Monday, January 20, 2014

A Day In The Life Of The Roseau-Warroad Hockey Rivalry

I had heard so much of the rivalry since moving to Grand Forks a little over a year ago. Roseau-Warroad in boys hockey. Rams-Warriors. You better get to the arena hours before the game to get a seat. It's different from anything you've seen before. It's a way of life. It is life.

About a month ago, I started tossing the idea around with Pat Sweeney about going up and covering a game between the two historic hockey programs. Not just to get highlights of the game but to really dip into a day in the life of the rivalry. Sure, I'd covered Warroad when they would come down and play East Grand Forks. But I'd never been to "HockeyTown USA." I heard about "historic Memorial Arena" but I'd never been there. This had to change I told myself. I need to experience it for myself.
Here is the rivalry from an outsider's eyes:

It's Wednesday, January, 8th about 11 pm and I can hardly sleep. The next day, I'm headed to Warroad and Roseau to capture the rivalry thru a camera. Like many of the Warrior and Roseau players, you almost just give up on sleeping and do something productive instead of just tossing and turning all night thinking about the game.

Finally, after maybe catching an hour of shuteye, I jump out of bed at about 3:30 am. I already know it is going to be a long day as the game doesn't even start for another 16 hours. Coffee and pure adrenaline will be my best friends on this Thursday.

After a quick shower, I stroll out of my apartment and feel the warm(er) southern breeze meet my face. My first thought after spending a week below zero degrees: This feels great. Then I come to my senses and realize that wind in these neck of the woods means one thing in the winter time: terrible driving conditions.

I fill the WDAZ car with gas and hop on Interstate 29. It's 5 am by the time I finally get out of greater Grand Forks. I'm scheduled to meet John Slyvester, father of Kyle, a senior on the Warrior hockey team in Warroad at the crack of dawn. I already know that I will be running late. 29 wasn't the best for driving but somewhat typical for North Dakota in the winter time.

I make my exit at Drayton to get on Highway 11. That's where I run into absolutely terrible driving conditions. You know what I'm talking about-Can't see in front of you, wondering where the road is at. I shake my head and laugh. The state of Minnesota wouldn't have this Iowa boy take in this great rivalry with some fun winter driving!

No coffee in the system, I finally pass thru a quiet Roseau knowing that when I come back later that afternoon, the town of just over 2,600 will be buzzing. Behind schedule, I finally pull into Warroad. I barrel into "The Gardens" parking lot hoping John hasn't left me. He is there, patiently waiting for me to arrive. I follow him to his home where I will follow Kyle around for the opening part of the day. The senior has his car running in the parking lot when we arrive to get it warmed up, a habit for most in the wintertime. I'm greeted by a handshake and a smile by Kyle(more than I could of mustered up when I was in high school) when John and I walk in the front door.

Letter jacket already on, Kyle makes two English muffins, better than McDonalds he claims. Between bites, he says, "Playing Roseau is like a holiday. There shouldn't even be school."

Sensing that I needed some caffeine, Papa John hands me a cup of joe, while sharing stories about the rivalry.

After some breakfast for Kyle and some caffeine for yours truly, the two take me into pretty much what can be considered the "hockey room." From corner to corner, the walls are covered in hockey jerseys, pictures, and awards. I have a feeling this is a room that just about everyone in Warroad has. After giving me almost an entire pot of coffee, I say my goodbyes to John and thank him for letting me in his home. I then follow Kyle off to school.
I know this happens all around in the winter time but this truly spells Minnesota in the winter. Kids ride their snowmobiles to school, which is nice because it left several great parking spaces(name me a high school where you can say that.)

After an interview with Warroad Athletic Director Steve Bengtson, I meet up with Kyle for second period, where he and teammate Kobe Roth prepare an ice bath. The conversation turns to last year, when Roseau and Warroad split. "We have a little payback to give them," says Sylvester. Despite it only being nine in the morning, you can tell that the two line mates are ready to go. I too, am ready to check out "The Gardens", home of Warrior hockey.
  As soon as you walk in the arena, you can tell it is a special place. A lobby greets you with the ice in the distance through big windows. On top, pictures of Dave Christian and Henry Boucha look down at you. In the reflection off the windows, I see people starting to pour into the building. 
Despite it being not even ten in the morning, the people of Warroad come to the rink to skate.
One of the best things about The Gardens is that no matter the time of day, the rink is always open to public(except for during games you would think) Above them, banners among banners hang from the rafters. 
After finally peeling my eyes off the rink, I meet up with Olympic silver medalist, Henry Boucha. While up in Warroad, I decided to do a story on Gigi Marvin and T.J. Oshie, two Warroad natives who will be in this year's Olympics. Unbelievably, both graduated from the same Warrior class of 2005. I asked Henry about the two and he started chuckling to himself, sharing the time when Gigi and T.J. were ten and the two got in a fight. He then added that Gigi WON. "Kinda hilarious," said Boucha.

 After sharing some laughs with Henry, I met with Gigi's parents, Mike and Connie Marvin.They said how proud they were of Gigi and how thankful of the support that the town of Warroad showed their daughter. Here is a picture they shared of T.J. and Gigi back in the day.

 After interviews with Jay Hardwick(boys coach) and David "Izzy" Marvin, I decide to drive around Warroad and see what the community of around 1,700 offers. The first thing you notice is the water tower. Warroad has the nickname "HockeyTown USA." The hockey sticks say it all.

 We are approaching midday so I decide it would be a good idea to eat something before heading over to Roseau. I find a Subway as I hear an oven roasted chicken sub calling my name. Without thinking, I try opening the door to Subway but I'm halted as the door only opens halfway, caused by the door scraping on the outside sidewalk. Weighing 170 pounds soaking wet, I squeeze past, no problem. With no line, the nice lady working apologizes as I walk right up and order. I say no worries and get the usual. After I sit down (right in front of the door), people on their lunch break start pouring into the place. Just about everyone struggles with the door. I hear the Subway employee apologize to everyone of the 20 people that ordered when I was there. Minnesota-nice, indeed.

I finish my meal, top off the cup with some liquid high in sugar, and begin my journey back to Roseau. The travel conditions have improved since early morning. I hit scan on the car radio, hoping to find some cruising music. I think it maybe stopped once. A "staticy" station from Grand Forks will have to do.

I arrive in Roseau about 20 minutes later-"The North Star City"

I cruise down the main road and with towns such as Roseau, it doesn't take long to find the school. And yes, it is just one school. I find the main doors and find Roseau Superintendent Larry Guggisberg right away. Larry greets me with a strong handshake and I know I'm in good company. Here is Larry showing me the "North Rink" later in the day.

 While at the school, I find former Olympian Gary Ross teaching young 4th graders. Mr. Ross is hanging it up this year after over 30 years. Ross remembers that to get to the state tournament, you had to go through Warroad.

After speaking with Gary, I meet up with his brother Don, also an Olympian.  Here he is sharing a story with Larry from 1972.

After grabbing a picture of this found in the hallway, I head off to Memorial Arena. 

The first time I laid eyes on Memorial, I knew it was special. Straight out of the movie "Hoosiers", the barn reeks of tradition.  

 As soon as Larry and I walk in, we run into legendary peewee hockey coach, Dick Johnson. Johnson graduated from Roseau in 1956 and had several stories on the rivalry between the Warriors and the Rams."Way back when in '48, Roseau and Warroad played, we both had outdoor rinks. Ended up with a brawl at the rink, on the ice, the players, the people, the parents, out there swinging, to beating hell and the whole bit. Now that's what you call a rivalry."

Here is a "generation picture" of Roseau taken in the late '50s. Johnson is probably in there somewhere.

The "North Rink" I spoke about previously is absolutely beautiful.

This greets you in the North Rink. Former Chicago Blackhawk and current Winnipeg Jet, Dustin Byfuglien.

 Inside Memorial Arena a few hours before puck drop.

You think WDAZ gets this kind of treatment at the bigger schools? Notice the blanket to the left "reserving" a spot. This was at least three hours before the game.

This is one of my favorite pictures from the trip. These four ladies have the best seat in the house! Making sure no one gets them, they're parked in their spots for even the JV game.

Think it's just popcorn and hotdogs at Memorial? Think again. The line was two-three deep all night as the great citizens of Northern Minnesota running the concessions made sure no one left hungry.

It's almost time for the main event. Good luck trying to find a spot.

Roseau lights the lamp first. Look how many people are behind the glass. Trust me, it was not fun walking back there with a camera and a tripod.

Check out this neat view from the "press box" from above the east goal. Wild 102 FM's and Roseau PXP man Zach Swanson is there calling the game. Pretty neat stuff.

 The night would belong to Kobe Roth would score FOUR goals. Check this beauty of a celly. Warroad beats Roseau 6-4.

Kyle celebrates with teammates in the Warrior locker room after the game. It will be a fun drive back to Warroad.

After sending highlights back to the Z, I finally walk out of Memorial a little after 10 p.m knowing the day is almost complete. A two hour drive awaits me but I know that it will be a breeze as I will spend it reliving the day in my mind. I finally make it back to Forks after midnight. What a day! I just want to thank everyone from both towns that made my trip memorable. It was awesome! Story runs on WDAZ Monday, January 27th at six. See you then!

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