SB Nation

John Rosengren | February 12, 2013

The Goal

When Warroad and Roseau renew one of the best rivalries in sport, it’s more than a game

Late on a January afternoon, a yellow school bus heads east on Minnesota State Route 11, the single artery just beneath the Canadian border that connects Roseau and Warroad, a place that the Ojibwe used to call Ka-beck-a-nung or the “Trail of War,” for the blood spilled there with the Sioux. It has since become Hockeytown, and the only battles are waged on ice between the Roseau Rams and Warroad Warriors, one of the greatest rivalries in sport.

The bus carries the latest incarnation of the Roseau varsity, 20 boys becoming men and bearing the tradition of their town. Ryan Anderson, the goalie they call Bob, sits by himself gazing absently at the passing trees and wheat fields skimmed with snow. He visualizes himself inside the Warroad rink, catching a shot with his glove, turning another away with his pad. He feels the confidence that comes with those saves, but it’s harder to block out the thoughts that came last night, when he had lain awake knowing that not just his team but his people counted on him.

The road bends and in the falling darkness Bob can make out the pale blue Warroad water tower painted with crossed hockey sticks. At the corner of Cedar and Elk, Bob and his teammates grab their equipment bags and head inside the Warroad rink.

Two blocks south, the Warroad goalie, Justin King, decides it’s time. He’s spent the past two hours after school chilling, eating pasta his mom prepared, watching a Law and Order rerun and trying not to think about that night, but finding it impossible to keep the biggest game of his life at bay. Anderson. Yon. Strand. Okeson. Bjugson. Halstensgard. He’s played against these guys since kindergarten. They faced off five, six times a year, the closest competition for miles. Now, his senior year, this will be the last time they meet in the Gardens.

The sickness that’s swept through the team this week—five different players have missed practice—has settled on Justin. He can feel it in his throat. He’s running a fever. He’s exhausted. On another day, he might just crawl back into bed. He has played every minute—625-plus—of his team’s first 13 games (10 of them wins, one tie)—and there’s no way he won’t play every one tonight. The goalie with short blond hair combed straight forward hops into his 2001 Ford Taurus and heads to the rink.

* * *

Warroad has earned its moniker. The town of 1,781 on Lake of the Woods, the body of water that fills most of the northernmost nib of Minnesota, has two stoplights, two Holiday gas stations along Route 11, a Chippewa casino, one grocery store, one major employer (Marvin Windows & Doors) and an international hockey reputation. Since 1946, National and Olympic teams have traveled to this remote outpost to play the Lakers, an elite men’s team that sometimes sent them away humbled. The Christian Brothers, Billy and Roger, after winning gold in the 1960 Olympics, founded their eponymous hockey stick company in their hometown, though it has since stopped production. Warroad High, with only 318 students grades 9-12, has won four state titles in the past 20 years.

Roseau, the town next door, rivals Warroad in hockey tradition. Bigger, with 2,633 residents, Roseau has the edge in entertainment options with both a movie theater and a bowling alley. It also has a single major employer, the Polaris snowmobile and ATV plant. Roseau High, with 374 students, has appeared in Minnesota’s fabled state tournament more times than any other school (32) and won seven titles.

When someone here says that hockey is life, they mean just that

Over the past century, the frozen rivers, outdoor rinks and early indoor arenas in these two hockey hamlets have produced more Division I hockey players per capita than any other Minnesota municipality. Roseau alone has sent 71 players to the elite collegiate ranks. Dozens have gone on to play in the Olympics and professionally. Currently, T. J. Oshie, who led the Warriors to a pair of state championships, plays for the St. Louis Blues while Roseau’s Dustin Byfuglien and Aaron Ness play for the Jets and Islanders, respectively.

Hockey runs in the bloodlines. Scan either team’s varsity roster and you’ll spot familiar names—Yon, Nelson, Christian, Vatnsdal, Anderson, King—whose brothers, fathers, uncles and grandfathers played. The game provides continuity among the generations and forms the core of the community. “If you’re talking about anything on Main Street in Roseau in the summer, it’s probably when the hockey season will start,” says Rube Bjorkman, who led the Rams to their first state title in 1946 and won two Olympic silver medals. “It’s the intangible thing that keeps the community together.”

The hockey arena, not the church or the town square or the shopping mall, is the heart of the community, the center of its social and spiritual life. “The rink is the hub of all the action,” says Jay Hardwick, the Warriors coach. “There’s always something going on there. If you ever need to talk to somebody, you more than likely run into them at the rink.”

That’s where they raise their children. The doors to the rinks in both towns are never locked. Kids can come skate any time, and they do. Indeed, both towns with the purity of their hockey traditions seem to be a throwback to simpler days before money and marketing and performance-enhancing drugs soiled sports. Here, in these two towns, a simple game played on ice provides a singular purpose. When someone here says that hockey is life, they mean just that.

* * *

When Ryan Anderson, aka Bob, the Roseau netminder, walks into the Gardens, the Warroad tradition gets in his face. Before the second set of doors, two trophy cases overflow with the hardware of the town’s success. Posters, plaques and laminated newspaper clippings paying tribute to Warroad’s prowess decorate the lobby walls. To the right, five glass displays honor the town’s five U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inductees: Roger, Billy and Dave Christian, Henry Boucha and Cal Marvin. Straight ahead, blown-up photos of Warroad’s seven Olympians: Gordon Christian, Roger Christian, Billy Christian, Dave Christian, Henry Boucha, Dan McKinnon and Gigi Marvin.

The moon-faced boy with short brown hair walks by all this without paying it any attention, but he knows it’s there, the way you sense someone staring at you, the Warroad tradition watching over him. They have all of this back home, the photos of past greats, seven Olympians, 10 NHL players and three of their own Hall of Famers (Neal Broten, Aaron Broten and Oscar Almquist, the Rams coach from 1941-1967) but it’s different walking into someone else’s home.

Like most kids in Roseau, Bob started skating before he started school. His father, Earl Anderson, who starred for Roseau High and played for the Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings, introduced his son to hockey the way his father, who had played for the Roseau Cloverleafs, the senior men’s team before the high school had one, introduced him to the game.

Bob first played goalie in Mites, for kids 8 and under, and liked it, though he still skated out some games. Earl, who’s still trim more than 35 years since his professional playing days ended, was not sure goalie was a good spot for his son, what with the pressure, but he was willing to let Bob try it. Not Bob’s mom Mary. “You know how many times I tried to talk him out of it?” she says. “He was too young to understand you’ve got to be very fortunate or you’re going to be sitting on the bench.”

She knew. Goaltending, like hockey, ran in the family. Two of her brothers had played goalie in high school, the younger one for the Rams after the Pelowski family moved to Roseau.

Earl coached Bob in Peewees and Bantams but wasn’t able to give him any specific pointers about his position. “He was a right winger,” Bob deadpans.

Bob is a smart kid, an honor roll student whose favorite subject is science. College is a given. Hockey is not. There have been no courtships from any D-I or United States Hockey League (USHL) coaches, the nation’s top junior league. “He’s smart and will get more out of life from college than playing hockey,” Earl says.

Bob’s as laid back as he is smart. Take his nickname. In fourth grade, his team had three Ryans, so Tanner Okeson, now a senior defenseman, dubbed him “Bob.” Ryan went with it. He has BOB written on the back of his mask. His mom still calls him Ryan but has him as Bob in her cell phone. “When I’m mad at him, I call him Robert,” Earl jokes.

Bob’s round face looks to be years before he’ll need to shave. It’s hard to read any emotion in his demeanor. But he has the skills: a quick glove and excellent lateral movement. He played only two varsity games as a sophomore but has won the starting job this season.

In the hallway under the stands, he does some stretching and juggling. When he was younger, he slapped hands rhythmically with his mom, who gradually accelerated the pace to hone his hand-eye coordination. They did that before his team won the Peewee A state championship, his biggest win so far, but he’s outgrown that. Tonight there will be no pregame patty cake with Mom.

* * *

Justin King shows up in a black cap over his blond bangs, a personalized black Bauer jacket, a gray button-down shirt, striped tie, dress slacks and black shoes, the same outfit he and the other hockey players had worn in school. He’d had trouble thinking about anything else, typical on a game day but even more so on this game day, which made it somehow a rotten trick that his coach, Dennis Fermoyle—the goalie coach!—had given a test in AP government. Justin did all right on it. A straight-A student, he is ranked eighth in his class of 88 seniors. He isn’t cocky—far from it—but possesses a quiet sureness. Fermoyle, a former goaltender who has coached 20 years, calls King “one of the two best goalies mentally we’ve ever had—he just doesn’t get shook up.”

Justin pauses to watch a portion of the JV game. That was him last year. Coming up through the ranks, he’d always had to wait his turn: on the B team his first year, then the A team his second. The two goalies ahead of him graduated after last season, which finally gave him his chance on varsity. Justin’s small, only 5’7, but adept at squaring up on the puck. He’s been good enough to stop 332 shots, a .930 save percentage, and win 10 games. This year it feels different to walk in later, at this time, knowing you’re no longer the warm-up act but the marquee event, especially tonight.

While Bob’s dad had been teaching him to skate in Roseau, Justin’s dad had been teaching him in Warroad. The talent pool in the King family may not run as deep, but the goalie gene is dominant. Brian King backstopped the Warriors his senior year, 1993. His brother—Justin’s Uncle Todd—a backup, played a couple of minutes in the 2000 state tournament championship game. Justin’s cousin, Tony Soros, whom Justin looked up to, was the starting goalie on the ‘03 Warrior team that won the state title. Naturally, Justin fell in love with the position after his first save as a Tiny Mite. “I loved being the guy everyone looked at and said, ‘He’s the guy stopping the pucks,’” Justin says.

Coaching his son, Brian was able to offer Justin the special understanding that only another goaltender can. Father and son still talk for a few minutes after every game. “If he has an off night, he says, ‘You know, Dad, I just couldn’t get comfortable tonight.’ I get it,” says Brian, who’s also short. “Goalies understand one another.”

Justin’s parents split up when he was in eighth grade. His dad still coached him, and he divided his time evenly between his dad’s and mom’s homes. But his teammates assumed greater significance in his life. He found in them the family he lost. They hung out together at the rink before and after practice, treasuring the locker room camaraderie. Justin feels particularly close to this year’s Warriors. “It’s going to be hard to give up after high school because I’m having so much fun with it,” Justin says. “Hockey’s been a big part of my life the past 15 years.”

* * *

Roseau and Warroad are natural rivals, separated by only 20 miles, which is nothing up here in the North Country. Warroad got the railroad; Roseau grabbed the county seat in 1896 under what one Warroad old-timer still believes were “false pretenses.” When Bill Marvin, the Marvin Windows & Doors magnate, offered to donate $4 million to build a courthouse in Warroad and relocate the county seat almost 20 years ago, the Roseau mayor resisted and made comments about Warroad that the townspeople remember as “crude and cruel.”

Since their inceptions, the two towns have measured themselves against one another, and hockey quickly became the gauge

Since their inceptions, the two towns have measured themselves against one another, and hockey quickly became the gauge. As early as 1908, pickup teams from the two towns challenged one another. These ragtag outfits developed into more serious men’s teams playing in regional leagues. The focal point of the rivalry transferred to the prep level in 1945 when the state of Minnesota sanctioned high school hockey and introduced the state tournament. In those early years, the qualifying playoff final took place in Roseau, because it had an indoor rink, much to the chagrin of Warroaders. “They not only had home ice but home referees,” one old-timer recalled. “It was so bad that everybody said you couldn’t win in Roseau.”

Not until 1948, when the region playoff moved to Thief River Falls, did Warroad beat Roseau 3-2 to play in its first state tournament. A squad with T. J. Oshie’s grandfather, Max, and great-uncle, Buster, along with the oldest Christian brother, Gordon, made it all the way to the championship game.

The Rams and Warriors have played 161 times since 1945. Roseau holds a 94-63 edge with four ties, though that’s mostly due to its dominance in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. Over the past 30 years, Warroad has won 36, lost 28 and tied two.

Since Roseau opted up to Class AA, the larger school division, in 1998, the rivals no longer have to beat one another to get to the state tournament, but the two regular season games are still highly charged, the games everyone in both towns circle on their calendars. “The rivalry is everything,” says Beth Marvin, Warroad’s historian. “It got its intensity because each town wanted to win so bad. Each wanted superiority.”

Beth Marvin arrived in Warroad in 1947 to teach school. For entertainment, she attended hockey games, standing in snowbanks when it was 40 below, because that was what people in Warroad did. Now 88, she oversees the Heritage Center, housed in the Warroad Public Library building. She sits at a worn oak desk in her office with a recording of Native American flutes playing in the background and explains that she became a true hockey fan when she met a Marvin.

You can’t talk about Warroad without talking about the Marvins. Since George came to town in 1904, three years after it incorporated with 520 residents, and amassed the family fortune with the company that eventually became known as Marvin Windows & Doors, his progeny have ardently supported and bankrolled hockey. Two of his sons, Jack, the youth hockey treasurer for 35 years, and Tut, who promoted high school hockey, donated a large share of the money to build the Gardens in 1993, a deluxe arena with a bowl of hard-backed seats, a concourse that rings the rink, a press box and an Olympic-size ice sheet. The youngest son, Cal, inked Warroad on the state’s hockey map when he founded the Warroad Lakers in 1946, the most successful senior amateur hockey team in U.S. history, which he coached and ran for 52 years, winning a handful of championships, including the Allen Cup three straight years.

He was the Marvin that Beth met. They married, started Cal’s, a lakeside resort where the casino is now, and raised 12 children. Cal passed in 2004, but Beth still never misses a game if she can help it, even though the excitement can sometimes be overwhelming: “The games are nerve-wracking because you want to beat them so badly.”

* * *
These games assume a place in the players’ lives that will stay with them wherever they go

These games assume a place in the players’ lives that will stay with them wherever they go. Ask Henry Boucha, perhaps the purest talent ever to come out of either town, who won a silver medal in the 1972 Olympics and played six years in the NHL until an eye injury cut short his career. He’s back from Alaska, where he has lived the past few years, to watch his great-nephew Zach Johnston, a senior defenseman. Boucha played five years of varsity hockey for the Warriors. His retired No. 16 hangs from the rafters. People stop on their way to their seats to say hello. He shakes their hands and gladly recalls his glory days playing against Roseau.

He remembers his senior year, 1969, when they played the Rams four times, with vivid detail, as if it were the day before yesterday. The Warriors beat the Rams at home 6-3, then went to Roseau in late January ranked No. 1 and lost 7-4.

Bob’s dad, Earl Anderson, who played for Roseau in ’69, comes up the stairs. “Don’t believe anything this guy tells you,” he says.

The two laugh, shake hands and Boucha continues his reminiscence. Roseau beat Warroad in the Region 8 final. “It was a long bus ride home,” he says.

But those days, the Region 8 runner-up had a second chance to get to the tournament by beating the Region 7 runner-up. Boucha took a stick above the eye that would later require 15 stitches. He missed about 10 minutes while a doctor taped the cut closed and the game ran into a second overtime. He returned in time to score the winning goal.

Warroad met Roseau in the semifinals of the state tournament at the Met Center in Bloomington, just outside Minneapolis, the first year it was played at the new home of the North Stars. It was Boucha’s first state tournament—the Warriors hadn’t been there since 1963, having lost to Roseau in the region playoffs the past seven years—eight if you counted 1969. Boucha scored two goals to pace Warroad to a 3-2 victory. “We had our revenge,” he says.

Tonight’s matchup is layered upon those memories.

* * *

Jay Hardwick waits in the hallway outside the Warriors’ dressing room. The texts and emails have been coming in all day. Students in the computer and geography classes he teaches at the high school had wished him luck, so had faculty in the hallways. They’d be watching the rookie coach in the biggest game of his young career.

Hardwick was an assistant last year, his first back in Warroad after graduating in 1998, playing four years at University of Minnesota-Duluth and another six professionally. But when last year’s coach, Steve Haataja, couldn’t survive the scrutiny and left to work the oil fields in North Dakota, the job went to Hardwick. At 34, with receding brown hair, a thin beard and a soft waistline, he looks more like the father of four and schoolteacher he is now than the fighting defenseman that he had been. He returned to his hometown because he didn’t know where else to go. “I liked the way you can show up at the rink whenever you want and skate,” he says. “That’s the way I grew up and I wanted the same for my kids.”

Warroad, with Hardwick on the team, had twice beaten Roseau in the region finals en route to the state tournament, winning it all in 1996, his sophomore year. He didn’t feel the rivalry diminish as a senior in 1998, the year that Roseau had moved up to Class AA and had a strong young team. Hardwick’s Warriors faced them as underdogs and beat them twice. “That was satisfying,” he says.

Being a former Warrior gave Hardwick instant credibility as a coach, as did his coaching pedigree: his maternal grandfather, Dick Roberts, coached the Warriors back in Boucha’s day. The players like Hardwick and so far the community has been supportive—of course, it helps that his team’s only lost two of its first 13 games. “They aren’t going to settle for a .500 team,” he says. “If we were 1-5, I’m sure I’d be hearing it. There’s pressure, but thankfully I played through it and knew what to expect.”

* * *

Across the way, Andy Lundbohm figures he doesn’t need to say much to get his team fired up. In his fourth year as the Rams’ head coach after a four-year apprenticeship, he knows his players are sufficiently motivated, the same as when he played for Roseau in the ‘90s. None of his later games during four years at West Point, six in the minor leagues and an NHL exhibition for the San Jose Sharks, matched the adrenaline rush of those high school games against Warroad.

From the time he was 6 years old, he’d attended the varsity games, memorized every Ram's number and pretended he was Neal Broten or Chris Gotziaman when he played. He suffered to see Warroad knock off his guys two years in a row but then, when he was 13 years old, he was thrilled to make the 360-mile trek to St. Paul to watch Roseau win the title. “Watching the guys from home skating in front of all those fans, the whole place erupting when there was a goal, was surreal,” he says.

He wanted the chance to get there himself his senior year, 1995, but Warroad blanked them 3-0 in the region final. “It hurts pretty bad to lose a final, but just a little bit worse to lose to Warroad,” he says.

It hurt even more knowing that Warroad had a couple of imported ringers on the team. That’s been the knock against Warroad for years: that they recruit outside talent. This year’s team has several imports. The Sylvester family moved in from Little Falls, Minn., 265 miles south, a couple of years back. Karley was Ms. Hockey 2011 and powered the girls team to the state championship. Her younger brother Kyle is a junior forward and blue chip prospect on this year’s Warriors. Kobe Roth, a short but quick sophomore forward who will likely play D-I, came from Mason City, Iowa, and Jared Bethune, another sophomore forward and the Warriors’ leading scorer, came from Fort Frances, Ontario. The three imports are the Warriors’ three best players. “If somebody wants to come here, you can’t not play them because they didn’t grow up here,” Hardwick says matter-of-factly.

But it doesn’t sit right with the Roseau set. “It bothers us because we’re not doing it,” says Bob’s dad, Earl Anderson.

That just enhances Lundbohm’s desire to win this game for Roseau. He wants to show Warroad they could beat them with their own players.

* * *
“Oh my god, I’m so nervous, this is such a big game”

A half hour before game time, the Gardens is filling to capacity, with nearly half the crowd wearing the Rams’ green and white. That night, Jan. 10, the most notable spectators are the Minnesota Wild executive team, which has made the 35-minute flight from St. Paul in one of majority owner Craig Leipold’s jets. They’re the guests of Bob Marvin, Bill’s youngest son, Warroad mayor for the past two decades and a Wild minority owner. That’s the sort of draw this legendary rivalry has.

When told that Warroad is beating Roseau in a Tiny Mite game in the adjacent rink, Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher says without irony, “The kids get to dislike each other for a long time.”

* * *

Jay Hardwick waits until the clock counts down seven minutes to game time to enter the Warriors’ locker room. “I shouldn’t have to get you motivated, you should be excited,” he says, pacing the narrow space between the two rows of players facing each other. “Right from the first hop. Can’t take any shifts off.”

The boys whoop like giving amens and alleluias to a preacher. He leaves. They stand, bow their heads and say the Lord’s Prayer. Punctuated by more whoops and shouts of “Let’s go, boys!”

They cluster by the door, their helmets strapped on. Some chatter sparks the room then fades. The student manager pops his head in the door, “3:59 left.”

Justin King kneels to adjust a strap on his pads. The room falls silent. They can hear the Warroad student band above them. “Longest three minutes ever,” one boy says.

Suddenly the soundtrack changes, rock music pumped over the arena’s loud speakers—it’s time!

“Right away!”

“Let’s go, boys!”

“Let’s f---ing do this!”

Justin leads the charge onto the ice.

The Warroad band plays the school rouser.

The home crowd welcomes their boys.

One Roseau mom turns to another, “Are you nervous?” “Oh my god, I’m so nervous,” the other mom answers. “This is such a big game.”

* * *

These games are hell on Mary Anderson, Bob’s mom. She’s slender, the source of her son’s brown hair and has soulful brown eyes. It sometimes makes her physically ill to watch. She so desperately does not want her son to be the cause of a loss. Once she left the rink during the third period and got locked out. That was worse, not knowing if he had let in any goals. “Now I sit there and suffer through it,” she says. “It’s awful.”

Bob makes his first save almost a minute into the game, routinely redirecting a low shot with his stick, but it isn’t enough to settle his mom’s nerves. Warroad takes a penalty, and Justin faces his first test, stopping four shots. After one he smothered against his body, he skates out of the net to his left, spots a group of youth hockey players lined along the glass with signs and raises his catching glove in a wave.

The first period belongs to Roseau. Though Warroad manages almost 10 shots, only three are on goal, and Bob easily turns them away. The action’s mostly in Warroad’s end, with several scrambles around the net, but Justin’s always in position to stop them. After Justin thwarts a two-on-one, a Roseau mom says, “That goalie’s good.”

When the buzzer sounds, Justin has stopped 11 shots, Bob three, but Mary Anderson hasn’t made it through the first period. She nearly throws up in the ladies room.

Warroad skated tentatively in the first period. Hardwick tells his players they need to pick up their game. They come out harder, play more physically the second. When a Warrior trips Roseau’s leading scorer, Zach Yon, with no penalty call, a Roseau fan quips, “They’ve got refs from all over if they’re hometown refs.”

Sylvester, the boy from Little Falls, does get whistled for a tripping penalty when he takes down Yon with a slide. Thirty-four seconds into the power play, Roseau’s Alex Halstensgard fires a shot from the right circle. Justin has it lined up, clasps his left arm to his body, but gets only a piece of it, and the puck slips past him. The Roseau fans roar their approval. Brian King, standing in his customary spot by the Zamboni entrance, right behind the net where his son has let in the goal, gives no reaction. He’s been involved in hundreds of hockey games as a player, a coach, a referee and now a goalie dad. He’s trained himself not to let his emotions wander too high or too low.

Bob makes a save, leaves a rebound in front, but a defender swats it away. Earl Anderson wipes his hand across his brow; Mary clenches her jaw.

Play shifts to the Warroad end with less than five minutes to go in the second period. There’s a flurry in front. Justin drops to his knees. Roseau’s Alex Strand slides the puck back to the point. Tanner Okeson, the team captain and a D-I prospect, rifles a slapshot that stretches the twine at the back of the net. He raises his arm triumphantly, and the Roseau fans cheer mightily. Three teammates come back to tap Justin’s white pads encouragingly.

Warroad jumps right back. Less than a minute after Roseau’s second goal, Bob stops a shot from the blue line, but Kobe Roth, the kid from Iowa, pounces on the rebound to cut Roseau’s lead in half. The arena music blares. Bob stands in his crease. Justin skates up to his bench to complete the receiving line for Roth and his linemates who high-five their teammates on the bench.

Almost immediately, Roseau takes a holding penalty. Mary Anderson climbs the stairs and heads toward the lobby. Twenty seconds after scoring the Warriors’ first goal, while the announcer is informing the crowd of Roseau’s penalty, Roth strikes again. A Warroad fan blasts an air horn. The goal electrifies the home crowd. Just like that, the score’s even. It’s a new game, Justin thinks. A fresh start.

The period ends 2-2. Lundbohm has rarely put out his third line. Hardwick, as the home team coach, has been able to match up lines, not taking chances with his own third line.

Mary’s back in her seat for the third period. The hits keep coming. The refs whistle a tripping penalty on Warroad, then two seconds later call one on Okeson that nullifies the Rams’ man advantage. Jared Bethune, the kid from Fort Frances, flies in on a breakaway, tries to stuff the puck between Bob’s pads, but Bob shuts him down. Mary covers her face with her hands.

The action rushes back and forth. Nine minutes into the third the score remains tied. Both teams have ratcheted up the intensity. They seem to sense that the next goal will win it. The crowd does, too. It’s on edge, chastising the refs, cheering every rush. A Warrior fan in a black and yellow jersey and a Russian fur cap bangs a drumbeat on the boards with his fist.

Warroad charges into Roseau’s zone. Senior forward Matt Harrison rips a wrist shot over Bob’s catching glove. Goal! The Warroad fans immediately leap to their feet. They’ve taken the lead for the first time all night. The clock shows 7:47 remaining. Mary Anderson takes another walk.

Four tense minutes pass, then Blayke Nelson, Gordon Christian’s great-nephew, gets called for slashing with 3:44 to play. Less than 30 seconds into the power play, Roseau’s Okeson feeds a pass from the blue line across ice where Alex Strand one-times it. Justin slides to his right but not in time. Roseau has tied the game.

Brian King takes it in stride. That was a tough one. He’s just glad neither his son nor Earl’s has let in a bad goal. The two had run into each other beforehand in the lobby. Brian wished Earl luck. Someone asked if they put a wager on the game. “Goalie dads don’t bet,” Brian said.

Regulation time expires with the score tied 3-3. The two teams take a brief breather before the eight-minute sudden death overtime.

Play tilts toward the Warroad end. A Roseau player carries the puck behind the Warrior net. Justin slides over to stymie the wraparound. Almost simultaneously, he bangs the post with his pad, jarring the goal off its moorings, and the puck slams into the net. The Roseau fans jump up. The Rams celebrate on the ice. Justin fixes his eyes on the official, poised to protest—he knows the net moved before the puck entered. Down at the other end, Bob’s thinking, We’ve won! It’s over! Andy Lundbohm’s not sure. He’s seen this happen before.

The ref waves his hands in a washout sign—no goal! The crowd’s reaction reverses—applause from the black and yellow, groans from the green and white.

The game goes on. No one has left. Like the rest of the 1,700-plus in the arena, Deanna Comstock feels the pressure build. She’s a Pelowski, Mary Anderson’s sister, and grew up in Roseau, but she taught English in Warroad for 34 years. Her nephew Bob defends the Rams’ net, yet she knows all of the Warriors on the ice. With each sweep of action, she throws her hands in the air or clenches her fists. No matter the outcome she’ll win and lose, lose and win.

Roseau’s Strand dances around a defender. “Uh, oh,” Deanna says. “Here we go.”

Strand snaps a wrist shot. Justin blocks it.

Warroad comes back the other way. “Here it is,” Deanna says.

Bob makes the stop. Normally during breaks, he simply stands in his crease, knees slightly bent, shoulders slouched, but now he skates a little lap to his left. As close to a show of emotion as you’ll see from him.

Halstensgard, who has been all over the ice, making hits, setting up teammates, crashing the net and scoring Roseau’s first goal, gets whistled for tripping at 3:40. “He’s going to call it?” Deanna asks in disbelief.

Lundbohm is surprised, too. Sure, it was a trip, but he saw the refs let one go during overtime that should’ve been a penalty against Warroad.

Hardwick calls timeout to rest his players. Brian King sits calmly in the spot where he’s moved above the Zamboni entrance. Earl and Mary Anderson can hardly watch.

Warroad buzzes Bob’s net. Bethune, the Fort Frances kid, wrists a shot that Bob gloves. Each shot heightens the tension; each save prolongs it.

From the faceoff, the Warriors move the puck back to the blue line. Junior defenseman Nick Jaycox uncorks a slapshot. Bethune has wrestled himself into position in front. He nicks the puck with the shaft of his stick, deflecting it under Bob’s right arm. The home crowd cheers, all Warroad cheers; the Roseau fans sit stunned.

The Warriors spill over the bench and mob Bethune against the glass behind the Roseau net. Bob skates away.

Eventually, the two teams line up and shake hands. Bob’s the first player off the ice. He clomps into the dressing room followed by his teammates. Takes off his mask, strips off his chest protector and arm pads. His cheeks are flushed, his hair matted with sweat. Lundbohm paces between his sullen players. “This one stings,” he says staring at the floor. “You don’t ever want this feeling. That’s the reason you play your asses off.”

Across the rink on the flip side of defeat, the Warriors parade jubilantly into their locker room. They blast Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration” on the stereo. Justin savors it, slowly taking off his wet gear, drying off and putting on his pre-game uniform. The music changes to a loud bass-thumping rhythm that fills the cinder block hallway outside the closed door.

Jay Hardwick listens outside with a smile through his beard, allowing the players to enjoy their time together.

When Justin finally comes out of the locker room, he’s not feeling sick any more. There’s no elixir like victory. He struggles to find words to describe the feeling that’s come over him, knowing that senior year they’ve beaten Roseau at home in a game he’ll never be able to repeat but will always remember. “Awesome?”

When they were down 2-0, he appreciated that his guys didn’t quit. “They always find a way to fight back,” he says. Maybe that’s what makes this moment so special, the way they are there for one another. “That’s what I love about our team.”

He walks down the hallway, climbs the stairs to where a group of high school girls waits for him. They scream in delight, and he surrenders to their hugs.

* * *

Meanwhile, the Roseau players walk outside into a steady rain, load their gear into the trailer hitched to the back of their bus and pull out of the parking lot at 9:57 p.m. A couple of players grumble softly about the overtime penalty call. Lundbohm won’t blame anyone, not the refs, not his player. They lost as a team, he figures.

Bob sits quietly by himself. In 19 days, they’ll play the rematch. Warroad will travel Route 11 to their house. The Rams will have the chance to avenge this loss. But that seems a long way off, farther even than the drive back home that night. Bob stares outside, the oncoming headlights stabbing the streaked windows. Later, the rain along Route 11 will freeze to ice. ★


Design Team

Editorial Team

Photo Credit: Getty images, USA Today sports images, and John Rosengren

About the Author

Rosengren

John Rosengren is the award-winning author of seven books, most recently "Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes." For more visit hankgreenberg.net.

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