Dakota Datebook

Mr. Hockey, Fido Purpur

Monday, February 21, 2005

Between 1934 and 1945, North Dakota hockey legend Clifford “Fido” Purpur Purpur played for the St. Louis Eagles, St. Louis Flyers, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, and the St. Paul Saints. When Purpur was awarded the North Dakota Roughrider Award, it was said the state had become a hockey hot spot because of him.

The U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame states: “When Fido Purpur stepped on the ice with the St. Louis Eagles in 1934 he had become North Dakota’s first native son to play in the National Hockey League. Purpur made the NHL when he was just 20-years-old, and when the Eagles folded after the 1935 season, he signed with the American Hockey Association’s St. Louis Flyers. He stayed with the Flyers until 1942 when he returned to the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks…His best year of many good years in St. Louis was 1939, when he scored 35 goals and 43 assists in the regular season and three goals and three assists in the playoffs as St. Louis won the Harry F. Sinclair Trophy, which was emblematic of the league championship.”

St. Louis fans idolized “little” Fido Purpur because of his gutsy moves and terrific speed, not to mention his four 20-goal seasons with the Flyers. They also liked that Purpur took the time to talk with them and sign autographs for the kids. He, himself, starting skating as a young kid, using skates his brother bought for five cents.

In a 1999 story for the Forum, Jeff Kolpack wrote, “Purpur got his nickname (Fido) because he skated so close to the ice. He has about 200 stitches from the neck up, a tribute to his toughness.”

When the Chicago Blackhawks signed Fido, it was to team him on a line with Max and Doug Bentley, and also to shadow the legendary Montreal player, Maurice “Rocket” Richard. “I followed him everywhere,” Purpur said. Purpur played in every one of the Blackhawk’s fifty games in 1943, scoring 13 goals and 16 assists.

During the Stanley Cup semi-finals the following year, Purpur got good press for his strong series against Detroit, but Montreal shut out Chicago in the finals, four games to zero.

Around this time, Fido developed a puzzling ailment that elevated this body temperature. He was able to keep playing, but after a few years, it started to sap his strength.

He finished his professional career in 1947 and went back to his hometown, Grand Forks. But the Purpur legend wasn’t finished, it was expanding. In 1949, Fido became UND’s hockey coach, a post he held for seven years. During that time, he coached a standout center, who went on to play in the 1956 Olympics. That player was Fido’s brother, Ken. Then, there were Fido’s six sons, all of whom played the game. Purpur’s great-nephew, UND standout Jeff Panzer, signed with the St. Louis Blues in 2001.

UND’s first All-American and first Olympian was John Noah – he played for the 1952 Olympic Hockey team, which won the silver medal. UND had just started its hockey program in 1946, and Don Norman was coaching when Noah enrolled. Then, Purpur took over. “He was god up there in the early years of hockey in Grand Forks,” Noah told Kolpack. “He’s one of the most sincere people I’ve ever run into.”

Purpur died on this date in 2001 at the age of 88. The funeral took place in Grand Forks, and the procession to the cemetery was led by the Zamboni machine from the Fido Purpur Arena.

Written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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