Hockeyland: the Minnesota towns where high school players are stars

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NSOK is still such a big deal in the Iron Range town of Eveleth, Minnesota that a 110-foot, 10,000 lbs stick can be found less than a mile from the US Hockey Hall of Fame on Hat Trick Avenue. The big stick, a real wooden stick, sits in front of a large puck.

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Between Stick and Hall is Eveleth-Gilbert Senior High School, home of the Golden Bears, which won five of the first seven Minnesota State Hockey Championships as Eveleth High. The USA gold medal Olympic hockey teams in both 1960 and 1980 included players from Eveleth.


Because most of the high-grade natural iron ore is derived from the Iron Range, however, Eveleth’s population is about half what it was before World War Two, and Eveleth-Gilbert High merged with a neighboring rival school to Rock Ridge High. Here, Wolverine’s house.

hockeyland, a 107-minute Northlands Films production directed by Iron Range native Tommy Haines, takes a closer look at how the game is still embroiled in Eveleth, Iron Range, and Minnesota, even though practically everything else has changed. have gone

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“Hockey is the glue for these cities,” Haynes told the Granthshala about the film, which premiered in New York earlier this month. “They’re still coming out and packing these arenas, night in and night out.”

The film tells the story of the 2019–20 Golden Bears, a senior-fighting team that had a better chance of progressing to the state playoffs than most Eveleth–Gilbert teams since 1998, when the Golden Bears won. Won the small-school championship of the state. , He had not won a playoff game in 18 years.

In contrast, the film also chronicles the 2019-20 Hermantown Hawks from the suburbs of Duluth to an hour south of Eveleth. As Eveleth’s population dwindled, Hermantown grew, and, in part, the Hawks became a hockey force.

Kids in the two schools, not surprisingly, have a lot in common: hurt, coping with family ills, figuring out what to do next, romance, teen temper. With shaggy blonde hair under a backwards baseball cap, the players also look like each other.

Along the way, the film brings up the fact that it’s very cold during hockey season in northern Minnesota, with plenty of overhead shots of remote woodland, with bare tree limbs blackened next to snow that fell to the ground. There are. It is best to watch this film in front of a fire.

But kids face the weather, like when they have to pull out a friend’s car stuck in the snow—or shovel their roofs to stop a heavy snowfall. They also thrive outdoors, making time for snowmobiles, ice fishing and pond hockey.

Eveleth is home to the US Hockey Hall of Fame. Photograph: Northland Films

Sometimes the stories of the two teams get tangled up: Wait, is that guy from Eveleth or Hermantown? But hockey is always the common thread. The Eveleth-Gilbert coach could be the Hermantown coach, or any other coach, when he tries to fire his team before a playoff game, “I’m so excited right now, I wish I had a little bit of merit left, you guys go!”

Naturally, the two teams, which meet once in the regular season, are on a collision course in the playoffs (you won’t find any spoilers here). At the end of the season, one player says with a tear, “Hockey has been great for me. I can’t express how passionate I am about the game.”

Hoosiers, the film based on a real-life basketball team in Indiana in the mid-1950s, sets the standard for the high-school-sports-in-a-small-town coming-of-age sub-genre. in 1986. Hockeyland won’t be the last movie to try to tell compelling stories of how a sport affects America, and vice versa.

Hockeyland completes the Northland Films Hockey Trilogy. First, pond hockey, It was recognized by ESPN as “the best and purest hockey film”, focusing on youth hockey. Second, forgotten miracles, chronicles the 1960s American gold-medal team, now largely influenced by 1980’s Miracle on Ice.

About Eveleth-Gilbert, Haines says, “I was looking for a story to follow. They were walking away, there was a great reason to do so.”

The documentary’s focus on Iveleth-Gilbert may have been neat, but Hermantown’s parallel story gives Haines the opportunity to develop a subplot: what happens to Hawks’ genius center Blake Biondi, who lost his chance to play junior hockey. lost. , the easiest route for the NHL to spend his senior year at Hermantown.

Haines admitted that he – not to mention the hundreds of high school hockey players in the state of hockey – was extremely lucky, as the state championships held at the Minnesota Wild in St. Paul were decided on March 7, 2020, with only a few days before the coronavirus pandemic shut down sports for months.

High school hockey is now returning to normal in Minnesota. But Eveleth-Gilbert played his last season in 2020-21. The Rock Ridge Wolverines are scheduled to open their season on 30 November. A rather grand new arena, the ancient and venerable Eveleth Hippodrome, “The Hipp”, will be home to the team, which hosted its first hockey game in 1922.

It won’t be exactly the same, but parts of sports and the role sports play in American culture are likely to never change. “By the end of the movie, you are inspiring them to succeed in life,” Haines says of the 2019-20 teams. But he could be talking about players on any Minnesota high school hockey team.

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