Loss of grandfather splits attention of Gophers women’s hoops player

Ryan Schuster

There has always been at least one constant in junior Gophers women’s basketball guard Mindy Hansen’s life.
She had to deal with her parents getting divorced when she was younger, the difficult experience of often being the only girl on many sports teams as a kid and an up and down basketball career at Minnesota. But she has always been able to count on her grandfather, Oscar Hansen, being there.
Mindy’s life changed drastically this week, however, when she found out that Oscar, a former Augsburg hockey player who played briefly in the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks, died in his sleep Tuesday night. He died of natural causes at the age of 89 at the Walker Southview nursing home in Minneapolis.
“She took it pretty hard,” Mindy’s father, Dave Hansen said. “She had a rough night.”
As soon as she heard the news Tuesday night, Mindy rushed home to be with her family during the emotional time.
Oscar, who had been in a wheelchair since 1980 because of muscular dystrophy, still managed to play basketball with Mindy when she was younger by passing her the ball while she was doing shooting drills in her driveway.
“We used to take him fishing a lot because that’s one thing he could do sitting down,” Mindy said.
Even in difficult times Oscar stayed optimistic and upbeat, refusing to give up on Mindy, his frail body or his life.
Oscar outlived all but two of his nine brothers.
“He was a real tough guy,” Dave said. “He never complained about anything.”
Oscar, who was affectionately nicknamed “King Oscar” for his prowess and nobility on the ice, once scored four goals in a three-minute span during a game.
He was a high-scoring center who played with a lot of fire on the ice and was elected into the Minnesota Hockey Hall of Fame and the Augsburg College Hall of Fame.
Oscar’s pro hockey career ended in the early 1940s when he ran into a goalpost during a game and aggravated an old hip injury, requiring surgery.
Oscar is still a famous local sports figure among the older generation of fans who were around for the Gophers football team’s glory years and the beginning of George Mikan and the Minneapolis Lakers’ NBA domination in the 1940s.
The local legend will be missed by his family, especially his granddaughter.
“It’s been pretty tough,” Mindy said. “He’s always been a big part of my life.”
Since she was a kid, Mindy has always had the same athletic ability and intensity as her grandfather did.
She has played virtually every sport and excelled in all of them.
“She was a better athlete than all the boys,” Dave said. “She was a regular tomboy.”
During her first hockey game as a Squirt, Mindy laid a big body check on a Shakopee player. When she took off her helmet during the post-game handshake, the player she checked and his teammates were surprised to find out she was a girl.
“She’s a tough kid,” Dave said. “She’s a lot like her grandfather.”
Between her junior and senior years at Chaska High School, Mindy started to concentrate more on basketball. She was named All-State, All-Metro and All-Conference as a senior and left Chaska as the all-time leading point scorer in school history.
Mindy was recruited by more than 30 colleges, including Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, but chose Minnesota because she wanted to stay close to home, her parents and Oscar.
“His nursing home was only about 10 minutes from campus,” Mindy said. “On my days off I used to go and visit him and bring him Frosties from Wendy’s. He loved Frosties.”
Mindy’s attachment to her grandfather has made the Gophers game Friday night against Michigan at the Sports Pavilion even more meaningful — and difficult.
The 5-foot-9 point guard and her hometown of Chaska will be honored at halftime during part of the festivities for “Mindy Hansen Hometown Day,” even though her mind might be elsewhere at the time.
“It’ll be tough,” Mindy said. “But, it will probably be more motivational for me because Oscar’s never been able to see me play basketball. I’m kind of excited for this big game because he’ll finally be able to see me play for the first time.”
Mindy has decided to dedicate the rest of her season to Oscar, which Dave thinks his father would have liked.
“My dad would have wanted her to keep playing,” Dave said. “That’s just how he was.”