Girls Hockey: Warriors Turn 25
Warroad girls’ hockey started as a 15U team before becoming a high school powerhouse.
Ron Tveit grew up nearby before moving to Warroad in 1974 to work as a sixth-grade teacher and assistant varsity hockey coach. In 1998, after the U.S. women’s hockey team won the Olympic gold medal, Tveit had an idea while watching his seventh-grade daughter play in a basketball tournament in International Falls.
“I said, ‘you know what? When we go home, we should check out starting girls’ hockey,’” Tveit said. “I said, ‘girls’ hockey is going to explode with this Olympic win.’”
Things moved quickly, as Warroad’s arena manager set up Tveit with ice time the following week so he could gauge interest. Forty to 50 girls showed up initially. A $13,500 Mighty Kids Grant to the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission helped get the girls’ program up and running with a 15U team, two 12U teams and a house-league 10U team by the fall of 1998.
The first year, the 15U team nearly went undefeated, minus a late-season tournament game in Cloquet against Thunder Bay.
“So, we realized we could compete,” Tveit said. “And so, we jumped and made the move to varsity at that time.”
Twenty-five years later, Warroad girls’ hockey is one of the powerhouse programs in Minnesota. It’s won four Class 1A state championships, each in back-to-back fashion under current head coach David Marvin in 2010-11 and 2022-23. The Lady Warriors have appeared in 14 state tournaments and nine state title games. They’ve missed the state tournament only twice since 2009, losing to the Class 1A runner-up East Grand Forks in the section semifinal in 2014 and falling to 2015 Class 1A champion Thief River Falls in the section final that season.
Tveit led a group of girls with varying hockey abilities for four seasons, starting in 1998-99; they had six players who played squirts or peewees with the boys’ teams for a good nucleus. The rest of the team included players just sticking their skates on the hockey ice for the first time, though most players had brothers who played hockey at some level at the time. The team joined the Minnesota State High School League ranks in its second season.
One of Warroad’s standout moments was in the 2000-01 season when it played Moorhead, an opponent that was “a good measuring stick for us,” Tveit said. The Spuds were on a 19-game winning streak when Warroad went into their barn and shut them out 3-0, Tveit recalled.
“That was a huge deal for our kids,” Tveit said. “That was a big boost.”
Bruce Elson took over for two seasons before Scott Knutson was behind the bench for Warroad’s first state tournament trip in 2006.
Warroad did it right
When girls’ hockey got started in other communities, Tveit said it’s “fair to say that girls had an uphill battle, uphill struggle.” A common refrain in those early days was likely that girls’ teams took ice time away from the boys. Not so in Warroad, where the girls had “open-arm treatment,” which is an important part of the story, Tveit said.
From ice time to equipment to travel, everything was pretty much equal between the boys’ and girls’ Warroad teams.
“I have no memories of being like, ‘wow, we didn’t get this or we didn’t get that,’” Gigi Marvin said. “It was very much equal, I would say. We had as much ice as you could want.”
Added Maureen Hardwick Greiner, a member of the first Warroad team: “The boys got first-class stuff, and we got first-class stuff. From day one it was like that.”
That included Sunday nights with ice time first for the Warroad girls’ hockey team, then the boy’s team. No coaches, just shinny hockey, Gigi said.
“Until 10, 11 at night,” Gigi said. “Shutting the rink down. That’s probably the best way to explain it is you have girls and guys high school age skating together and sharing the ice and not having any issues whatsoever.”
Goaltender Amber Hasbargen Nelson, Hardwick Greiner and Gigi Marvin were some of the players who came into those first Warroad girls’ high school teams with hockey experience. They all played on boys’ teams growing up. Whether girls played hockey, everyone skates in Warroad, either in gym class, figure skating etc., Hasbargen said.
Starting a girls’ hockey team, “it wasn’t like we were starting from scratch like a lot of teams maybe were,” Hasbargen said. “Because we had girls that had played, and we had girls that had skated before and been around the game. That made for a good start for our program.”
Hasbargen was the team’s main goaltender. She was named Goaltender of the Year in Minnesota her senior season in 2002. She went on to play four seasons with North Dakota, back when it had a women’s hockey program.
In those early Warroad girls’ games, Hasbargen stood on her head and kept the team in a lot of those contests, Hardwick Greiner said.
“You could win high school girls’ hockey games back then with one or two studs and a good goalie,” Hardwick Greiner said. “You can’t do that anymore. Teams now are just too deep, and the hockey has just come so far and teams play systems.”
Then there was 2005 Ms. Hockey Gigi Marvin, who turned into a well-known name nationally and internationally, winning Olympic medals, for one thing. She played peewee hockey with the boys through seventh grade before moving to Warroad girls’ varsity.
Gigi also “had a deke move that would get me most of the time,” Hasbargen said, noting Gigi’s talent on breakaways.
Equal ice time leads to strong hockey program
From early on to the present, it’s that access to ice time and community support that separats the Lady Warriors from other programs. The open-door policy to skate with a variety of teams helped, too. Gigi remembers skating with not only her high school team but also had dad’s peewee team and her grandpa’s senior men’s program.
“We just have that ability to practice our skills, develop insanely good hockey IQ and on-ice vision because you’re at the rink all the time in so many different scenarios,” Gigi said. “In one practice you might be the best player out there and can really work on your stickhandling and some creative moves. And maybe the next ice session you go to… with a bunch of older kids that you’re skating with, you’re forced to think the game at a high level.”
That’s how you develop and get ahead of the curve, she added.
It’s the ice time, plus the support of the community when it comes to fundraisers and state tournament trips that’s helped the program, Hasbargen said.
“I think the dedication that the players put into it also is a big part of why the teams are so successful,” Hasbargen said. “The success has grown, and so the older girls make sure the younger girls know what it takes to continue to be successful, and I think that tradition just kind of continues.”
The former players love watching the program thrive, too. Early on, the team was lucky if they had three full lines, Gigi said. Those first seasons, the girls also convinced Hardwick Greiner’s sister, Meaghan, to step away from her role as a boys’ hockey cheerleader and come play girls’ hockey for her senior year.
“’Meaghan, we need bodies, you’ve gotta come and play,’” Maureen said. “We had 13 people, only 12 skaters on our high school team. So, we had a few like Meaghan who couldn’t catch a pass or handle a puck. It was a little dicey. But we just needed bodies, we needed people to field a team.”
A couple of decades into the program’s history, and the roster is not only full but full of college-level talent. Last year’s line chart for the state championship game against Orono included seven players committed to play college hockey, including a top line of DI-committed athletes in Talya Hendrickson and Kate Johnson at the wings headed to Bemidji State and center Rylee Bartz with a St. Thomas commitment.
“It speaks to the level of commitment and type of player that Warroad has right now and have been able to develop,” Gigi said.
There’s also a sense of pride for hockey players coming out of Warroad’s program, hailing from Hockeytown, USA. As Gigi said: “There’s no place like it on the planet.”