After his Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin team fell short in the Class 1A state tournament championship game, coach Grant Clafton addressed his players from the bench, motioning with his hand toward the thousands of green-clad supporters within Xcel Energy Center.

Greenway, a tradition-rich program from the Iron Range playing in its first title game since 1992, cemented darling status with its overtime victory Friday against top-seed Mahtomedi. An inability to reach the peak on Saturday could not diminish the accomplishment of making the climb.

“I feel that we got a lot of respect from our community, the hockey community and really the entire state,” Clafton said. “It was a good chance for them to look at what they put together and give respect back.”

Many of the Raiders’ fans stayed to salute their boys. Trisha Erickson, a 1994 Greenway graduate who lives in Calumet (population 367) and drove down for the game, said, “I’ve seen more people that I’ve gone to school with down here than I do at home.”

Just reaching the championship game was a victory for Greenway, Erickson said. Both coaches felt Greenway vs. St. Cloud Cathedral was a victory for Class 1A.

“There are a a lot of good hockey teams in the single A field,” Clafton said. “The reality is, what these guys did is extremely unique and it’s what single-A hockey is. That’s what it was designed for.”

Cathedral coach Derrick Brown supported the notion that fans felt greater anticipation for the Class 1A final than the evening’s Class 2A final featuring Eden Prairie and Edina.

“You could feel the emotion in the rink,” Brown said. “When you’ve got two Lake Conference teams that are going to play each other for the [fourth] time, I thought our little matchup maybe had a little more flavor to it.”