Hockeyland: Minnesota Towns Where High School Players Are Stars | Ice Hockey

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HHockey is still so big in the Iron Range town of Eveleth, Minnesota, that a 110-foot, 10,000-pound stick can be found within a mile of the American Hockey Hall of Fame on Hat Trick Avenue. The big stick, a real wooden stick, is in front of a big puck.

Between the stick and the hall is Eveleth-Gilbert High School, home of the Golden Bears, which won five of the top seven Minnesota State Hockey Championships under the name Eveleth High. The Olympic gold medalist hockey teams of the United States in 1960 and 1980 included players from Eveleth.

However, since most of the high-quality natural iron ore has been mined from the Iron Chain, Eveleth’s population is about half of what it was before WWII, and Eveleth-Gilbert High merges with a nearby rival school in Rock Ridge High, home of the Wolverines.

Hockey land, a 107-minute Northlands Films production directed by Iron Range native Tommy Haines, takes a closer look at how rooted the sport is still in Eveleth, the Iron Range and Minnesota, even though virtually everything else has exchange.

“Hockey is the glue of these cities,” Haines told The Guardian of the film, which premiered earlier this month in New York City. “They always go out and pack these arenas night after night.”

The film tells the story of the 2019-2020 Golden Bears, a senior team that had a good chance of going further in the state playoffs than most Eveleth-Gilbert teams since 1998, when the Golden Bears won the state small schools championship. . They hadn’t won a playoff game in 18 years.

On the other hand, the film also chronicles the 2019-2020 Hermantown Hawks, in the suburb of Duluth, one hour south of Eveleth. As Eveleth’s population dwindled, Hermantown grew and, in part as a result, the Hawks became a hockey powerhouse.

Children from both schools, unsurprisingly, turn out to have a lot in common: playing injured, dealing with family illnesses, figuring out what to do next, romance, teenage angst. With shaggy blonde hair under upside down baseball caps, the players even look alike.

Along the way, the film hammers out the fact that it is very cold during hockey season in northern Minnesota, with many aerial shots of isolated forests, with black bare tree branches next to fallen snow. on the ground. The best is to watch this movie in front of a fire.

But kids face inclement weather, like when they have to shovel a friend’s car that’s stuck in the snow – or shovel their roofs to keep heavy snowfall from collapsing them. They even thrive outdoors, making time for snowmobiles, ice fishing and pond hockey.

Eveleth is home to the American Hockey Hall of Fame. Photography: Northland Films

Sometimes the stories of the two teams get mixed up: Wait, is this guy from Eveleth or Hermantown? But hockey is still the common thread. Eveleth-Gilbert’s coach could be the Hermantown coach, or any other coach, when he tries to motivate his team before a playoff game by admitting, “I’m so excited right now, j wish I had some eligibility to get started guys! “

Understandably, the two teams, which face off once in the regular season, are on a playoff collision course (you won’t find any spoilers there). At the end of the season, a player says, crying, “Hockey has been so good for me. I cannot express how passionate I am about sports.

Beanies, the film loosely based on a real-life basketball team set in Indiana in the mid-1950s, pretty much set the standard for the coming-of-age subgenre of high school sports in a small town when it was released in 1986. Hockeyland won’t be the last movie to try and tell compelling stories about how a sport affects Americana, and vice versa.

Hockeyland completes a Northland Films hockey trilogy. The first one, Pond Hockey, focusing on youth hockey, has been recognized by ESPN as “the best and purest hockey movie of all time”. The second, Forgotten miracle, tells the American gold medalist team of 1960, now largely eclipsed by the Miracle on Ice of 1980.

Of Eveleth-Gilbert, Haines says, “I was looking for a story to follow. The fact that they were leaving was a big reason for doing so.

Simply focusing on Eveleth-Gilbert in the documentary might have been cleaner, but Hermantown’s side story gave Haines the opportunity to develop a subplot: what happens to the gifted center of Hawks, Blake Biondi, who passed up a chance to play junior hockey, the easiest path to the NHL, so he could spend his final year at Hermantown.

Haines acknowledges that he – not to mention the hundreds of high school hockey players in Hockey State – has been extremely lucky as the State Championships, held at the Minnesota Wild Arena in St. Paul, have been decided. March 7, 2020, just a few days. before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the sport for months.

Minnesota high school hockey is only returning to normal now. But Eveleth-Gilbert played his last season in 2020-21. Rock Ridge Wolverines should open their season November 30. A magnificent new arena will be the home of the team instead of the old and venerable Eveleth Racecourse, “the Hipp”, which hosted its first hockey game in 1922.

It won’t be quite the same, but some parts of sport and the role of sport in American culture will likely never change. “At the end of the movie, you encourage them to be successful in life,” Haines said of the 2019-20 Teams. But he could have been talking about players from any high school hockey team in Minnesota.


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