Welcome to hockey heaven.
The town of Roseau, Minn., is home to about 2,700 people, yet it boasts three indoor rinks – that’s one for every 900 people in town.
One arena is run by the city, one is run by the local school and the third, named The North Rink, is a grassroots effort run by volunteers.
Teams can practise at North until 7 p.m. each night. After that, the youth of Roseau are free to engage in “open hockey.” Kids of all ages take to the ice and play as many as three games simultaneously on one sheet of ice.
It may sound like bedlam, but it’s also hockey in its purest form.
For Scott Oliver, head coach of the Roseau Rams high school team, it’s simply music to his ears.
“When I’m on the ice with my team for practices, it’s structured,” Oliver said. “But hockey players are developed during unstructured time.”
Maybe that’s why the town of Roseau isn’t like other small towns.
Maybe that’s why 90 years after a settler named Martin Braaten first laid claim to land in the area in 1890, a Roseau graduate by the name of Neal Broten was helping his nation’s hockey team stun the Soviet Empire out east in Lake Placid.
Maybe that’s why, despite having a tiny population and being pretty much as far north in Minnesota as possible, former NHLers and Ram alumni Bryan Erickson, Earl Anderson and Neal’s brother Aaron all came back to coach minor hockey in town.
This town is built on hockey.
And that’s why this year, The Hockey News will be following the Roseau Rams high school hockey team every week, chronicling its journey on the road back to the state championship and providing an inside look at what its like to be a teenager on one of the most fabled varsity teams in America.
From the fans who jam the rink past capacity anytime Roseau plays archrival Warroad, which is just 21 miles to the east, to the volunteers who keep the North running, the people of Roseau expect commitment and they expect to see some good hockey.
Maybe that’s why the Roseau Rams have won the Minnesota state high school championship a record-tying seven times, including last year.
And it’s not as if the powerhouse Rams have taken the easy road. In Minnesota, schools are classed as either A or AA, based on factors such as size and enrollment. The big boys play AA.
“We’re a single-A school size wise, but we opted up to AA,” Oliver noted. “You can opt up, but you can’t opt down. I think that’s a testament to our commitment.”
It’s also a testament to the freakish ratio of hockey talent in town; the enrollment at Roseau High is just 410 students.
Next week, coach Oliver will hold tryouts for this year’s Rams team. Of the 410 students at Roseau High, 42 boys are expected to give it a go. Those who don’t make the senior team will play junior varsity.
The only boys cut will be seniors with no chance of making the top squad. If there are injuries or any problems with grades, the JVs act as the farm team.
This year’s edition will almost certainly be led by Team USA U-18 defenseman Aaron Ness and Nick Oliver, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound power forward who is also the coach’s son.
Ness, a junior this year, has already verbally committed to the University of Minnesota, while young Oliver has verbally committed to St. Cloud State.
The season opener is Nov. 27, when the Rams travel to Thief River Falls to begin their title defense. And the town of Roseau will not give up that title willingly.
“People in this town expect to win,” Oliver said. “And I love that type of environment.”