hey, I forgave you a long time ago.

NARRATOR: Henry Boucha was a Minnesota hockey legend. When he died this September, he was remembered as a hometown hockey star for Warroad, an Olympic silver medalist, and a player with the NHL's Minnesota North Stars.

But just as often he is remembered for the, quote, eye incident, an act of on-ice violence that essentially ended his career in 1975.

CATHY WURZER: MPR News contributors Robbie Mitchum and Jamal Allen, with writer Britt Aamodt, brought us that piece on hockey player Henry Boucha, who died this past September at the age of 72. The story was made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendments Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

Download transcript (PDF)

Transcription services provided by 3Play Media.

This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment's Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.
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