The Game No Cold Could Cancel

29 Jan

It is cold in northern Minnesota right now. Really, really cold.

I once tried to swear off making much talk about the weather, but this is a place where the weather is as ubiquitous as the traffic in LA, or the cesspool of lobbyists in DC: it’s unavoidable. We children of the North take pride in our ability to endure it, relate our more ridiculous encounters with it, and tell our children that it builds character. Then we go home and cry under the blankets for a little while. Or at least we would if our tears didn’t freeze in our eyelashes.

The windows in my turn-of-the-century office tower are coated in ice, my harbor view long since gone. My car gave a desperate whine when I started it up today (at least it started!), and it had to sit there for a good ten minutes before the brake fluid warmed up enough that I felt comfortable pulling out of the driveway. I have a novel I’m halfway through that could divert me, but its title is Snow. So much for literary escapism. Perhaps I should waste away most of tomorrow staring at pictures of Guam, as a grad school friend and I once did on a particularly godforsaken Minnesota day.

At these temperatures, my two wintertime diversions would seem to be useless. It’s far too cold to ski; my eyelashes really were freezing when I was out in a comparatively balmy three below on Sunday. Nor can I retreat to a rink for some warmth: with children’s safety at risk, school closures have canceled all the hockey games tonight.

Except for one, that is.

According to the Roseau Rams’ Twitter feed, it was -29 degrees in Roseau tonight. The “feels like” temperature is somewhere south of 50 below, as if anyone has any feeling left when the mercury dips to those levels. Nothing, however, could stop Roseau from hosting archrival Warroad at venerable Memorial Arena.

For the uninitiated, Roseau-Warroad is often lauded as the greatest rivalry in Minnesota hockey. (Here’s the New York Times on it; here, in SB Nation, is John Rosengren, who is to Minnesota hockey what Buzz Bissinger is to Texas football.) These two towns sit in the far northwest corner of the state, nearly six hours by car from the Twin Cities, and nearly five from my home base in Duluth. Their combined population is less than 5,000, yet they have combined to produce some of the finest hockey talent in Minnesota history. Roseau has seven state championships to its name, including three in my lifetime; Warroad has won the small-school crown four times, and no U.S. Olympic team has won gold without a Warrior on the roster.

It’s become a bit fashionable to question the rivalry’s preeminence. While still respectable, the two teams are not the consistent contenders for state titles they were even a decade ago. Roseau’s decision to opt up to AA hockey while Warroad remains in A strips the rivalry of any playoff implications. We Duluthians wonder if these two little towns can really match the unbridled hatred and record-setting crowds at games between Duluth East and Cloquet or Grand Rapids over the past two decades; down south, White Bear Lake and Hill-Murray go to war for State Tournament berths on a yearly basis, and the titans of the Lake Conference fight for top billing in the state. On our Youth Hockey Hub podcast this past week, Roseau star Aaron Huglen fired some shots when he claimed Roseau’s recent success over Warroad had devalued the rivalry.

With all due respect to Aaron, who scored a late goal to salvage a 2-2 tie for the favored Rams, this night’s game puts all of that to bed. On this record-setting night of cold in Minnesota, two teams that sit at its northern extreme went head-to-head when no one else would. It’s not hockey, it’s life, the Roseau-Warroad cliché goes. If anyone doubted it, this game provided the answer. Even as hell freezes over and then some, Roseau and Warroad will continue to play hockey.

So let’s fight off the frostbite and take a few stumbling steps over to the Legion in Roseau to toast once again the greatest rivalry in high school sports. Well done, boys: you’ve shown us the true meaning of culture and tradition, and years from now, you’ll be able to tell a tale of how, when the rest of Minnesota shut down, you kept on playing hockey. It’s the stuff that legend is made of, and I’ll make my pilgrimage soon to see it with my own two eyes.

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2 Responses to “The Game No Cold Could Cancel”

  1. Dan January 30, 2019 at 9:08 am #

    Great article Karl. I’ve forwarded to many a hockey friend in-State and out-State.

  2. Jay Hatlestad February 1, 2019 at 2:54 pm #

    We were there, Karl! We drove the 5 and a half hours from the Twin Cities just to see the game. We were glad we did, despite the bitter cold–something to tell the grand-kids. Next year we plan to catch a game between Greenway (of Coleraine and Grand Rapids).

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