Courtesy of Grand Forks Herald
By: Virg Foss, Special To The Herald
There are reasons why Warroad High School has won four Minnesota state hockey championships and 18 Section 8A titles, including five of the last six.
For starters, the players grow up in a town that bills itself as “Hockeytown USA.” That's clue No. 1.
“Every boy in town pretty much goes out for the hockey team,” said Warroad star senior forward Bryce Ravndalen. “It's our main sport. All the best athletes play hockey.”
That they do, and they play it well.
The Warriors (22-6) go after their first state title since 2005 on Wednesday, when they play Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato in the quarterfinals of the Minnesota state Class A tournament in the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
It's a team with big goals and a heavy heart. Former Warroad High School player Greg Knox died unexpectedly in Texas on Feb. 23 at age 37, just over a year after his young son was killed in an all-terrain vehicle accident.
Greg Knox was the uncle of Warroad forward Micky Knox, who sandwiched two trips to Texas to first see his ailing uncle, then attend his funeral, around playing in the Section 8A tournament.
As a show of support, his teammates are wearing decals with the names of Greg Knox and his son, Wade, on their helmets, as they begin state tournament play.
Walk into the Warroad Gardens and you'll see banners honoring Warroad's 18 section titles and four state crowns. It's an everyday reminder to the Warroad players of today of the great history and tradition of the program. “The history is all over ýPage=001 Column=004 Loose,0004.04þthe rink,” Ravndalen said.
The links to the past can be found in the present. Warroad forward Brock Nelson, for example, is the grandson of Warroad's Billy Christian, a star on the gold medal 1960 U.S. Olympic hockey team.
Warroad co-coach Bruce Olson once coached at rival Roseau High School, which is defending its state Class AA title at state this week. In his second year as co-coach with Albert Hasbargen in Warroad, Olson finds something special with Warroad's hockey players.
“The kids here are a tough, gritty bunch and they don't question anything you tell them as a coach,” Olson said. “There's no outside influence from the parents or the community, so you're free to make the decisions necessary for the betterment of the team. The best way I can say it is that our kids work hard, and they listen. As a coach, I never feel like I'm walking on egg shells. The kids come first.”
Ravndalen and his teammates buy into that. “What the coaches say goes,” Ravndalen said.
Warroad concludes every practice with 20 minutes of conditioning drills. It's not fun, but it's vital to Warrior success.
The extra work paid off in a 2-1 double-overtime victory over Thief River Falls in the Section 8 semifinals. “That's what won us that game,” Ravndalen said. “Thief River guys were beat, and we were still pounding away.”
After that game, Olson said several Warroad players came up to him and thanked him for putting them through the ordeal of the strenuous conditioning drills all season.
It's a program good enough over the years that four current NCAA Division I players (T.J. Oshie, UND; Kyle Hardwick, Bemidji State; Eric Olimb, Nebraska-Omaha; and Aaron Marvin (St. Cloud State) are products of Warroad High School hockey and members of the 2005 state championship team.
Dennis Fermoyle was co-coach at Warroad High School in 2005. Now, he coaches the junior varsity team and instructs the Warroad goalies, a position he once played.
“When I coached at Roseau, I always wondered why Warroad's goalies were always so good,” Olson said. “Watching Fermoyle work with them, I can see why. He keeps them calm and cool.”
Jared Paquin has taken over as No. 1 goalie for Warroad.
The Warriors have given up just one goal in their last five games. “When I first saw him play, I thought, ‘Boy, does he have a long way to go,'" Olson said. “He's become a very good goalie, thanks in large part to working with Dennis Fermoyle.”
Maybe the successful program stems from the great tradition established by players and coaches of the past. Maybe it comes from the gritty kids of today who listen to their coaches and pay the price of success.
Whatever it is, it works for Warroad - and has for a long time.