CHASKA, Minn. -- Clearing up a common misconception, Dave Spehar made it crystal clear that yes, he has a Twitter account, and no, he has never Tweeted. Not once.
That very active and opinionated Tweeter using the name “Dave Spehar” and sporting a profile picture from the real Spehar’s four years as a Minnesota Gopher is a parody, and has been politely asked to cease and desist.
“I have asked the guy to stop posting stuff. I 100 percent cannot stand it, but legally I have no recourse. On Twitter, as soon as they post ‘parody’ they can do whatever they want,” Spehar said. “I think it’s really sad, and for a while it really bugged me. Some of the stuff he’s saying is horrible. But there’s nothing I can do about it, and the people who know me know that’s not me.”
The story of the real Dave Spehar begins long before social media was a thing, in a setting quite familiar in the State of Hockey. Growing up near the outdoor rinks at Glen Avon Park, in the Hunters Park neighborhood of east Duluth, he and neighborhood friends got to know every inch of the park’s two ice sheets and spent countless hours perfecting the best way to get a puck over the goal line.
Shining in the spotlight
As a high school sophomore, Spehar and the Duluth East Greyhounds made it to the state tournament, but fell to the Bloomington Jefferson dynasty in the semifinals. That was during the Jaguars’ relentless march to a third straight state title. They would meet again in the first round a year later, in a game still seared in the memory of those in attendance.
The Jaguars, seeking a fourth consecutive state crown, had lost just once that season, and met the Greyhounds in the opening round. Jefferson’s designs on hoisting another big trophy were derailed in just 83 seconds by Spehar, who scored, then scored again, then scored again, as the Greyhounds built a 5-0 lead in the first period. It was a classic “changing of the guard” moment, signaling a shift in state hockey power from west Bloomington to east Duluth. The Greyhounds saw it differently, noting that three of Jefferson’s biggest stars of the dynasty had moved on to college hockey by then.
“It wasn’t Nick Checco, Mike Crowley and (Joe) Bianchi. It wasn’t that era or that team. So we didn’t look at it like that,” Spehar said. “When we were younger, in 1993 and ‘94, we would come down and scrimmage those guys and my Lord, it was like we were playing the Russians. (In 1995) we never thought we were underdogs. So it didn’t surprise me, the score or what happened.”
Spehar’s opening game hat trick was just the appetizer. He also scored three times in a semifinal win versus Edina, and scored three more in the finale, including a tie-breaking penalty shot as the Greyhounds beat Moorhead for the state title.
“What stands out about Dave for me was his knack for the net. He had such a nose for it and such a good stick and an ability to pull the puck and find little seams and make plays and finish,” said North Dakota goalie coach Karl Goehring, who faced Spehar in high school and college. “His tenacity around the net was at a different level. As a goaltender, he tested you quite a bit. You always had to be aware of him, because if it got to that critical area, he’d always be around the crease.”
Hero to villain
A year later, as a senior, Spehar averaged nearly four points a game and made the race for Mr. Hockey one of the least dramatic in state history. But before that individual award was handed out on a Sunday, he spent Thursday, Friday and Saturday scoring nine more state tournament goals, even as the Greyhounds fell short of a second title.
"The best pure goal scorer I've ever coached," said Greyhounds coach Mike Randolph. "When you look at the goals he scored in the playoffs and in state tournaments, he's not only the best scorer I've ever had, I think he's one of the purest scorers ever to play high school hockey in the state of Minnesota."
In the 1996 semifinals versus Apple Valley, the Greyhounds and Eagles played five overtimes, well into the wee hours of Saturday morning, before a massive crowd at the St. Paul Civic Center, most of which stayed to the bitter end. The suburban team eventually came out on top, thanks in large part to 65 saves by Goehring, even after replays (which weren’t officially part of the game at the time) showed an apparent Greyhounds goal in one of the early overtimes. Nearly a quarter-century later, it would be easy for Spehar to harbor bitter memories. He does not.
“That was just a great hockey game, and I was privileged to be a part of it. We played another great hockey team, and I feel fortunate to have played in a game like that,” he said. “I never played in a Stanley Cup game seven, but that environment was truly incredible. To be in that building with that many people standing and doing the wave. We’d sit on the bench and just giggle. We knew we were a part of something special.”
In 1996, Spehar could have run for mayor of Duluth and won in a landslide. A year later, when he came home as a Minnesota Gopher, he adopted the role of villain, with UMD fans giving him a full-throated “greeting” every time Spehar was on the DECC ice, and wearing a popular t-shirt of the era that read “SPEHAR SUCKS.” Instead of letting the attention peeve him, Spehar saw himself as the latest northern Minnesota standout to come back to the Twin Ports as a successful Gopher.
“It never bothered me because the same thing happened to Corey Millen, who was one of the top two or three players I ever saw come out of that area. Same thing happened to (Pat) Micheletti,” Spehar said. “I didn’t think about it but I know for my family it was harder. My mom couldn’t even go to the games, but for me, I kind of liked it.”
Real world responsible
While some players spend years chasing the NHL dream, the end of Spehar’s college days also meant the end of his competitive hockey career.
“As I progressed through college, I had so many other things I loved. I love business,” Spehar said. “For me personally, I knew at the age of 19 or 20 that I was going to be in the real world and follow my other passion, which was business. So I was done (with hockey). Right or wrong, I was ready to move on to the next chapter of life.”
After getting nearly 20 stitches to the chin during a men’s league game in his 20s, he hung up his skates and at 42 is a full-time wealth manager and hockey dad to his sons, ages 13 and 11. On the outdoor rinks of their Chaska neighborhood, a new generation of Spehar boys is learning the game from a high school hockey legend.
“Skating outside. All I did was skate outside and I’ve tried to raise my boys the same way,” Spehar said. “I just loved to do it, and if someone loves to do something, you don’t really have to ask them to do it and you don’t need a schedule to do it. It was great, growing up to an outdoor rink, and I’m trying to do the same with my kids.”