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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

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

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On Sunday, the NBC Sports Group will celebrate Hockey Day in America with an NHL quadrupleheader while featuring grassroots hockey stories from across the country.

Today, we look at the path Islanders forward Brock Nelson took from Warroad, Minnesota.

A big reason for the Isles’ recent turnaround?

The play of Brock Nelson.

The 25-year-old forward has three goals and six points in seven games this month, helping New York climb to within three points of Toronto for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

On the year, Nelson has 13 goals and 31 points through 55 games, and is on pace to set a career high in scoring.

He’s emerged as a vitally important player in Brooklyn. Which is an awfully long way from where he came from — a tiny town in Northern Minnesota.

Warroad, with approximate population of 2,000, is renowned for pumping out hockey talent. Caps forward T.J. Oshie starred for Warroad HS (as we wrote about yesterday) prior to launching his NHL career, and the city is also famous for the Christian clan — Bill, Dave, Roger and Gordon, who all represented the U.S. at various Winter Olympics.

The Christians are royalty in Warroad, and Nelson’s part of that. He was born and raised there, starring at the local high school like Oshie did years prior.

And then there’s the Christian family lineage.

Bill, Nelson’s grandfather, captured Olympic gold in ’60.

Dave, his uncle, was on the Miracle on Ice team at Lake Placid in ’80.

More on those ties, from SI:

Looking back now, the benefits of Brock’s bloodlines are easy to spot. He golfs over the summer with Dave, who led the U.S. in assists at Lake Placid and eventually played 1,009 NHL games.

As a child, Bill would pull him from school during lunchtime to skate at the local rink. Today, an Islanders game rarely passes without Bill texting beforehand to wish Brock good luck, or afterward to offer some advice.

“A lot of people don’t really know the history, the hockey history,” Brock says. “Some do back home. Some don’t. It’s hit or miss.”

As mentioned above, Warroad and its rich hockey history will be profiled as part of Sunday’s broadcast. It’s part of a massive slate that begins with Oshie and the Caps taking on the Rangers (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC), followed by Detroit-Pittsburgh (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC).

From there, Hockey Day in America shifts to NBCSN. First, it’s Chicago-Buffalo (6 p.m. ET) followed by Boston-San Jose (8:30 p.m. ET).

For Oshie, ties to Warroad run deep

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For a small city in Northern Minnesota with approximately 2,000 residents, Warroad’s had a big impact on the hockey world.

It’s home to a number of former Olympians, including the Christian clan — Bill, Dave, Roger and Gordon all represented the U.S. at various winter games — and a handful of NHLers as well.

Which includes T.J. Oshie.

The Washington winger, enjoying another successful offensive campaign in the nation’s capital, was a former star at Warroad High School, helping the team capture two Minnesota State Class A titles in 2003 and 2005.

From there, more accolades followed. A standout career at the University of North Dakota. Getting selected in the first round of the draft. Over 100 goals scored over seven seasons with the Blues.

And, of course, one unforgettable Olympic effort, in a dramatic shootout win over the Russians in Sochi.

Through it all, though, the 30-year-old has remained close to Warroad, which helped shape his hockey journey.

From the Star-Tribune:

Oshie only lived in Warroad for three years, and he says he hasn’t been back in some time. But he isn’t sure where he would be today without that experience.

“I probably wouldn’t be playing hockey,” he said. “Maybe working somewhere.”

Warroad helped pave a path to his dream job, playing in the NHL. He has become a fan favorite, [and] achieved overnight celebrity at the Sochi Olympics after his one-man shootout display against Russia.

This Sunday, the NBC Sports Group will profile Warroad and its rich hockey history during the Hockey Day in America celebration. It’s part of a massive quadrupleheader of action that begins with Oshie and the Caps taking on the Rangers (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC), followed by Detroit-Pittsburgh (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC).

From there, Hockey Day in America shifts to NBCSN. First, it’s Chicago-Buffalo (6 p.m. ET) followed by Boston-San Jose (8:30 p.m. ET).