Clifford J.'Fido' Purpur - 1988 Legend of College Hockey
He had one of the most colorful nicknames in hockey, but even without that Fido Purpur would be remembered as one of the sport's legends.
Purpur, North Dakota's "Mr. Hockey," is that state's only native son to play in the National Hockey League. A member of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, Purpur also worked tirelessly to build North Dakota hockey at the local park board, high school and college level.
Purpur first played professionally as a 19 year old, when he helped the Minneapolis Millers win the Central Hockey League title. It was then, in the 1930-31 season (when goalies had to leave the ice to serve their own penalties), that Purpur was tagged with the nickname that would follow him the rest of his life.
"I scored three goals one night," he recalled with barely concealed glee. "On one of them I split the defense, got knocked down, and while I was sliding on my stomach I shot the puck into the net. Jack Quinlan, who was writing for the Minneapolis Journal wrote that 'Purpur was busier than a springer in a field full of pheasants that day.'
"Fred Hutchinson, who was writing for another Minneapolis paper, said 'We've got to name him 'Fido.'"
The name stuck, but Fido would soon leave Minneapolis for his first stop in the National Hockey League.
The NHL at that time was a nine-team league, split into two divisions. Ottawa moved its franchise to St. Louis for the 1934-35 season, and brought most of its players with One bright new star emerged, however, named Fido Purpur. The St. Louis franchise (nicknamed the Eagles) folded after that one season, but Purpur stayed in St. Louis joining the Flyers of the American Hockey Association.
Purpur, who stood only 5-foot-5 and weighed only 145-pounds fully equipped enjoyed his finest professional season with the Flyers in 1938-39. That season he scored 35 goals and 43 assists and led the Flyers to the league title.
Purpur became a fan favorite, not only because of his small stature, gutsy play and great speed,but also because he always took time out to talk to fans and sign autographs for youngsters.
Purpur broke into the seven-team NHL in 1941, when the Chicago Blackhawks signed him with the idea of teaming him with two of the league's premier scorers. Max and Doug Bentley He was also the player they used to shadow the great Maurice 'Rocket' Richard.
"I followed him everywhere," said Purpur, who played all 50 games for the 1942-43 Hawks and scored 13 goals and 16 assists.
The next season, the Hawks advanced to the Stanley Cup finals, where they bowed 4-0 to the Canadiens. In the semifinals, Purpur had a strong series against Detroit, scoring a goal in the fourth game of the five-game series. He played with both Chicago and Detroit in 1944-45, appearing with the Red Wings in the finals against Toronto.
It was on the 1941-42 Blackhawks that Purpur played with fellow U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame members Cully Dahlstrom, Sam LoPresti and John Mariucci. (This was also the year LoPresti set an NHL record for facing 83 shots in a 3-2 loss to Boston.)
After being eliminated from the playoffs one of these seasons, Purpur recalled a conversation with the legendary Mariucci, who would become a Blackhawk captain.
"We were good friends," Purpur said. "After we got beat Mariucci said, 'I'll go back to Minnesota, you go back to North Dakota, and we'll build hockey."
Purpur played professionally two more seasons, with St. Paul of the United States Hockey League.
"Traces of 14 campaigns in big company are most visible around the eyebrows in a rugged face that took over 300 stitches," wrote William Julison in a tribute to Purpur. "Ma always worried about me," Fido said, "and made a big thing out of a couple dozen stitches."
Purpur took over the head coaching job at the University of North Dakota from 1949 to 1956, where his teams compiled a 94-75-8 record. He continued playing amateur hockey until 1953, and in 1950 scored four goals in 25 seconds against a Winnipeg senior team.
When he wasn't playing or coaching, Purpur would often be found drumming up interest in hockey around North Dakota.
"There were 35 kids playing in Grand Forks when I came back and we built that up to 425," Purpur said. "All the rinks were outside at that time. I did a lot of walking in this town to raise money."
Lee Bohnet, UND's long-time sports information director, said, "Fido did a lot to get the local city park board programs going here for the kids. He was a major force early in building the program. He worked at it."
Purpur, and Mary, his wife, live in Grand Forks, where they raised six hockey-playing sons and two daughters.
In 1965, Purpur was voted St. Louis' Most Popular All-Time Hockey Player. He was elected to the U.S. Hall of Fame in 1974, the North Dakota Hockey Hall of Fame in 1976, the UND Athletic Hall of Fame in 1978 and was presented the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award in Bismarck in 1980.