Knock, knock, knock.
“How would you like to come play hockey for Greenway?”
That was the basis of conversations Pat Guyer and Jim Lawson had with families throughout the Iron Range community of Coleraine in 2010. Like door-to-door salesman pitching a set of must-have knives, Guyer and Lawson -- a former varsity coach and the then-varsity coach -- were pitching hockey to potential parents.
Numbers had plummeted to the point where fielding a team was nearly out of the question. A co-op with Grand Rapids was peeking its head around the corner like an ugly bedtime monster.
“It was really just getting through the survival mode,” said current varsity head coach Grant Clafton. “We had to wait it out a little bit until more of those younger kids that we were getting out to the rinks were coming up.
“Since then, I’ve noticed more than anything just the commitment level throughout the whole association and the tradition kind of being restored. Former players from the past giving their full support and getting involved, and that’s really been responsible for the turnaround in the program.”
Between 2010 and 2015, player registration from top to bottom -- mini mites through varsity -- was up 50 percent. Numbers have continued to climb in the three seasons since.
A tradition restored in the Raiders.
Digging deep -- the Iron Range way
Follow I-35 north to MN-65 for a little more than three hours and you’ll find Coleraine. Nestled in the foothills of the Iron Range, it’s a town just shy of 2,000. Named after Thomas F. Cole, president of Oliver Iron Mining Company, Coleraine and subsiding Greenway High School are products of available work in the iron ore mines. As that available work fluctuates, so do the association numbers.
“We’re dependent on economics in the area,” said Clafton, who grew up seven miles away in rival Grand Rapids. “When the mine and things like that are going well, our numbers seem to be doing good, and when it’s not, it’s kind of back to survival mode.
“They did such a good job the past seven years before I got here to get people involved and to get kids involved that it kind of fueled the progression”
In 2000-01, 35 8U players were registered in the Greenway Amateur Hockey Association. The following year, an estimated record-low 28 players at 8U. Since then, numbers have gotten progressively better, peaking in 2007-08 with 99 8U players registered in the association. That number is a clear reflection of the success the varsity team is seeing this year, now 10 years later.
Success breeds success
Evidence of the current success being seen in Greenway the past few seasons began, as it does with nearly all successful programs, at the youth level. Three of the team’s top offensive players Donte Lawson (Jim’s son), Ben Troumbly and Christian Miller have been together since the beginning. The trio were on the Bantam A team that made it to the Minnesota Hockey State Tournament in 2016. They hope to make a repeat state appearance this year on the grander stage at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul
“It’s fun to play hockey when you have the same group of guys coming up with you,” said Troumbly, a sophomore who is committed to play hockey at St. Cloud State University along with Miller. “We’ve formed that bond through some of our success we had in earlier years, and we’ve carried both the bond and success into our recent years. We’re all pretty tight.”
Clafton and his players all credit the players that came before them with the real turnaround. Seeing a successful high school team in their youth made it possible for them to want to carry on that success for the program and their school.
“As we were younger watching the older guys it was pretty cool,” Lawson said. “It was kind of sad to see them lose some guys here and there but as we got older it got better and now we’re here.”
A community revived
For years it seemed that the old Hodgins-Berardo barn never filled to capacity. Seasons filled with more losses than wins made it a tough draw on a Friday or Saturday night.
This year, fans have filled H-B to the brink. When Greenway hosted Grand Rapids in November, a defying 5-1 win for the Raiders over the state’s defending AA champs, more than 2,000 fans witnessed the renewed rivalry.
“Growing up, you hardly ever saw the arena that packed,” said Lawson, who had one goal and one assist in the victory. “It was huge to see it like that and to just bring this excitement back into the community. It really shows us how our community feels about us.”
Clafton credits the community support to the uprising of the Greenway program from the bottom p. After all, without the support of a town which began when Guyer and Jim Lawson first knocked on neighbor’s doors, the Greenway program would not be where it is today.
“Our community support is phenomenal,” said Clafton. “Everybody’s excited and that gives the program a lot of fuel too when they want to be a part of it. Our program thrives off of community support. If you don’t give back to the community, how do you expect them to give back to you.
“I think with small programs it is crucial to have community support and involvement. That’s the lifeline of it. As long as we have that and we continue to show our support on and off the ice, [this program] will continue to thrive.”