As cold as it was Wednesday — I don’t plan on stepping outside even for a minute, by the way, after getting a taste of what was to come on Tuesday night — my memory tells me I’ve lived through even colder moments.
Growing up in Grand Forks, N.D., provided several moments that are contenders for the top honor, including attending an outdoor UND football playoff game in December that still rattles my bones. But the extreme of the extreme came back in 2004, when I pitched the idea of going up to the Iron Range to experience what many told me was the best boys’ hockey rivalry in the state: Grand Rapids vs. Greenway. Plenty of rivalries claim this distinction, but there’s something about two smallish neighboring towns that nudged me up there.
Looking back in the Star Tribune archives at the story I wrote, it turns out that the game I went up there to cover as part of the reporting was on Jan. 30, 2004 — exactly 15 years ago. Temperatures reached 30 below, and school was canceled Thursday and Friday. But the game? They played.
Here, then, is the story that ran back then:
Mother Nature tried her best, but she should know better by now.
On Thursday and Friday, two of the coldest days in a decade in
one of the coldest parts of the state, classes were canceled at
Grand Rapids and Greenway (of Coleraine) high schools. Temperatures dipped to minus-30 (without the wind chill) and weather forecasts warned against exposed flesh. Cars made noises like wounded animals, if they started at all.
The question on everyone’s mind, naturally, was this: Was it cold
enough for Friday’s boys’ hockey game between Greenway and Grand
Rapids to be postponed?
Information and speculation began bouncing around Thursday,
though athletic directors from both schools said they wouldn’t make
a decision until Friday afternoon. A gentleman at a Grand Rapids
restaurant Thursday evening said he heard the game would be postponed.
The diehards kept repeating, “They’ll play” — and they were
right. You can mess with some things up here, but anything short of
a natural disaster means Greenway and Grand Rapids are going to
play some hockey. It’s too cold?
Put on your parka and drop the puck.
They do it twice a year (three times if they meet in the Section
7AA playoffs), and have been doing so for the past half-century.
Nobody has kept track of the all-time series record, but everyone
agrees it must be pretty close. The games almost always are
nail-biters, regardless of who has the better team.
And it’s never just a game — it’s an event. Grand Rapids
(population 7,764) and Coleraine (1,100) regularly pack 3,000 fans
into games. The towns are separated by a five-mile stretch of U.S.
Highway 169 and a deep philosophical chasm: Folks in Grand Rapids
think Greenway is a bastion of hockey evil. Residents of Coleraine
are convinced that description belongs to Grand Rapids.
“Everybody debates what the best rivalry is in the state,” said
Pat Guyer, 1981 Greenway graduate and former boys’ hockey coach.
Guyer leaned in, and in a matter-of-fact tone, added, “This is
According to newspaper archives, the teams first met on Dec. 18,
1952, with Grand Rapids winning 4-0. Games were played outdoors
back then, of course.
Each school has taken turns getting the best of the rivalry since
then. Greenway carried the 1960s, making five state tournament
appearances and winning titles in 1967 and 1968. Grand Rapids came back to dominate the next decade, going to state every season from 1974-1981 and winning three championships in that span.
The rivalry took an increasingly bitter turn toward the end of
Rapids’ dominant run. Goaltender Jon Casey, a Coleraine native who
played at Greenway as a sophomore, moved to Grand Rapids as a
junior when his dad got a job at the Blandin paper mill in town.
As a senior during the 1979-80 season, Casey — who later went on
to play for the North Stars — led Grand Rapids to a state title.
Greenway was upended in the section playoffs, and folks in
Coleraine still are convinced that had Casey stayed with the
Raiders, they would have won their third state title instead of
Some folks say the rivalry also plays out along economic lines.
Grand Rapids, with its Target and Home Depot stores, is a little
too high-falootin’ for the blue collar folks in Coleraine. This is
a relative measure — nobody in the Twin Cities would accuse Grand
Rapids of being white-collar — that should paint a pretty good
picture of where the towns stand.
“They’re only five miles apart — it’s almost like the towns are
one in the same,” said Grand Rapids coach Bruce LaRoque, who also
played hockey at the school. “But they’re definitely separate.”
Advance tickets are sold at the high schools for Greenway-Grand
Rapids games, which typically sell out. Conduct at the games can
range from somewhat civil to downright nasty.
Dave Carlson, a Grand Rapids resident and longtime hockey scout,
recalled a game several years ago in which he cheered a Grand
Rapids goal and was promptly whacked to the ground by a Coleraine
woman fiercely swinging her purse.
At Coleraine’s Hodgins-Berado Arena last season, Greenway fans
threw a live chicken onto the ice. This only makes sense if you
know that Grand Rapids — formerly nicknamed “Indians” but now
“Thunderhawks” — are derisively referred to as “Thunderchickens” by Raiders fans.
“There have been fisticuffs in the past,” said Ted Anderson,
sports editor at the Grand Rapids Herald Review. “It’s been the
fans moreso than the players.”
Directions from Hodgins-Berado Arena in Coleraine to the IRA
Civic Center in Grand Rapids are given thusly by a Coleraine
native: Instead of taking Highway 169, use a winding back road
(ice-packed? yes) until you get to Highway 38. Make a left and
you’ll slowly wind into town, and you can’t miss the arena.
The main objective: That way, you’ll be spared the displeasure of
driving through Grand Rapids.
Friday’s game in Rapids is a 7:30 p.m. start. By 6:15 — about
halfway through the junior varsity game — there are already about
1,000 people in what will eventually be, in spite of the weather,
another packed house.
Varsity players from both sides watch much of the JV third period
from one end of the rink, staring straight ahead and seemingly
willing the seconds off the clock. A Grand Rapids fan shouts “go
home” as Greenway JV players skate off after a 6-0 loss. One player
turns and offers back a gesture easy to identify even through
Grand Rapids varsity players are on the ice for warmups before
the JV handshakes are over. Grand Rapids defenseman Alex Goligoski and Greenway forward Reed Ylitalo, both seniors, bump each other and exchange shoves as they skate laps. Everybody knows what is at stake.
“Losing to Greenway is horrible,” said Goligoski, a Division I
prospect. “You get to the locker room and just sit there. You don’t
want to do anything.”
Greenway had that feeling earlier this season after losing 4-3 in
overtime to Rapids in Coleraine. The Raiders will use that game as
“They got the first one on us, boys,” Greenway senior captain Joe
Schuster says in the locker room minutes before the opening
faceoff. “Let’s go get them! We owe them one!”
Raiders coach Gary “Bucky” Ohrn, who played in the rivalry
against LaRoque in high school, chimes in: “There’s not a lot that
has to be said. This game takes care of itself. I know how you feel
about this game. Enjoy it.”
And the game went exactly as Schuster had said — the Raiders just
owed ’em one. Greenway went up 1-0 after the first period and 2-1
after two. Rapids tied it 21 seconds into the third on a blast from
the right circle by Tom Stunyo.
Ylitalo spent part of Friday afternoon fighting a fire at his
grandmother’s house, and his father, Tom, was rushed to the
hospital because of smoke inhalation. But Ylitalo (with Tom in the
stands) had the most jump of any player in the third period. His
rush down the left side set up Ben Fearing’s go-ahead goal with six
minutes left and his breakaway goal with two minutes left was the
clincher in a 4-2 Greenway victory.
As Grand Rapids players slumped off the ice, Greenway players
piled into a wild locker room celebration as if they had won the
state tournament. Neither team is a standout this season (Greenway
still is below .500 even after the victory), but it doesn’t matter.
“There’s nothing better in your senior year than winning against
Rapids,” Ylitalo said.
Raiders players hustled out of their jerseys and shoulder pads,
throwing on letter jackets over their bare chests.
“We don’t shower in Rapids!” one shouted. “We shower at our rink!”
Ohrn was asked which route the team bus would be taking on the
way back to Coleraine. He grinned.
“You don’t want to drive through Rapids — unless you win,” he
said. “Our old bus driver, if we won, would drive through Rapids
honking the horn all the way through town.”