Selman Returns to Memory Lane
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
ST. LOUIS Who remembers Bill Selman?
Safe to say, there aren't many college hockey fans of today that remember the name. But check back through the record books, and his name appears prominently in multiple places.
And with the Frozen Four in St. Louis for the first time since 1975, it's about time people remember who Selman is.
For one, Selman is the only person ever to be head coach at four different Division I schools — Minnesota-Duluth, North Dakota, Lake Superior State and ... St. Louis.
And yes, that's what makes the story most relevant to this week's proceedings — Selman was the head coach at St. Louis University when it had a rather decent Division I program from 1971-79, before the school decided to disband it.
"It goes back to Sid Salomon, the owner of the team, he felt he wanted ice activities only," Selman said. "And he didn't want the Ice Capades — he wanted hockey to keep that ice at a certain level. He made it very comfortable with the school rink-wise to allow us to come here and play."
And that means Selman was here when the Frozen Four was last in this city. It was the year that Michigan Tech and Minnesota met for the second of three straight times in the finals, with Tech winning the only of the three.
"My friend (Tech coach) John MacInnes, they got in from the airport, and he gets in and says, 'I don't want them to stay downtown, I want to take them to a motel outside of town,'" Selman recalled. "And we were disappointed because we worked hard to get everything organized, but then I realized he didn't want his kids from Houghton, Mich., to be involved in the hoopla. So I got a kick out of that."
Though the Frozen Four crowds weren't what they are today, there was some buzz in St. Louis at the time, with NHL hockey relatively new in today and the Blues having success.
"At Christmas time we had all the best teams come in, so we had kind of a proven record for tournaments for college hockey," Selman said. "And '75 was right after the Blues came to town and got into the Stanley Cup finals a couple times and built that momentum. It fell off later, but '75 was kind of the peak."
And that symbiotic relationship with the Blues is how the Billikins' program thrived at the time.
"I'll never forget this day, an NHL game, (Blues coach) Scotty Bowman and Sid Solomon III, with hammer in hand, walking into the corners hammering nails on the boards. That's how much he was involved, he didn't want the puck to take a weird bounce off the boards," Selman said.
"At practice, it wasn't like the floor was gone, there wasn't concerts that much — he probably lost money. So we got to practice here too instead of going into the suburbs to some other arena.
"Lou Angiotti was named coach while he was playing, so when he became coach he made the dressing room look like the Chicago Blackhawks' dressing room. So all those wonderful things that was in their room was thrown out, and they all came down to our room — wonderful lockers."
But the Salomons ran into financial problems, and sold the team to Ralston Purina, and St. Louis Arena was renamed the Checkerdome. The team's fortunes went downhill, and it almost sold to interests in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The team survived, and eventually revived, starting when now-Michigan coach Red Berenson, won NHL Coach of the Year honors in 1981, leading the Blues back near the top.
But it was too late to save St. Louis University hockey.
"The Salomons sold and the team went down, and the ice rinks in the area, all of a sudden they started closing," Selman said. "It was just a downer, and we went with them. And I was always disappointed public relations-wise that we didn't do a better job maintaining our level. ... We thought we had our own little niche, but unfortunately hockey was lumped all together.
"I don't know if the administration was ever totally sold on the program, I think it was jammed down their throats a bit by the city people and the Solomons wanting to have a college team here to skate."
As usual, there's a little more intrigue to the story.
"The refusal of the Western Collegiate administrators not to allow expansion," Selman said.
"We get in there, no problem. A set schedule, wonderful schools, playing great competition," Selman said. "I'm not so sure I can say this 30 years later, but they were worried about how good we could've been if we played in that league in that building. But that's the old coach talking, it's not a business expert or some Jesuit priest sitting in an administrative office making financial decisions."
There's a lesson to be learned there, too, given the precarious situation for many programs today given the CHA's shaky status — which ironically, only adds to the ever-connected story, since the CHA is hosting this Frozen Four along with the St. Louis Sports Commission. (There's another connection there, too, since Selman took over for Bob Peters, the current CHA commissioner, as head coach of North Dakota.)
The result of not being allowed into the WCHA was the creation of the CCHA.
"Eight people want to claim credit for calling it that, but I do too," Selman said. "I said, if they're the Western Collegiate, we're the Central Collegiate. I was the first."
And more connections: Ron Mason is here as AD of Michigan State. Mason was coach of Lake Superior State when the CCHA was created, eventually handing the reins to current MSU coach Rick Comley. Mason angered CCHA people when he brought his team to the short-lived hockey's version of the National Invitation Tournament instead of the CCHA tournament.
"Oh, we bitched at him so bad," Selman said.
"And Amo's here (former MSU coach Amo Bessone) in a wheelchair. He'll deny it, but he's probably one of them that kept us out," Selman said, chuckling heartily. "Because I was beating him out of kids in Toronto. He got mad: 'Oh the Blues are sponsoring that college team. We can't have them in our league, they're sponsored by the pros.'
"It makes for good beer talk now."
After St. Louis, Selman worked for Central Scouting when the NHL first started it. He was one of nine guys, with the other eight from Canada.
He tells the story of trying to scout Boston-area high schooler Bobby Carpenter, who eventually was the first overall pick, the first American to claim that distinction.
"These (Canadian scouts) come around, they flash a (credential) up in Canada — they're gods up there," Selman said. "They come around and try to get into a Boston arena, some old high school place — 'Who are you?' So I had to help arrange for them to get in and see this kid. They didn't know where the rinks were, they didn't know how to get in, it was fun."
Selman then coached in Dayton of the IHL for one year, and they folded.
So Lake Superior State was looking for a new coach. He called the LSSU AD at the time.
"He said, 'What are you calling me phone for?' I said, 'You've got a job open don't you?' He said, 'You don't want this job.' And I went up there, boom, there you go," Selman said.
The following November, he was offered a job back in St. Louis with Anheuser-Busch, in marketing. He was in the middle of the season with the Lakers, but the brewery said he had to take the job by Jan. 1 or else.
"So I left in January, and I left them (his LSSU assistant) Frank Anzalone, and he got them a championship," Selman said.
"The fifth of January, I was in the NHL office planning the All-Star game. I became an instant sports marketing expert, less than one week after leaving Lake Superior."
Just to add to the relevancy of the moment for Selman — he coached Hobey Baker Award winner Ryan Duncan's father, Bob, when Bob Duncan was an underclassman at North Dakota.
"From a distance, not being that close to college hockey, I saw a Duncan at North Dakota and I always thought (it might be his son)," Selman said.
"(He was a) scrappy, very hard-nosed, hard-working and he's bigger than his son, that's for sure. Good skater, good winger."
And a footnote in college hockey history, until now. Just like Bill Selman.
Now you know.