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Huge crowds for the nearly perfect Hockey Day Minnesota festivities.

John Gilbert and Lou Nanne discussed plans in the Marvin Event Center. (MHM Photo / John Gilbert)

WARROAD, MINN.— With a blocked view of the big game between Warroad and Roseau boys high school teams, I’m not embarrassed to admit that I filtered through the crowd of VIP pass-holders inside the Marvin Event Center and pounced on the first open chair in front of the enormous television screen that was carrying the live Bally Sports North broadcast of Hockey Day Minnesota’s biggest game.

Warroad had jumped ahead early and went on to win the game 6-2, avenging a game two weeks earlier when Roseau won 3-2 in overtime in Roseau. As I sat there, looking at this enormous video screen 20 feet away, a fellow stepped in front of me, looked out from under a knit cap and over a graying goatee and said: “John Gilbert. Do you remember me?”

I had to admit that I didn’t recognize him.

“Neal,” he said. “Neal Broten.”

You’ve got to be kidding! Here was one of my favorite hockey players ever, and I didn’t recognize him. We had a nice conversation. He came up from the Twin Cities area to visit his dad and mom, Newell and Carol, who still live in Roseau.

That was one of many conversations I had, including one with David Christian, who also drove up from the Twin Cities for Hockey Day Minnesota. The crowds for the event were very good, as the temperature hovered in the mid-20s. My wife, Joan, and I drove up Friday, hoping to arrive in time to see the Roseau-Warroad alumni game, which would hinge on which side could round up the most alums. Roseau alums whipped Warroad alums, 6-2.

On the 4 and a 1/2-hour drive up from Duluth to Warroad, we tuned in KDAL radio to hear Bruce Ciskie’s broadcast of the UMD-Wisconsin women’s WCHA game at AMSOIL Arena. Wisconsin won a close game, but I was astounded to notice that Ciskie has adopted a style in which he gives the time on the clock — “11:30 of the second period” — as the official time of the game. He didn’t say time remaining, which would have legitimized it, but he just gives a time and the period, which is totally disconcerting to a listener like me, who wants to know the score and the remaining time. (When I got back, I asked Ciskie when he started doing that, and he said, “I hate doing math.” Huh?)

We got to Warroad and checked in, making friends with the beautiful little owner’s dog, Bentley. After trying, but failing, to get over to the end of the alumni game, Joan and I went over to Izzy’s, which used to be owned by Izzy Marvin, but which still sells the best hamburger in town. Like every other establishment in town, Izzy’s was jammed.

A group of young players periodically cleared ice buildup from the outdoor rink. (MHM Photo / John Gilbert)

Picture-perfect Hockey Day
It was a nearly perfect three days in Warroad last weekend, which was the ideal time for moderate temperatures and the lack of the usual January snowing, blowing and freezing in this little Canadian border town on the Southwest tip of Lake of the Woods. The organizers did a fantastic job of laying out the outdoor rink on the high school football field, which had one end zone right up against the Marvin Event Center. That center became our gathering spot for everything from watching hockey games to eating a steady flow of different foods supplied throughout all three days for anyone fortunate enough to have a VIP or media pass.

As a long-term resident of the pampered life of a sportswriter, I’ve grown to appreciate all the various press boxes I normally visit while watching games. No such luxury this time, so I spent much of it standing outside to shoot photos from in front of the windows of the event center. That was where I watched the very impressive Warroad girls high school team, ranked No. 2 in Class 1A, lose 4-3 to big and powerful Class 2A-foe Lakeville North, a team that has a good shot at making the state tournament.

The Warroad teams paid tribute to their heritage, and to the achievement of gaining the continued use of the term “Warriors” after numerous politicians had tried to get them to drop the name. Saturday started with the indigenous drum band playing an opening tribute that was quite an emotional attraction. And the Warroad players wore jerseys that had “Kaabekanong Ogichidaag” emblazoned on their chests. That, in Oglala Sioux, means “Warroad Warriors,” somebody said.

Another person said it was a modernized term for “War in the Road,” which dates back to the 1800s, when the warring factions of different tribes fought their battles on the road leading into Warroad. Probably for the rights to the many huge walleyes waiting for fishermen out on Lake of the Woods. The area tribe made a deal with the city of Warroad to give them the land on which to build their new school back in the early 1900s, and the agreement included a deal that assured the school would keep the name “Warriors” as a tribute to the Native Americans.

There were games for all age groups, from youth to college, and included some high school attractions. One of those attractions came in men’s hockey when Concordia College (Moorhead) came from behind to beat a strong St. Olaf team 4-2 with three third-period goals in a Division III classic.

There were also video tributes to Henry Boucha, who died in September, and continuing tributes to the Marvin family, which runs various industries, including the huge window-building plant that is the area’s largest employer.

Wayzata skated past Moorhead 5-2 in a boys high school feature. (MHM Photo / John Gilbert)

The Warroad girls high school team is coached by David (Izzy) Marvin, who has brought them to prominence and state championships. Izzy’s dad is the late Cal Marvin, who owned a resort and was general manager and coach of the Warroad Lakers, who won Canada’s Allen Cup for Senior Men’s teams.

“Other small towns that start girls programs need to do what Warroad has done,” Izzy said. “And that is to get behind the girls program. When we started, Cal got behind the girls program, and when Cal was behind something, not many people chose the other side.”

Perfect explanation for Cal’s influence and for the Warroad girls’ success.

Wrapping up the weekend
After watching and shooting photos at games such as the Wayzata boys powerhouse whipping Moorhead 5-2 in one of several other high school games, it was time for the Warroad-Roseau boys high school weekend highlight. I was prepared to head back outside to get a spot for shooting photos. However, the two rows of standing sites ahead of the event center were elbow to elbow, with the grandstands on both sides of the football stadium also jammed, as a crowd possibly approaching 5,000 filled every spot.

That’s what sent Joan and me back inside and over to the huge video screen for the Bally Sports North telecast.

As the second period ended, the sun was going down and it felt a little chillier, and I suggested to Joan that since we were watching on the big screen, we could hustle back to the hotel and catch the third period and maybe the Wild-Anaheim finale on BSN in our room. So we took off.

We got to the hotel in time to see the third period of the Warroad-Roseau game. But for some unknown reason, the connection between BSN and the motel had quit and despite scrolling through every station in the guide, we never found the end of the game. Nor did we find the Wild game, although we tried hard enough that we were too tired to go out seeking a late dinner, and we settled for crackers and cheese that we had brought with us.

When we were through with our snack/dinner, I tried scrolling through one last time — and there we found the Wild-Anaheim game! Just in time to see the Wild collapse into their bye-week swoon.

We slept well, got up Sunday morning and started our return trip in the test-drive Prius I was driving for my automotive column. We wanted to get back in time for the NFL championship games in the AFC and NFC, so we thought a quick breakfast at McDonald’s would be best, grabbing a couple bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwiches. We pulled into the drive through and were informed they quit selling those at 10:30 a.m., and it was already 10:40 a.m.

So we took off, heading east on Hwy. 11 for Baudette, another Lake of the Woods town. Passing through, we saw Alice’s Restaurant, where an impressive waitress named Ashley took care of our orders for Denver omelettes, whole wheat toast and… some of the worst coffee this side of instant.

But it got us home, after a fantastic Hockey Day Minnesota weekend in Warroad. Next year, the extravaganza will be in Shakopee. The following year, it will move to Hastings. Both of those cities will have a major challenge trying to live up to the high-bar setting of Warroad, which remains “Hockeytown, USA.”

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