Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Every few years, the Times...

...runs a piece on hockey in northern Minnesota. (What's with me and the Times today?) As someone who went to high school and college in the small mining town of Edina, I can attest to the authenticity of these articles. Today's piece, "Minnesota’s Olympic Hockey Cradle (Pop. 1,781)," is a really good read (all emphasis mine):

Warroad, population 1,781, a civic snow globe six miles from the Canadian border, has as many indoor rinks (two) as red lights. The town has sent seven hockey players to the Olympics since 1956 — four of them from the same family, the Christians — and each one has returned with a medal. The hope is for a pair of golds at the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

During Warroad’s frigid winter, the temperature has lurked below zero like a walleye beneath the ice on Lake of the Woods. On a recent dawn, snow blew like sand across the highway. A band of pink flared on the horizon, and then extinguished into grayness. The fire had gone out on another morning.

“When it’s 30 below, and there is this much snow, there’s not a whole lot to do for kids,” said Jay Hardwick, the boys’ hockey coach at Warroad High School. “You go to school and go to the rink. That’s about it.”

Well, there is ice fishing, though, as Dave Christian joked, “They frown on cutting holes in the ice on the rink.”

But I liked the one from a few years ago, "A Game? No, It’s a Life," even better:

At this time of year there isn’t a lot to do in Warroad, Minn., a little town at the southwestern end of the Lake of the Woods, just a few miles from the Canadian border. There is no movie theater, the one bowling alley closed a while ago and the nearest shopping mall is in Grand Forks, N.D., two and half hours away across a windswept plain. You can snowmobile, but the snowfall has been a little skimpy so far this winter. Or you can ice fish, though until just a couple of weeks ago, when the temperature finally plunged to double digits below, it might have been unwise to drive a pickup out onto the lake.

Or like many Warroad residents, you can flock to the Gardens, the town’s main ice rink, especially on a night when the Warroad High School Warriors are playing. What basketball is to Indiana and football is to Texas, hockey is to Minnesota, a passion so intense that it borders on civic religion. And even in this hockey-mad state, Warroad, which bills itself as Hockeytown U.S.A. and displays a pair of crossed hockey sticks on the town water tower, is legendary for its fervor. 

The neighboring town of Roseau, 20 miles down Highway 11, is just as besotted, maybe more so, and the rivalry between them, going back 60 years or so, is probably the most famous and most intense in the state. The teams play each other twice every season, and those two evenings are among the biggest events all winter. People look forward to them for weeks, and replay them in conversations for days afterward. 

Warroad has the edge in former Olympians, thanks mostly to a single family, the Christians: Ginny played on the 1956 team, his brothers Bill and Roger won gold medals with the 1960 team and also played in ’64, and Bill’s son Dave played on the gold-medal-winning 1980 team. Roseau boasts more National Hockey League players, including four from a single block: Bryan Erickson, who played for four clubs in the ’80s and early ’90s, and the three Brotens: Neal, Aaron and Paul.

And here's the money quote:

“Growing up, I never dreamed of playing pro hockey,” Mr. Erickson said recently. “I wasn’t even the best player on my street.”

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