Hockey veteran, Birchmont rookie Mike Antonovich taking masters by storm

Former Golden Gopher and Minnesota North Star hockey player Mike Antonovich may be a rookie at the Birchmont, but he sure isn't playing like one.

Mike Antonovich, former Golden Gopher and Minnesota North Stars hockey player, is participating in the Birchmont Golf Tournament this year. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- Mike Antonovich has plenty of titles: High school hockey state champ, Golden Gopher, Minnesota North Star and even mayor.

This week, he’s trying to add “Birchmont champion” to the list.

“Anybody who plays wants to win. I’ve never cared for losing much,” Antonovich said. “Whoever comes my way, I try to beat anybody. But they’re feeling the same way as I do. For me, it’s more fun than anything. But I’ll compete, because I’m a competitor.”

Antonovich has done all he can so far at the Birchmont Golf Tournament, shooting the best qualifying round in the masters division and breezing through two rounds of match play. Thursday’s result at the Bemidji Town and Country Club was a 7-and-5 win over Glen Hasselberg, which Antonovich admitted was a little bittersweet.

“He’s a friend of mine,” Antonovich said. “It’s hard to play against friends, but I always enjoy golf. It’s a game and it’s fun. I just try to whack it as hard as I can and then take the next one.”


Mike Antonovich shakes hands with longtime friend Glen Hasselberg after defeating him on Thursday, July 29, 2021, during the 97th annual Birchmont Golf Tournament at the Bemidji Town and Country Club. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Despite a bit of friendly fire, Antonovich is enjoying his time as a Birchmont rookie. A Coleraine native, Antonovich heard plenty about the tournament from Gordy Skaar, a household name on courses in both Coleraine and Bemidji.

“Gordy Skaar always talks about this tournament,” Antonovich said. “Over the years, I just never had the time to do it. … I looked forward to trying it because I’ve never played in a tournament like this before.”

Antonovich had to sweat it out, as he was placed on the waiting list and didn’t get his name into the field until about two weeks ago. Yet he’s now making a run at the title.

“I’m not sure they didn’t fudge it a little bit, but that’s OK,” he said, tongue in cheek.

Mike Antonovich tees off on the 12th hole on Thursday, July 29, 2021, during the 97th annual Birchmont Golf Tournament at the Bemidji Town and Country Club. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)


The masters division semifinalist also has a lengthy resume in hockey. Antonovich was a 1968 and 1969 state champion at Greenway High School, played three years at the University of Minnesota just before the Herb Brooks era and got drafted 113th overall by the hometown Minnesota North Stars in the 1971 NHL Amateur Draft.

Instead of joining the ranks of the North Stars, the lefty center turned pro in the World Hockey Association and played for the Minnesota Fighting Saints. He then had NHL stints with Minnesota, the Edmonton Oilers, the Hartford Whalers and the New Jersey Devils, playing in 87 total NHL games and registering 10 goals and 15 assists.

“High school hockey has been a big part of my life because at Greenway, in the years I was there, we did pretty well,” Antonovich said. “College, the whole gamut, wherever I played and whatever I did was a lot of fun. I probably had more fun than most guys.”

Antonovich even served as Coleraine’s mayor from 2008 to 2014. All the while, he’s spent about 35 years as a hockey scout and is currently working for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“The real (cool) thing about scouting is that I get to watch Minnesota kids,” Antonovich said. “I got to watch guys like George Pelawa when he was here. … It’s been fun to just be involved with hockey. For me, it’s all I’ve ever done.”

Now oh-so close to a Birchmont championship, Antonovich isn’t resting on all his past accomplishments. He wants a new one.

“(Hockey) was a great experience, and I’m glad I had a chance to do it, but that was just a small part of my life,” he said. “Hockey’s been good to me. Been in it all my life, and it gives me a chance to play golf.”


Micah Friez is the former sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he worked at the Pioneer from 2015-23 and is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing.
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