Iron Range state hockey hopes skate with Greenway

Greenway Raiders players celebrate victory after the Section 7A championship at Amsoil Arena in Duluth Feb. 27, 2019. Today, the Raiders play in the quarterfinals of the State A Tournament in St. Paul. (PHOTO: Greenway HS Hockey FB page)

The Minnesota State High School boys class “A” hockey tournament begins today, always a cultural touchstone in this part of the world. Living in the Iron Range region of Northern Minnesota means dwelling among fever dreams of this state competition. Men and women are driven mad by title hopes, and sometimes spend a lifetime rueing lost chances.

Minnesota high school hockey is the purest form of the sport in the nation. It’s like Texas high school football or Indiana basketball. It’s an ideal way to watch hockey. The young skaters aren’t perfect, but they’re excellent. The game isn’t as fast as pro hockey, but the passion is through the roof. You’re watching young people literally have the time of their life. Some will go pro, but most will sell auto parts or push papers. It’s an oddly beautiful human drama.

This year the tournament takes special meaning on the Iron Range. Once the bastion of statewide hockey dominance, the small schools of the Iron Range fell on hard times after the mining contraction of the 1980s. Lower school enrollments meant smaller teams. Larger sections meant more competition from other parts of the state before even reaching the state tourney.

For the past nine years, the Hermantown Hawks won the Section 7A tournament, representing the region’s smaller schools at state. Hermantown’s a charming Duluth suburb if you’re in to that sort of thing. But it’s not the Range. The Grand Rapids Thunderhawks won the State AA boys tournament a couple years ago, but some hard boiled Rangers wouldn’t count that, either.

Over the past 30 years some Range boys and girls teams had limited success, but fewer and farther between.

That’s why last week’s victory by the Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin Raiders over Hermantown for the 7A title seems to have struck a chord with the whole region. One of the classic small town Iron Range programs — whose last titles came in the late 1960s — has clawed its way back into the tournament.

Greenway alum and current Air Force Academy hockey coach Frank Serratore gave an animated press conference this week in which he celebrated the Raiders’ trip to state. He dedicates the first four and a half minutes and last minute of the press conference to a colorful description of Iron Range hockey.

My personal favorite is the moment at 14:16 where he starts talking about the endurance of mullets on the Iron Range. Quite by accident he stumbles onto a perfect description of what it’s like to be from the Iron Range:

“That’s what I love about where I’m from,” says Serratore. “You can be whatever you want to be (long pause) as long as it’s acceptable by the group.”

Anyway, it’s good fun. And tonight’s 8 p.m. game between Greenway and Delano should be good fun, too. You can watch on channel 45 in the Twin Cities, Channels 10/13 here in Northern Minnesota, or online.


  1. RIK World Peace says

    Greenway’s last title was in 1992, you probably learned that from the commentators, and Hermantown was in 5a for… at least 5 of those 9 straight trips.

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