Skating back to the 1970s Iron Range

I was born on Minnesota’s Iron Range in 1979, essentially moments before the big steel industry collapse and local economic crash of the early 1980s. The region’s culture in the time since the crash seems forever oriented around comparisons to that boom time of the 1970s, when the taconite plants were new and running hot, when today’s middle aged workers and early retirees were in their prime, when today’s older retirees remember reaping the harvest of the region’s long labor struggle and emergence from WWII.

I would theorize that my generation’s lack of connection to this time is why so many of us become frustrated with the area and fail to enter the local leadership structure. Efforts to move past the reconstruction of the 1970s are met with resistance by a majority of Iron Range residents.

There probably isn’t a better metaphor for the period’s significance than the 1970s dominance of Iron Range high school hockey over the whole state. For a time, the metro schools lived in fear of the boys from the Range and college hockey scouts swarmed the region. To date, schools use hockey as a rally call, a program by which we can finally complete that time machine. And, every year, Range schools get throttled by the big metro programs. There are still many great local athletes — just not enough of them.

Another wonderful post from Jayson Hron at Historically Inclined details the scene in the 1970s when the NCAA opened up freshman eligibility, putting a premium on the scads of Range hockey talents then graduating. The story even sprawls up into the labyrinth of back roads north of Nashwauk near where I now live. More great writing from Hron, who also recently shared a fine piece about a Soviet hockey team’s visit to Hibbing in the 1950s.

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