WARROAD, Minn. – Skating daily on the ice of the Warroad River has not been a new experience for Frank Krahn. That's because his playing career with the Warroad High Warriors predated the arrival of this village's first artificial ice sheet in 1975.
"The river would have good ice before they could get the ice sheet frozen inside the arena,'' Krahn said. "We usually would have our first couple of weeks of practice on the river rink.''
Warroad Memorial Arena opened in 1949 and for a quarter-century, ice was made by opening the doors to the cold winds coming in from Canada. It wasn't replaced as the home to the Warriors until the thoroughly modern Gardens Arena opened in 1993. The Gardens has an adjacent rink called the Olympic Arena.
Krahn is a Warroad lifer and has a home on the river. Last winter, he noticed there were a couple of ATVs with plows out making a path in the middle of the river.
"I couldn't figure out what they were doing,'' he said this week.
The men with the plows were riverside neighbors Craig Kennedy, Jared Olafson and his brother Travis Olafson. The Olafsons had one large rink down the hill on the river, and Kennedy had a smaller one some distance away.
Hockey games would occur at both rinks and high school student Tori Kennedy offered this suggestion: "Hey, Dad(s), how about plowing a path between the two rinks so we can just skate over to the other one?''
This was when various pandemic shutdowns were in force and the world needed creative, roomy activities. The Olafsons and Kennedy put their minds together — dangerous when it comes to their personal free time — and came up with this plan:
An enormous skating path on the river's bends, as the Warroad serpentines toward and through town to the Lake of the Woods.
The trio attached plows to their ATVs and went to work. They plowed a 2.5-mile skate path averaging 12 feet in width.
Once the actual path was finished, there had to be frequent safety checks for public use. No cost to skaters, all-volunteer assistance from family and friends, civic boosters of all ages, but it seemed like a fine idea to have someone skating the path in the morning to check the ice.
That is where Frank Krahn came in. Anyone with a strong memory of the most impactful high school hockey game in Minnesota history — Edina 5, Warroad 4 (OT) in the 1969 state tournament final — remembers Krahn's influence.
Warroad, the small-school heroes, vs. Edina, the suburban power gaining dominance, already had made the Warriors a huge crowd favorite. And when Warroad superstar Henry Boucha was boarded, suffered a head injury and was taken to the hospital, 80% of the 15,000-plus fans went nuts with its anti-Edina venom.
Warroad trailed 4-2 when Boucha was injured. Against great odds, the Warriors reached overtime, on a pair of Krahn goals.
"I owned a bar for 20 years, and I also worked at the [Christian Brothers] hockey stick factory,'' Krahn said. "I put my skates away for 30, 35 years. I didn't take them out again until these guys right down the lake, these three guys using a lot their own coinage, created this skate path.
"I've been a walker … two miles every day. I decided that in the winter, I might as well turn that into skating.''
Jared Olafson gave me a ride on the path Saturday in his ATV. He was naming all the numerous key volunteers who have helped make the Riverbend Skate Path a reality.
"Frank is the head of our quality control department,'' Jared said, with a smile. "He skates the path every morning, usually with two other players from his generation, Jack Gayno and Gary Tveit.
"If they see a problem, Frank will check in with us.''
Krahn said he doesn't go out for the skate until the broom makes its morning pass. "That lets you see any of the cracks in the ice that might catch a skate and break an ankle,'' he said.
The broom is something else. It comes as a winter donation from Ironhide Equipment out of Grand Forks, N.D. It's a mighty Bobcat — the Toolcat 5600 utility work machine — that weighs 7,000 pounds, with an 84-inch angled broom as a wintertime attachment.
"Lifesaver,'' Jared said. "We never could have expanded the track without Ironhide coming through like this for us.''
Yes, let's not forget that part:
The 2.5-mile skate path that seemed perfectly adequate last winter was expanded to 5.2 miles for the winter of 2021-22, all the way to the point where the East and West Warroads meet.
Looks like good duck hunting down there, west of town.
"My brother ran across an item online that mentioned a 4.5-mile skate path in Vermont that was the longest in the United States,'' Jared said. "And Travis said, 'We're not going to let Vermont beat us. This winter, we have to get out there and make it 5 miles.'
"So we did that, and then we were close to where the two rivers come together, and so went a little farther and it came out to be 5.2 miles.''
That's the spirit. Warroad's, and even with a few helping hands from Roseau.