If you could name one person whose name has become synonymous with Minnesota hockey throughout the years, that person might be Lou Nanne. His nickname, "Sweet Lou from the Soo," stems from his native town in Sault Ste. Marie Ontario where he played his minor pro hockey with the Esposito brothers. His roots in Minnesota start back with his playing days with the University of Minnesota. With the Gophers, he became the only defenseman to this day to win the WCHA scoring title. In 1968, as a naturalized citizen, he captained the US Olympic Hockey Team.
He started his career with the Minnesota North Stars shortly after the Olympics and went on to become the only player to perform in each of the Stars first eleven seasons. Nanne contributed as a steady and physical defensemen who made shot blocking an art. He also saw action as a right winger and was productive in that position for a couple of seasons.
Late in the 1977-78 season , he was asked to take the helm of the organizatoin to became the first player-coach-general manager the league has ever known. During the off season he retired as a player and hired Harry Howell to coach so he could devote full time to his managing duties. He then faced the formidable task of rebuilding a club which ranked dead last in the league.
As luck would have it Bobby Smith was available to the Stars the 1978 draft and an unprecedented merger with the Cleveland Barons deepened the Stars talent pool. In only two years after joining the front office ranks, Lou's North Stars reached the playoffs and advanced to the semi-finals after defeating the defending Cup Champions Montreal Canadiens. The next year the upstart North Stars reached the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in club history.
Nanne became known with General Managers around the league as a wheeler and dealer of talent. Some of his deals didn't work, but many of them where gold mines. Trading an injured Mike Fidler to Hartford for Gordie Roberts might have been his best.
He brought this same bold style to the draft table. In the 1979 expansion draft he claimed Dave Semenko from Glen Sather's Oilers for the sole purpose of trading him back to Sather for an agreement to leave Neal Broten available in the amateur draft.
Of course not all of his draft picks were successful. Picking Brian Lawton in ahead of a talent rich crop that featured Pat Lafontaine, Sylvain Turgeon and Steve Yzerman was one mistake that will be most remembered. But, perhaps Dallas fans should thank Lou for selecting All-Star, Mike Modano five years later.
While Nanne spent much of his time improving the Minnesota North Stars he also was active at the league level. He helped lead the negotiations with the WHA that brought four new teams into the NHL. He served a term as chairman of the General Managers Committee and as an alternate on the NHL Board of Governors.
In 1988 he resigned as general manager to focus solely on his duties as President of the organization. In 1990, after serving over 20 years, he retired from the club for good to pursue business interests. Today, Lou Nanne stays involved in hockey as a supporter of Minnesota High School Hockey. He is still seen on TV with the State High School Tournament as once was when he first appeared in 1964 as color commentator.