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Warroad Is Focus For HDM

Though most will play indoors, many of Minnesota’s college programs will still be in action this Saturday on Hockey Day Minnesota.

The Christian brothers, of Warroad, wearing their USA hockey jerseys. (MHM file photo)

On the very weekend when Minnesota celebrates all things hockey during its annual outdoor hockey extravaganza called Hockey Day Minnesota, some teams will be too caught up in their own intricacies to worry about the three-day, all-age competition that this year will be held on the outdoor-ice facility built on the Warroad High School football stadium field.

This is the 18th Hockey Day Minnesota, and it makes you wonder what it took those who make such decisions so long before going to the northernmost reaches of the state to select Warroad as the host. The town population is about 1,800, which is only a percentage of those inside Warroad Gardens, the perfect indoor arena that fills up for every home game of the Warroad Warriors.

The town also boasts some of the greatest iconic players of Minnesota’s long hockey history, and is half of the state’s most intense hockey rivalry. The other half is Roseau, which is about 20 miles to the west of Warroad. Travel five miles east to find Baudette, another small town that would rather boast about its walleye fishing than its hockey. 

Warroad, located on the southwesternmost tip of Lake Of The Woods, a huge, sprawling lake that stretches into Canada and houses various resorts and cabins and countless of the delectable-eating walleyes, would never shrug off its fishing heritage, but it also would never let it intrude on its love of hockey.

If you go back in the annals of state hockey, you find legendary names such as Max Oshie, the Marvin family, brothers Gordon, Roger and Billy Christian, Henry Boucha, Alan Hangsleben, Gopher All-America Larry Olimb, and on up to the modern era, when T.J. Oshie of the Washington Capitals and Brock Nelson of the New York Islanders carry the torch for Warroad’s current presence in the NHL.

The Marvin family owns Marvin Windows, the largest employer in the area and the builder of classic windows and doors for home building. Cal Marvin, meanwhile, managed the Warroad Lakers, a senior men’s team that lured outstanding ex-college stars to Warroad to work, make a living and play for an amateur team that was the only American senior team to win Canadian amateur senior championships.

The Christian Brothers ran the Christian Brothers Hockey Stick factory, which once filled the stockrooms of all the top area Division I colleges. They played at North Dakota, and the three brothers all played together on the National and Olympic teams including the 1960 gold-medal U.S. Olympic team that beat the Russians and won Gold at Squaw Valley, Calif.

So, the subtle highlight of Hockey Day Minnesota, with games televised by Bally Sports North, is that there are great high school games. That includes the 4:30 p.m. Saturday-afternoon battle between the Warroad and Roseau boys’ teams. But at 8 p.m. Friday, there will be a Warroad-Roseau alumni game — which could be a classic, depending on who can round up more alumni.

Otherwise, an almost constant flow of strong high school games, a men’s college game with Concordia College-Moorhead facing St. Olaf, a high-ranking Wayzata-Moorhead boys’ high school game, plus high school girls’ varsity and JV games will run throughout the days on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The climax is supposed to be the Saturday night game with Anaheim facing the Wild at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. 

UMD women’s team in midst of tough stretch
All of that doesn’t mean the college hockey teams entering both the men’s and women’s stretch drives are relaxing for the weekend. Hardly.

“Every weekend feels like playoff hockey,” said Maura Crowell, coach of the Minnesota-Duluth women’s hockey team. “I’m lucky to have 20 players who can play at such a high level.”

The Bulldogs are in the midst of a tough couple of weekends. They traveled to Ohio State to face the No. 1 Buckeyes and lost 3-0 and 1-0. That means for the month of January, the Bulldogs lost 2-1 and tied 2-2 at No. 8 Quinnipiac, then swept Bemidji State with a pair of shutouts before suffering the two shutout losses at No. 1 Ohio State. Instead of a rest, the Bulldogs are back home at AMSOIL Arena to take on No. 2 Wisconsin.

“I’m happy with how we’re playing, especially last Saturday night, when we lost 1-0,” Crowell said. “I thought Saturday night was one of the best games of the year. Ohio State is No. 1 — by far, in my opinion right now — and we’re No. 7. I’ll take that for now.”

Crowell’s optimism has infested her players, who seem to have shrugged off the obvious fact that you don’t win many when you get shut out for a whole weekend.

“We played one of our best games Saturday at Ohio State,” said Bulldogs senior forward Clara Van Wieren. “It was good to see us implementing all the things our coaches have been telling us.

“Yes, I’d love to get into a high-scoring game, but the WCHA is so tough, and there are such good goalies that it’s hard to score.”

UMD’s women are 10-8 in the WCHA, fifth behind Ohio State (17-1), Wisconsin (14-4), Minnesota (12-5-1) and St. Cloud State (10-7-1), and being pursued by the rest of the league, Minnesota State-Mankato (4-14), Bemidji State (2-16) and St. Thomas (2-16). The Bulldogs are buoyed by the fact that after losing 3-0 at Wisconsin on Dec. 1, they upset the Badgers 3-2 the next night, but that second game has also probably caused Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson to circle this weekend’s dates.

College men’s hockey teams with their own Hockey Days this weekend
UMD’s men also return home this weekend after a weird series at Western Michigan. The Bulldogs broke open a tight 2-1 game Friday by scoring five third-period goals for a 6-3 win in a rare outburst, with all four lines contributing for a team that has had trouble getting any goals. The Bulldogs lost 5-2 the following night.

In the NCHC men’s race, St. Cloud State (7-2-3) is tied with North Dakota (7-4-1) for first place, with Denver (8-3-1) third. St. Cloud State is home against seventh-place Omaha this weekend, while a major showdown series has Denver at North Dakota. Minnesota-Duluth, sixth with a 4-7-1 record, is home against eighth-place Miami.

“They’re a big, heavy team,” UMD coach Scott Sandelin said of Miami. “When we played in their building, we were ready one night, and not ready enough the other. They’re a good hockey team, and we’ve got to approach them that way. They’re behind us, and we want to keep them there.”

Minnesota teams stand 1-2-3 atop the CCHA, with upstart St. Thomas first at 10-6, followed by Bemidji State (8-7-1), and Mankato (8-5-1). With a light slate this weekend, Mankato is at home against Northern Michigan with a chance to rise.

Minnesota has struggled to move into contention in the Big Ten, and this weekend may be the Gophers’ turning point. Standing third with a 7-4-3 record, the Gophers play at second-place Michigan State (10-2-2) for two games, while first-place Wisconsin (10-2) plays at fifth-place Michigan (4-6-1).

Not all of Minnesota’s teams are celebrating Hockey Day Minnesota, but they might as well be.

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