Ken Yackel Sr.'s
1952 Olympic Jersey
Yackel, a star athlete at Humbolt high school graduated in 1949 and went on to become one of the all-time great athletes at the University of Minnesota, earning nine varsity letters. Yackel’s sports career began at the age of eleven when a neighbor built a backyard ice rink in the winter of 1941. That was Yackel’s brush with destiny. He borrowed a friend’s skates, which were two sizes too big, and made his first attempt at playing hockey. At Humboldt High, Yackel competed in three sports: an end and running back in football, outfielder in baseball, and forward and defense in hockey. He made the All-City hockey team three years and the Indians won the city hockey title in 1949 under Coach Dick Kruger.

After graduation, he got a job with the 7-up company in St. Paul and also played for their amateur hockey team. Yackel’s life changed when Gopher hockey coach Doc Romnes saw him play with the 7-up team. He discussed the importance of an education and urged him to enroll at Minnesota, which he did in the fall of 1951.However, shortly after, Connie Pleban, the Olympic coach called Yackel when one of his skaters had broken a leg and asked him to join the team. He left school and joined the Olympic team in Boston. The American team had quite a performance, a 6-1-1 record.  In the win over Germany, Yackel scored a hat trick. The U.S.A. beat Norway 5-4, and tied the Gold Medalist Canadians in the final game to defeat Sweden for the silver Medal.  He returned to the Twin Cities to seek a job, but John Mariucci, who had just become the Gopher hockey coach, promised Yackel he would find him a job if he would come back to the University. “Had no parents to fall back on. What happened in my life wouldn’t have been possible without Mariucci,” Yackel says today. “Mariucci changed the course of my life forever.”

Yackel started at the university again in the fall of 1952 and was granted an extra year of varsity eligibility. He is considered one of the greatest three-sport athletes ever to wear the maroon and gold. He played left field on the Gopher baseball team for three years under Coach Dick Siebert, had a .350 batting average with 21 stolen bases, and was named to the All Big Ten team his junior year. I remember the way Dick Siebert, described Yackel. He called him an athlete’s athlete who had tremendous desire and a fiercely-competitive will to win. Yackel played end in football under Coach Wes Fesler for one year, and fullback under Coach Murray Warmath for two years.

1952 Olympic Hockey Team
Ken Yackel Sr.
  His high point in football came in 1955 when he gained over 100 yards in the Gophers 21-13 loss to Illinois. Butch Nash, long time Gopher end coach, remembers Yackel this way. “He had such a drive to do well that nothing would stop him. When he came out for football, he talked me into meeting him every day at 8:30 in the morning so he could work out before school started.” But it was in hockey where Yackel shined. He was considered to have one of the hardest shots in the league. He was also one of the most aggressive players ever to wear a Minnesota hockey uniform. Over his four-year career he spent 255 minutes in the penalty box (or over four games in playing time), ranking him fifth in the Gopher record book. As both a forward and defenseman, during which time he helped the Gophers reach the Frozen Four twice. He was named to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association All-Star Team for three years, All-Tournament Team and All-American Team in 1954 and was named the Gophers’ MVP by his teammates in 1956. He still ranks fifth in the Gopher record book for most goals (12) by a defensive player (1953-54) season. Yackel graduated in 1956 with a degree in education. The New York Rangers of the NHL and the San Francisco 49ers of the NFL drafted him. For the next two years was a teacher at Edina-Morningside High School and coached the hockey team to Lake conference titles in 1956, 1957 and their first appearance in the 1957 Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament to a fourth place finish.

For the next two years was a teacher at Edina-Morningside High School and coached the hockey team to Lake conference titles in 1956, 1957 and their first appearance in the 1957 Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament to a fourth place finish. While coaching at Edina, Yackel played home games for Saskatoon and St. Paul in the Western Hockey League, and was noticed by Lynn Patrick, general manager of the Boston bruins and traded for him signing the 28 year-old Yackel to a two-year, no cut contract. He was the only American-born player in the NHL during the 1950s. In 1959 Yackel played in the Stanley Cup, which the Bruins lost. From 1960-63 he coached and played with the Minneapolis Millers of the International League. As both the team’s coach and a valuable offensive and defensive player, Yackel was named to the IHL All-Star Team for three consecutive years. In three seasons with the Millers, Yackel achieved 100 point seasons twice. He was awarded the Leo P. Lamoureax Trophy in 1961 as the top scorer in the IHL. In the 60-61 season he was the league’s scoring leader, first-team All-Star left wing and first-team All-Star coach. The Millers won the 60-61 regular season title. The following season he had a career high of 50 goals and in the 62-63 season he led the Millers to the league finals with a 115-point season before losing to Fort Wayne, Indiana.

In the summer of 1962 he and Lefty Smith gave a business idea Yackel came up with while playing for the Bruins a try and in 1963 the first organized summer hockey school for boy’s in the state of Minnesota was founded. The school developed the first specialty programs for hockey, skating dynamics with Dick Vraa, goaltenders school with Warren Strelow, defenseman school with Dave Langevin, and shooting and passing schools.  As player-coach of the 1964 Stephens Buick amateur senior men’s team, Yackel became a U.S. Senior National Amateur, Minnesota Senior Amateur and North Central Hockey League, Champion.  In 1965 Yackel was the head coach of the USA World Hockey Team. When Gopher hockey coach Glen Sonmor was named the new head coach of the World Hockey League Minnesota Fighting Saints in 1971. Yackel was named the Gophers’ interim coach. When asked by his Gopher football teammate, athletic director Paul Giel for a recommendation for a new Gopher hockey head coach, Yackel told him about Herb Brooks who work at the hockey school.  Yackel reached the pinnacle of his sports career in October 1986, when he was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.

Ken Yackel Sr.
Last Time with HIs Skates On
Ken Yackel Sr. (left) with Ruben Ayala

A Tribute to Ken Yackel (Sr.)

The article, written by Len Levine, appeared in the March,1990 issue of SPORTSNEWS. It is reprinted here as a tribute to KEN YACKEL.

Ken Yackel, one of the greatest athletes ever to wear the Gopher maroon and gold. Yackel was the model athlete that young men idolized and looked up to. He was the jock’s jock. He was determined to succeed and wouldn’t give up until the game was over. He knew how to win and how to accept defeat. He was unique. He played hard but with decency rarely seen in sports. It’s unlikely we’ll see another one like him. Ken Yackel typifies what life and sports are all about: commitment to family, unyielding determination, and a firm resolve to succeed.

In February of 1990 he developed an aggressive form of cancer, squamous cell carcinoma. His family and friends will miss him. The sports’ world is a lonely place today without Ken. Yackel passed on July 12 1991 at the age
of 61.

The squamous cell carcinoma was from cleaning his golf ball with his mouth after hitting it down the fair way. The 18th hole at the University of Minnesota golf course is named in his honor.