The Best Of John’s Journal From 2021-22/ No. 4: Game Night At Roseau’s Hockey Cathedral
Posted: Tuesday, July 12, 2022 - 8:31 AM
For any high school sports fan in Minnesota, attending a big rivalry hockey game on the northern border of our state is a bucket-list trip. I headed to Roseau for a boys hockey game between the Rams and the Warroad Warriors, and it was more than worth the lengthy drive.
I had been inside the Warroad arena a few years earlier but this was my first visit to historic Roseau Memorial Arena. It is glorious, as is the enthusiasm of the fans when these teams meet. It was a night I will never forget.
Here’s the story, originally posted on Jan. 6 …
ROSEAU – The chapel was quiet a couple hours before services began. A few older congregants had already gathered on a frigid January evening, sitting on wooden benches and chatting in a warm space above ice level, occasionally turning their heads to look through windows that offered a view of the frozen, reflective worship space.
As more and more folks arrived, a theme was clear. Some wore the green and white of the Roseau Rams, with others draped in Warroad Warriors black and gold. The towns are only 22 miles apart, within earshot of the Canadian border, and high school hockey is a binding agent, a cultural touchstone and darn near a religious experience.
On this Tuesday night, the most famous hockey rivalry in Minnesota was on center stage for the first time this season. Even though some fans live in one town and are employed in the other, hockey draws a clear line in the ice. That was evident as Warroad fans grimaced upon paying for admission and having a big green Roseau Ram stamped on the back of their hand.
“We’re small schools and we’ve had hockey forever,” said 81-year-old Bob Lund, father of Roseau head coach Greg Lund and assistant Bill Lund. “It’s our game.”
Bob was sitting on a folding chair that was placed against the boards near the entry, a high honor for someone who has seen it all through the years. Bob was a youngster when Roseau Memorial Arena was built in 1949; he remembers the days before plexiglass when the boards were topped with chicken wire, and when gravel, instead of concrete, provided the base for the bleachers.
The lobby areas of the arena are a Roseau hockey Hall of Fame. Walls are covered with framed photos of all the greats in Ram history who went on to play hockey in college, the NHL and the Olympics. Also displayed are team photos, state championship trophies and all manner of wonderful memorabilia.
The hockey rivalry between Warroad and Roseau is special. Boys in both towns have been smacking pucks with sticks for more than a century, and the first official high school game between the two was played in 1945, the same year as the inaugural MSHSL state tournament. On this glorious Tuesday evening in early 2022, the Rams and Warriors boys would meet for the 179th time.
Both programs are familiar throughout Minnesota. Roseau has been to the state tournament a record 34 times, winning seven state titles between 1946 and 2007. Warroad has made 22 state appearances and has won four crowns, most recently in 2005.
In pregame discussions, one thing was clear: When Roseau and Warroad meet on the ice, you can throw out the records. Over the years, surprises have happened more times than anyone can remember.
“That's the thing, every year it doesn't matter what our records are,” said Warriors coach Jay Hardwick, a 1998 Warroad graduate. “It's still going to be a great hockey game.”
This was one of the biggest games in the state this season, and certainly the biggest in Roseau County, home of both towns. Warroad came in with a record of 11-0 and holding the No. 2 ranking in Class A. Roseau was 11-1 and ranked eighth in Class 2A.
Warroad had recorded one-goal victories over Mounds View, Bemidji and Grand Rapids, with its other eight wins coming by margins between two and 12 goals. Roseau lost to Andover 4-3 in its second game of the season before starting a 10-game winning streak. Among the teams the Rams defeated were Minnetonka, Moorhead, Grand Rapids, Rogers, Bemidji and Mahtomedi.
A good-sized crowd watched the junior varsity teams play before the Zamboni groomed the ice for the night’s main attraction. Hometown radio crews sat at a table a few rows behind the penalty boxes, Jon Michael from Warroad’s KQ92 next to Jason Merritt and Tracy (Bobcat) Ostby on Roseau’s WILD 102. The exquisite Roseau High School pep band, under the direction of Chris Barnes, pumped out great music. Among the orchestra members were a few junior varsity hockey players, hair still wet from showering, dressed in game-day suits and ties.
Game No. 179 in the series stayed true to the predictions. Surprises can indeed happen, and on this night good things happened for the visiting Warriors. The teams played a fast and scoreless opening period, and the first massive roar from the overflow crowd of more than 3,000 came with Roseau on a power play in the second period.
When Warroad’s Ryan Lund swiped the puck, raced down the ice and scored a shorthanded goal, the Warriors student section waved black and gold pompoms and screamed, the sound reverberating off the ancient and arched and sacred wooden beams in the ceiling.
Matt Hard scored to make it 2-0 Warroad late in the second, and Murray Marvin-Cordes got two in the third period before Daimon Gardner closed out Warroad’s 5-0 victory. Warriors goaltender Hampton Slukynsky stopped 28 shots; Roseau goalie Carter Christianson had 22 saves.
The game showcased plenty of talent, including four of the state’s top scorers. Roseau’s Max Strand ranks third with 44 points, Warroad’s Gardner and Jayson Shaugabay are tied for seventh with 36, and the Rams’ Noah Urness (31) is tied for 10th.
Roseau had been shut out by Warroad only four times previously in all these years. Tuesday’s result made the all-time series standings look like this: 105 wins for Roseau and 69 for Warroad with five ties.
Despite the loss, Greg Lund appreciated the importance of the rivalry.
“This is what everybody looks forward to,” he said. “We saw what happened here, it was a huge, huge game for everybody and the fans love it.”
Before the teams took the ice, Hardwick had asked the Warriors if they were nervous. A few heads nodded affirmatively.
“I said, ‘You know what? It's OK to be nervous.’ I told them I've played in these games, a couple of them for section championships, and I've coached in 20-some of these and I still get nervous. But that's OK because it means you care and it means something to you.”
Roseau has an MSHSL enrollment of 348 high school students and Warroad has 295. With Roseau opting up from Class A to Class 2A, the two teams no longer play hammer-and-tong battles to decide which one wins the Section 8 title and goes to state; they faced off in Section 8 playoff games 23 times between 1947 and 1998.
“These are always great games, and there’s a lot of respect for each other,” Bob Lund said, sitting along the boards in the rink where he watched his kids and grandkids skate. “I wish we had 20 games like this every season.”
After graduating from Minnesota Duluth in 1966, Bob coached hockey in Silver Bay for two years before returning to his hometown. The family business is a furniture and carpet store … and hockey.
A newer rink, known as the North Rink, is attached to Roseau Memorial Arena. (There is a third rink in town, Roseau Sports Center.) Some of the locals joke about the North Rink being a de facto day care center, where kids can be dropped off at any time of day or night. Hockey is so big in Roseau that each youth team has its own locker room at the North Rink, meaning families don’t have to lug equipment back and forth from home. Kids also are allowed to run a tab at the well-stocked concession stand, with parental eyebrows sometimes rising when they stop in to pay off the balance.
During Tuesday night’s game, youth hockey players dressed in blue jerseys wandered through the crowd selling 50-50 raffle tickets. As is the custom, youth teams are not allowed to wear Roseau green and white … they earn that right when they reach high school hockey. A lot of cash was dropped into the 50-50 bucket, with the winner taking home more than a thousand dollars.
After the final horn, the Warroad fans celebrated and the Rams faithful shook their heads and reiterated that you just never know what might happen when these teams meet.
The 180th game in the series is scheduled for Jan. 25 at the Warroad Gardens arena, built in 1993. There is talk of, at some point in time, having the teams from Roseau and Warroad schedule their two regular-season meetings on a back-to-back, home-and-home Friday and Saturday.
No matter the schedule, the Warriors and Rams will continue to skate under the historic wooden ceiling in Roseau, building memories and making history in one of Minnesota’s hockey cathedrals.
From his folding chair on the glass, Bob Lund looked around the arena and smiled at what has been built ... architecturally, athletically and spiritually.
“It just might last forever,” he said.
--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org