They greeted each other with a long, heartfelt hug.
Two grown men — hockey guys — from the heart of the Iron Range.
Pat Guyer and Jim Lawson met last Friday, the day after Greenway qualified for the state tournament for the first time since 2001. That’s when Guyer was the head coach and the small-school Raiders finished third in Class 2A.
Those were the among the best of times for the program that won 1967 and ’68 single-class state championships. So are these, considering the long, hard road the program has traveled.
A decade ago Guyer and Lawson were facing a player shortage so severe (seven, maybe eight, players were committed to playing that winter) it seemed unlikely it could field a team. The duo hit the road for trips to Coleraine, Taconite, Marble, Pengilly, Calumet, Bovey and any other community feeding into the Greenway school district that might have a hockey player or two stashed behind closed doors.
It was late August in 2009 when Guyer, the former coach, and Lawson, then the current one, became door-to-door salesmen, ringing bells, shaking hands and encouraging kids to come out for the program.
Seven or eight kids became to 14 or 15 by the start of the season.
“At that point you just wanted the program to survive,” Guyer said. “And hope that someday you could get back to being competitive.
“Not probably in my wildest dreams did I think the program would be back at the state tournament in 10 years.”
“We fought like hell for the program,” Lawson said back then before coaching the Raiders to a 10-12-0 season.
Lawson’s son, Donte, is a senior forward who scored a hat trick in the section semifinals and the game winner in double overtime in the section title game against Hermantown, ending the Hawks’ run of nine straight state Class 1A tournament appearances. The Lawsons have been spending most of their time in recent weeks at the University of Minnesota’s Children’s Hospital. Donte’s younger brother, Dominik, underwent a third kidney transplant on Feb. 23.
“I have been pretty emotional, as has he,” Guyer said about his longtime friend. “He didn’t make it up to the (section) semis or the finals. When I saw him on Friday he said, ‘This was the one I had been waiting for.'
“What he did, the sacrifices he has made in his life, and not just in hockey … I couldn’t be happier for him. I feel like I’m a little kid again.”