My Uncle Bill had a job at the old Met Center in Bloomington, and when he was working a Minnesota North Stars game, he often took my cousin Natalie and me along. The North Stars were Minnesota’s first National Hockey League franchise, and I relished the excitement of the crowd, the slap of the sticks on the ice and the loud cheers whenever the North Stars scored.
In the middle to the late 1970s, the North Stars had a goalie named Pete LoPresti. The first time I saw him play, I was in awe of his agility, the deftness with which he’d snag the flying puck. LoPresti was young—not much older than me when he started his professional career—and handsome, or so I noted from his picture in the North Stars’ program. And he sounded humble—maybe even shy, like me—whenever he was interviewed on the radio.
One evening, we were enroute to Met Center in my Uncle Bill’s Chevy Blazer when we heard over the radio that LoPresti would not be playing in goal that night. I slumped in the back seat. Seeing my gloomy 14-year-old face in the rearview mirror, Uncle Bill said, “Cheer up, Beth. Maybe they’ll win anyway.”
I sighed. Every time I went to a game when LoPresti played, the North Stars won. Without him in goal, I wasn’t so sure.
At the Met Center, while Uncle Bill worked in the penalty box, I settled into my seat, wrapping my arms around myself to offset the chill from the ice. Natalie and I chatted nonstop. Then, between the second and third periods, Uncle Bill came down to our seats. “Come with me,” he said.
Uncle Bill escorted us into a quiet room and said, “Pete, I’d like you to meet….”
“Pete LoPresti! Pete LoPresti! Pete LoPresti!” I screamed in my head. There, not 15 feet in front of me, stood my favorite North Star in blue jeans and a blue striped dress shirt, two buttons open at the top. I stared into his brown eyes. I inhaled his musky scent.
“Hi,” he said, his deep voice swooning. I stared at his perfect smile. I felt my cheeks get warm, my breath catch.
“Beth’s a huge hockey fan,” Uncle Bill said, breaking the silence. He was exaggerating, of course. I just liked watching LoPresti play. “She’s never seen you lose,” he added.
With a nudge from Natalie, I nodded.
“Wow,” LoPresti said. “You’re my good luck charm!”
And with that, I gained a level of confidence I’d never felt before.
Assuming I’d remain mute, Uncle Bill said, “Well, we better go–.”
“No!” I exclaimed. Taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly, I asked LoPresti, “May I kiss you?”
Natalie and Uncle Bill gasped, but all of my attention was directed at LoPresti. I held my breath.
“Sure,” he replied with a chuckle, and opened his arms wide.
Before my uncle could stop me, I raced up to LoPresti, kissed him on the cheek and then took several steps back.
“Wow!” he said. “Come to my games any time.”
I don’t recall the third period of that game, whether the North Stars won, lost or tied, or anything I said to Natalie the rest of the evening. But I do remember my first kiss, with a celebrity, and the elation I felt afterward.
On the way to school the following Monday with my best friend at my side, I talked nonstop about LoPresti. At my request, Uncle Bill got me an autographed photo of LoPresti that I taped to the inside of my high school locker. Soon afterward, my brother Brian, who also worked at the Met Center, gave me a North Stars jersey. Too hallowed to wear, I folded the jersey, laid it at the top of my dresser drawer and gazed at it every day when I opened the drawer.
I continued to attend North Star games whenever Uncle Bill had free tickets, but LoPresti left the North Stars in 1979 and joined the Edmonton Oilers and my passion for hockey waned. Then, about 30 years later, while running errands on a Saturday afternoon, I heard on the radio that LoPresti was signing autographs at a local sports memorabilia show.
I spun the car around and headed for the show. Once there, I weaved my way through the aisles, looking only for LoPresti. I finally found him, with hair that had grayed but a smile that was still radiant. I waited in line until only the width of a table stood between us. I inhaled his musky scent, looked into his warm eyes and wondered if there was any chance he remembered me.
I considered asking him that, or just leaning forward and kissing him on the cheek. But I was still shy at heart. Instead, I handed him an 8-by-10 photograph from his rookie season, like the one that hung in my high school locker so many years ago. He signed it. I smiled and walked away.
I wanted to keep the memory of that 14-year-old girl intact. First kisses are always unforgettable, and I didn’t want to have my memory influenced by someone else’s—not Natalie’s, not Uncle Bill’s, not even Pete LoPresti’s.
— Beth L. Voigt
Beth L. Voigt grew up in Highland Park and now lives in Summit Hill.
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