Warroad Lakers – Senior Hockey at it’s Best
- Updated: December 31, 2017
Winner of Prestigious Allan Cup in Three-Peat
The Glory Years of Laker Hockey
Winning the Allan Cup is a big deal. To understand senior A hockey in Canada, it is nearly impossible for someone south of the border to get the impact and difficulty, as hockey is the national game and is treated like a religion in Canada.
The Allan Cup goes to the winner of a series of tournaments that are played throughout Canada, with teams from every province competing for a trophy that is awarded annually to the national senior amateur men’s ice hockey champion of Canada.
The Cup was donated by Sir Montague Allan of Ravenscrag, Montreal and has been competed for since 1909. The tournament is televised by TSN and is treated like the NHL’s Stanley Cup, passed by champion to champion by league championship or challenge.
In 1915, the challenge system was replaced with a series of national playoffs. From 1920 to 1960, the winner of the Allan Cup would represent Canada in the Olympics and in World Championships.
The Cup has been won by teams from every province and from the Yukon, as well as by two teams from the United States.
The original Cup has been retired to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, and a replica is now presented to the champions.
It has been said that there is more to life than hockey, not in Canada or Warroad.
Like Father, Like Son –Player-Coach David “Izzy” Marvin
David Marvin was No. 11 of 12 Children by Beth and Cal and grew up with hockey.
Like his father, David would go on to play for the University of North Dakota and then coach the Lakers.
“We had very few conversations that didn’t revolve around hockey or maybe the particular business that dad had at that time,” David Marvin said.
Growing up as a stick boy for the Lakers, he was in the locker room with the legends of Lakers hockey including Olympians Roger and Billy Christian. His own game was developed by Laker players like Bob Storey, Peter Waselovich, Scott Marvin, Blaine Comstock, his brother Mike Marvin and Billy Christian.
In Bantams, under Christian, the team would be disciplined and conditioned as Billy worked them hard. The team would qualify for the state tournament.
With coaching like that the players developed and, by their high school years under Tom King, and with players like Larry Olimb and Danny Lambert, the team would go undefeated in Marvin’s junior season. For the next 2 years, the team would make the trip to the state tourney, with 16 players from that group going on to play either college or pro hockey.
With high school behind him, it was now time for the University of North Dakota where he played for Gino Gasparini.
“Gino didn’t have to recruit me very hard,” Marvin said. “I wanted to play where my dad played.”
Billy Christian then helped David get a tryout with the Winnipeg Jets. With the tryout and his wedding fast approaching, David was very excited, but soon would be hit with a tragedy that would change the direction of his life. As his future wife was heading back from Grand Forks with her little sister, a drunk driver hit them, killing David’s fiancé’s sister.
The funeral was on Wednesday and the wedding followed on Saturday, After the tryout with the Jets, David was sent to the farm team at Moncton, New Brunswick and was offered a minimum professional contract, which wasn’t much.
The person who killed David’s would-be sister-in-law had now plead not guilty, and with a trial looming, David knew in his heart it was time to go back home to Warroad.
“If you’ve ever lost someone, you know there’s nothing worse,” Marvin said. “I asked myself ‘What are you doing out here in New Brunswick?’”
He headed back home in November, played with the Lakers, started into business and did the best to take care of his wife.
David would play for the Lakers in the team’s final six seasons, the last five as player-coach.
Lakers Come of Age
The Warroad Lakers team in the 90’s was the best senior men’s hockey club to ever play the game.
Not to say the Canadians didn’t make it difficult, the tournament in itself is grueling, but throw in the US/Canada sentiment and their feat is even more amazing.
John Hanson said playing in the Allan Cup finals in Quesnel British Columbia wasn’t just playing against the other team, but it was also playing against other factors, including suspect officiating.
“Our team was so good that they just had it in for us,” Hanson said.
With the officiating less than desirable, and the host team winning to advance to the finals, Hanson would find himself in some hot water with the officials.
“The officiating was just awful. It was very apparent they wanted the host team in the championship game. After the game, and with me being so upset, I told the ref what I thought and he kept skating away from me. The referee bumped legs with me and fell, taking a huge dive. He then wrote me up for abusing an official, where I was suspended from playing in Canada until the following year. This type of refereeing was typical for the games we played in Canada.”
Starting with “final four” appearances in the Allan Cup in both the 1991-92 and the 1992-93 seasons, the team was poised for something special. With Cal as manager and led by his son Player-Coach David “Izzy” Marvin, the team was ready to take home the Cup.
Over the years, 62 former University of North Dakota players would wear the Laker Jersey.
Joined by Former Sioux players Shane Mcfarlane and John Hanson, along with adding Roseau guys like Greg Lund, Jamie Byfuglien, Mike and Steve Ross and Billy Lund, the makings of a strong core was set for what would soon be the glory years of Laker hockey.
Cal had the team ready and with the help of guys like All-Americans Steve Johnson and Warroad native, and Minnesota Mr. Hockey winner, Larry Olimb, the pieces were there for a great run.
McFarlane and the guys loved being around Cal and said, “Cal loved telling stories; he had all these hockey stories, starting with UND, the early Lakers, about Henry Boucha, just great hockey stories.”
Scott Knutson, a 1982 All-State player for Warroad before his Laker days, said Cal was one of a kind. “Cal really enjoyed it, he loved being around the guys, he had a great sense of humor, and would always have a smile on his face.”
Cal was always on the lookout for players who were in the area who could help the Lakers. Sometimes Cal would miss on the talent of a player.
“Cal and Spencer Estling went down to Bemidji to look at Joel Otto,” Knutson said. “And after seeing Joel skate, Cal thought Joel really couldn’t help the Lakers, as he wasn’t a good enough skater.”
Otto would go on to play 14 years in the NHL as a shut-down center, winning a Stanley Cup with Calgary in 1989. Otto also played on two U.S. Canada Cup teams and was a member of Team USA for the inaugural World Cup of Hockey and the 1998 Olympics games in Nagano, Japan.
Having been to these Allan Cup finals in Quesnel, Cal knew Warroad would be a good host and the club knew how to put in a bid to host for the 1994 Allan Cup.
In a show of respect, the 1994 Cup was awarded to Cal Marvin and the Warroad community. With the games played in Warroad, the story was made much better for the Lakers and for Cal Marvin, winning the first Allan Cup in their beloved “Garden”.
The bid would only be the second time that the tournaments finals would be played on U.S. soil, having been played in Spokane Washington decades earlier. Warroad was also the least populated city to ever host the championship round.
The story would get even better. The Laker club from 1994 through 1996 was the only team to ever win the Allan Cup three straight seasons.
Fighting Sioux, Rams and Warriors unite – Allan Cup comes to Warroad
Warroad and Roseau have one of the greatest rivalries in Minnesota. From Mites to the High School level, that game was circled on every calendar. Roseau player Jamie Byfuglien noted, “Cal would rarely miss any games particularly the Warroad – Roseau games and, looking back as far as squirts, I remember him wearing the long trench coat smoking a cigar.”
Merging these two hockey powers into one force was the work of Cal. Cal knew that if the Lakers were going to win it all, he needed the help of their neighbors.
“I grew up watching the Lakers and I always wanted to play for them,” Byfuglien said. That was the closest thing to professional hockey as there was up here.
Playing Laker hockey was second only to my youth and high school hockey in Roseau, where we won the state peewee, bantam and then the high school tournament. I was fortunate to play on some great teams, including the three Allan Cups.”
According to Byfuglien, it was Greg Lund who was the guy who broke the ice, and started skating for the Lakers from Roseau.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but my D partner was also from Roseau, with Greg Lund, who was about 4 years older than I,” Byfuglien said. Once we joined the Lakers, there was no rivalry that I know for the guys from the late 80’s and on as we were a team.
“Cal took us Roseau guys in with open arms. Every practice we had he was up watching, chewing on the cigar, arms crossed. He knew it was also important for the wives and girlfriends of the players to feel welcomed, and that is what made it special. Without Cal, the Lakers would not have had the success they enjoyed.
“Our practices were intense, we would scrimmage and play black on white, with Izzy taking a run at me and I would make sure he would get the brunt of the hit. But at the end of practice, we would just go in, and BS in the locker room with everything that had just happened being left on the ice, It was great fun.”
On the long road trips, the players were cared for by Cal.
“Cal would have the pre-game meal at McDonalds where every player got seven bucks, although some guys got envelopes that had more cash after the games,” Byfuglien said. “What was paid was a secret for years. On the road trip home he would always have a boxed lunch for all the players. He took his time out during the day to make sure the guys were taken care of on the way home.”
Greg Lund recalled the respect the team had for Cal while playing for him.
“He just loved the game, he would sit up watching us every practice,” Lund said. “Afterwards, he would come down to the locker room, and we would flip him crap and he would give it right back.”
Lund looks back at the Laker practices with fondness. “Our practices were like playing for the Allan Cup every night. The practices were intense; we would shoot on the goalies for 5 minutes and then go to war playing a best of 5 series up to 5.”
The team and the community of Warroad went all out in their efforts to host the 94 Allan Cup. One of the most important activities, fundraising, was headed up by Conway Marvin.
The community was able to raise the $40,000 needed to host the Allan Cup. The five-day round-robin tournament featured teams from across Canada with the travel expenses for these teams picked up by the Lakers.
Hanson said the 94 squad that brought in Chris Imes right off the Olympic team was really strong.
“Imes was a very good player, but was just another piece,” Hanson said. “He wasn’t even our best player, we were just that good.”
That team featured 2 All Americans and 13 Division 1 hockey players.
Wyatt Smith, a high school star, joined the club. He would be on two Allan Cup championship teams before he graduated from high school. Smith would later go on to star for the Gophers and play in the NHL for the Wild, among other teams.
The result was well worth the efforts as Warroad would take the Allan Cup on its home ice in dramatic fashion by winning the tournament in five games. The team would need every player to get through the grind, and energy guys like Bruce Elson, Roger Lien, John Gillie, Wayne Bartley, Donny Riendeau and Jared Baines would make this vision a reality.
Solid goaltending wins championships. Without it, you will not win as it is almost impossible to hide poor goaltending in a long tournament. The Lakers were blessed with Todd Kriebich providing a steady influence between the pipes, with Kriebich being awarded all-tournament honors on a consistent basis.
After the tournament, Player-Coach David Marvin summed it up best saying, “I can’t begin to tell you how much it means to me just because of my father. I saw him get a little emotional there at the end. None of us would be here if it weren’t for him. He’s the ultimate team player. This whole thing is for him as far as I’m concerned.”
The Lakers were just starting their dominance of the Allan Cup.
The 1994-95 squad was not as talented as the year before, but what they lost in talent, they made up for in chemistry. The team found a new league playing in the Southeastern Manitoba league and filled out its schedule by playing strong teams like the St. Paul Parkers, Minneapolis Bucks and the Sun Valley, Idaho Suns.
In the playoffs, the team cruised to its fourth straight Manitoba title defeating Thompson 12-1, Notre Dame, 6-2 and St. Anne 6-3, and defeating Notre Dame in the championship by a 10-4 score.
The Lakers would catch a big break in the next round, as the were to play the Cupar Canucks for the Manitoba Saskatchewan championship. Cupar would jump out to a 2-0 lead in the best of 5 series, but after the Lakers defeated them 3-2 back in Warroad, the Cupar team forfeited the remaining 2 games giving the Lakers the title.
Many of the Cupar players hadn’t planned on losing, and when they did, the guys needed to be back at work by Tuesday, having planned most of their vacation time for the Allan Cup. Cupar Manager Kelly Findling said his guys had taken time off through Monday, and, “since we all came over in one bus, we decided to play the Sunday game. If we had won, we’d go to the Allan Cup. If we lost, we’d be done, our players are professional workers, not professional hockey players”.
Cal Marvin was not pleased stating, “I don’t understand it. In 48 years of amateur hockey, I’ve never seen anything like this. You play all year to get to the championship and pull out one win away from the finals.”
Why Cal couldn’t understand this was obvious. Nothing like that would have ever crossed his mind. The Laker commitment to hockey, which was Cal’s commitment to hockey, would never have allowed for such thinking.
In the Allan Cup playoffs at Stony Plain (located just west of Edmonton) the Lakers posted wins over Powell River British Columbia 9-2, and Stony Plain 3-2 and dumped the Truro Nova Scotia Bearcats 5-2. Stony Plain would win the play in game and the Lakers would defeat them 3-2 with goals by Knutson, Donnie Riendeau and Wyatt Smith. The Lakers would finish the year with a 35-8-1 record and the Allan Cup.
That summer, the Amateur Hockey Association of the United States gave its Hall of Fame Heritage Award to Cal Marvin. The award is based on outstanding service and significant contributions to American hockey.
The Laker team was not finished, and would soon make history, becoming the first team ever to win back to back to back Allan Cup titles.
The following year the Allan Cup finals were hosted in Unity Saskatchewan. In the first game, Knutson’s hat trick helped defeat Stony Plain 6-2. The next night, Roseau native Billy Lund would get four goals, while Donny Riendeau added three as the Lakers destroyed the Truro, Nova Scotia Bearcats 11-3. The Lakers then rallied from behind to defeat the Unity Miners 4-2. The Lakers would defend their title beating Stony Plain by a 6-1 score to earn their third consecutive Allan Cup. The team would finish the year 35-1.
The three-peat is the only such performance in the history of the Allan Cup.
The team under David Marvin as player-coach had an amazing run, winning five straight Pattison Cups (the Manitoba championship), Three straight Patton Cups (the Western Canada championship, and three straight Allan Cups (the Canadian AAA senior amateur championship).
One problem that the Lakers had was they were too good and in the end, after a 50 year run, that would be the killer. They were not wanted in the Manitoba Senior League, after posting a 70-14-1 record over the previous two years, the team was told they were no longer welcome in the Southeast Manitoba Hockey League.
With no league to play in, and no team wanting to play in Warroad unless they were paid to come in and play, Cal made an announcement that the 50th season would be the last of Laker hockey.
With an amazing half-century run, a 50th reunion was planned to be held in Warroad on the day of Game 3 of the Manitoba playoffs.
The Manitoba champion would be decided by a best-of-five series between the Lakers and an Ille des Chenes team, which had added two former NHLers to its roster. The Lakers would win that series 3 games to 1 setting up a series with the Kindersley Klippers, a town of 5,000 on the Saskatchewan border.
Sweeping that series in three games proved costly, however, as injuries to key players would decimate the Lakers. Injuries would knock out Billy Lund (knee) and captain Scott Knutson, who would take a vicious cross check to the back, along with Jared Baines (knee) Hanson (shoulder) and Riedeau (leg bruise).
The Lakers would go out in style in the Allan Cup Finals. They defeated Stony Plain 6-5 before falling 4-1 to a loaded Powell River squad and lost to Truro 4-3 to end the round robin. The Lakers eked into the semi final game behind the sensational goaltending of Todd Kriebich, who shut out Turo 3-0 setting up a dramatic last Laker game.
The battered Lakers would do their best playing for a four-peat in the championship of the Allan Cup but the Lakers were beat up having played five games in five nights and the injuries had taken their toll.
They led the host Powell River team 2-1 after the first period, but the Lakers would eventually come up on the short end of a 7-3 decision.
The 50 year reunion had 422 mailing addresses to all of the former players that were known. With 570 players having donned the Laker jersey, not all the players were found.
“It was quite a party,” Cal said at the time. “Unbelievable. With guys coming from Florida, British Columbia and Calgary. David worked hard putting that together. He wrote a lot of letters and made a lot of telephone calls. There gets to be quite a bond between the guys when they play together like we did. When you come from Winnipeg when it’s 30 below, you don’t do it for the $25 … you don’t leave home with your wife chewing you out at the door unless it is for something that you believe in, that you want to do and to be with your teammates. The game really has to mean something to you.”
Cal Marvin and his weekly column for the Warroad Pioneer and Commonwealth newspapers would no longer feature the Lakers.
On this 20th anniversary of the last season of Laker hockey, and with 50 years of Laker hockey now in the books, the last chapter on the Lakers now has been written. They may be gone, but hardly forgotten, as they are the reason Warroad is HOCKEYTOWN USA.