The proud hockey history of Warroad, Minnesota: ‘Hockeytown USA’

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Today the NBC Sports Group is celebrating Hockey Day in America with an NHL quadrupleheader while featuring grassroots hockey stories from across the country. 

Located less than a half hour from the Canadian border, and with a population of just under 1,800, Warroad, Minnesota is probably an easy town to miss unless you happen to be from there, or know somebody from there.

At first glance it would seem to be no different than any other small town in America.

But this isn’t just some random small town.

This small town has become such a hockey factory and developed such a rich history within the sport — at all levels — that it has been dubbed “Hockeytown, USA.”

And with all apologies to the folks in Detroit, it is not a moniker that is out of place.

For a town whose population has never topped the 2,000 mark since it was officially incorporated in 1901, it has been a significant power in the United States hockey community with a legacy that has produced five NHL players, seven Olympians, and more than 80 (men and women combined) Division I hockey players.

It’s also town that has become a dominant powerhouse in the Minnesota High School community with six state totals (four for the men’s team, two for the women’s team) over the past 20 years alone.

It’s a legacy that a lot of major metropolitan areas can not even compete with, and to get an understanding of how this small town can be such a hockey power it all starts with not only getting players started at a young age and developing a passion for the sport, but also making sure they have the ability to actually follow through with it.

Warroad is home to two major indoor ice rinks — including a 1,500 seat Olympic sized rink — both of which are proud to feature free ice-time for anybody who wants it, for as long as they want it. Kids can come as early as they want, stay as late as they want, and skate for as long as they want. One of the biggest obstacles in a lot of areas for kids when it comes to getting into the sport can be associated with ice time, whether it be the ice time itself, or the costs associated with getting it.

In Warroad, the mindset is to make sure they always have access to it.

One of the biggest driving forces behind hockey in Warroad over the years has been the Marvin Family, owners of the largest employer in Warroad (Marvin Windows and Doors), for contributing to the construction of the Warroad Gardens rink and helping to ensure that kids always have a place to skate. That commitment has helped drive a passion for hockey in the town that has helped it produce a lasting impact on the sport that has been felt locally (the dominant boys and girls high school programs), Internationally, and in the NHL.

One of Warroad’s most famous claims is that both of the gold medal winning teams in men’s hockey have included players from the town, all thanks to the Christian family. Roger and Bill Christian both played on the 1960 Squaw Valley team and went on to become members of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. Bill’s son, Dave Christian, was a key member of the 1980 Miracle On Ice team that upset the Soviet Union and then went on to beat Finland for the Gold Medal at Lake Placid. Following his Olympic success he went on to a 13-year career in the NHL.

On the women’s side, Gigi Marvin, the granddaughter of Cal Marvin, known locally as “the godfather of Warroad Hockey,” has been a spectacular ambassador for the sport both locally and nationally. She was an NCAA star at the University of Minnesota, was a member of the 2010 and 2014 women’s silver medal Olympic teams, is a four-time gold medalist at the World Championships, and currently a member of the NWHL’s Boston Pride where she was the league’s 2016 defensive player of the year and a 2017 All-Star.

Warroad’s NHL legacy began in 1971 with the debut of Henry Boucha, a silver medalist at the 1972 Olympics, and another member of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. It’s legacy continued with Christian and Al Hanglesben in the 1980s, and still continues today with current NHL stars Brock Nelson (New York Islanders) and T.J. Oshie (Washington Capitals).

With such a rich history and contribution to hockey, and a passion to continue growing the sport, Warroad is sure to continue as one of America’s greatest hockey towns.

More on Warroad, Minnesota

For Oshie, ties to Warroad run deep

On Nelson’s hockey journey, from Northern Minnesota to Brooklyn

Into the fire: Halak, recalled yesterday, starts for Isles in Pittsburgh

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A little scene setting for you.

New York heads into tonight’s massive game in Pittsburgh sitting two points back of Boston for the final wild card in the Eastern Conference. The Isles have two games in hand on the B’s — who are idle tonight — so a win could move them into a playoff spot.

As such, the Isles will start a goalie that hasn’t played in the NHL in 85 days.

Against the league’s highest-scoring offense.

The goalie in question is Jaroslav Halak, who’s spent the last three months playing for the Isles’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. Recalled yesterday, Halak will now face big league competition for the first time since Dec. 29, when he allowed four goals on 24 shots in a loss to Minnesota.

(Afterward, then-head coach Jack Capuano ripped Halak, saying he gave up “some soft goals to start” and “wasn’t sharp at all.”)

But Halak’s been really good in Bridgeport.

He’s posted a 17-7-1 record with a 2.15 GAA and .925 save percentage, and a pair of shutouts. And given how spotty Berube’s play has been as Greiss’ backup, the Isles really had no other choice than to recall Halak.

The club is in the midst of a compacted part of the schedule. Greiss was excellent in Wednesday’s win over the Rangers — stopping 34 of 36 shots in a 3-2 victory — but he was also busy.

The Isles are in Pittsburgh tonight, then host the Bruins on Saturday — another massive game — then host the Preds on Monday. It’s a compact part of the schedule, and Berube’s struggles have rendered him virtually unplayable, given how meaningful the games are (and, to borrow a timeless cliche, how vital points are at this time of the year.)

So it’s Halak tonight, and possibly more down the stretch.

For Tuukka Rask and the Bruins, a ‘bad goal’ at the worst possible time

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The growing ranks of Tuukka Rask detractors gained some serious ammunition during last night’s loss to Tampa Bay.

The deciding goal in the 6-3 defeat was a “bad one,” according to Rask and most anyone else who was watching.

It may have been a hard shot by Jonathan Drouin, unleashed at the top of the circle, but it still should’ve been stopped.

After the game, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy told reporters that Rask “needed to be better tonight.”

In fact, Rask hasn’t been very good the past few months. Since Jan. 1, his save percentage is just .888. But with nobody trustworthy behind him, he’s had to just play through his struggles.

It’s impossible to say if Rask’s numbers would be better if the Bruins had a more capable backup. He’d be more rested, though. And when he was struggling, the coach would at least have another option to consider. With an .897 save percentage on the season, Anton Khudobin simply hasn’t been reliable enough to garner that consideration.

Don’t expect Rask to get the next game off. Saturday in Brooklyn, the Bruins — losers of four straight in regulation, and suddenly on the verge of falling out of the playoff picture — face the Islanders in arguably the biggest game of both teams’ seasons.

Bolts recall Koekkoek, putting Garrison’s status into doubt

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The Tampa Bay Lightning, after earning a big win last night in Boston, may not have defenseman Jason Garrison tonight in Detroit.

The Bolts recalled d-man Slater Koekkoek from AHL Syracuse this morning — a move that would seem to put Garrison’s status into doubt against the Red Wings.

Garrison was forced to leave the Bruins game in the second period with a lower-body injury.

Koekkoek has played 29 games for the Lightning this season, recording no goals and four assists.

Melnyk blasts ‘whiner’ Crosby, who won’t face hearing for Methot slash

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Sidney Crosby won’t face a disciplinary hearing for his slash on Ottawa d-man Marc Methot, an NHL spokesman confirmed — news that won’t be welcomed by Sens owner Eugene Melnyk.

The incident occurred during Ottawa’s 2-1 win on Thursday night, and forced Methot from the game with a bloodied, lacerated finger. The club later announced that Methot would be “out for weeks” with the injury.

Crosby’s slash came two nights after he speared Sabres forward Ryan O’Reilly below the belt. It should be noted that neither the O’Reilly spear or Methot slash resulted in penalty calls, and neither was subjected to supplementary discipline.

One individual that’s guaranteed to be upset with today’s news is Melynk. He appeared on TSN 1200 radio this morning and seemed to suggest the league was looking into the Crosby-Methot incident.

He also had a few choice words for No. 87: