Rams right-winger Ben Nelson knows all too well the importance of games against State rival Warroad.
It would make for a much better story if the rivalry between the towns of Roseau and Warroad, located just 22 miles apart in Northern Minnesota, was a vicious one. It would be great to say one town is full of snobs and the other populated by bumpkins, that someone had swiped a statue out of the town square many moons ago.
But that would not be true.
The fact of the matter is one of the greatest high school rivalries in the state – perhaps in the country – is downright cordial.
“I think it was more heated when they were in the same class,” said Milo Ravndalen, a farmer from outside of Warroad, whose son Bryce is a star on this year’s Warriors team. “I think it actually makes for better games, because the kids can go out and have fun and not worry about their place in the division standings as much.”
Indeed, when Minnesota broke up its sections based on size of schools, Roseau and Warroad were separated, though they still play each other twice a year and are in the same conference.
Not only does that defuse the tension, but geography and rink availability have actually brought the Rams and Warriors closer together.
“We’re all pretty good buddies,” said Rams power forward Nick Oliver. “There’s a couple weeks in the summer where they have ice and we don’t, so we skate together.”
Milo Ravndalen has also coached a slew of Rams in summer and fall hockey, while Bryce knows several Roseau players quite well and will team up with Oliver at St. Cloud State once their high school careers finish.
“Hopefully we get to room together,” Bryce said. “We’re anxious to get to the next level. We talk all the time about what it will be like to play in front of 5,000 people.”
Bryce Ravndalen is the top scorer on the Warriors and the only non-Roseau player in the top six of Mariucci Conference scoring – linemate Jeremy Hahn comes in at No. 7.
Ravndalen, who is about 5-foot-8 and 170 pounds, has been compared to everyone from Maple Leafs winger Jason Blake to St. Louis prospect Jay Barriball, both Minnesota natives.
But despite the friendships and goodwill between towns, make no mistake: Winner takes all in this battle.
“When it comes down to the game, we don’t talk much,” said Ravndalen of his Roseau buddies. “It’s about respect.”
So did the Rams hear about it from townsfolk earlier this week?
“This week?” laughed Rams right-winger Ben Nelson. “You get it all the time.
“I’ve been asked four or five times today,” Nelson said on Monday. “People come up to you and say, ‘here’s what you gotta do to beat Warroad.’ It’s pretty nuts.”
And should your team lose, don’t expect the friends down the road to keep quiet.
“I do a lot of banking in Roseau, a lot of farm business,” said Milo Ravndalen. “And whichever way it goes, you’ll get ribbed about it.”
The younger Ravndalen knows what a Roseau-Warroad tilt means at game time, too.
“At the Memorial (in Roseau), you can’t hear anything, same at the Gardens (Warroad’s rink),” he said. “If you’re in the building, you’ll be wild.”
And for the first meeting of the season, which took place Wednesday night, it was the home team Roseau Rams keeping their undefeated record intact, besting the Warriors 5-2 on goals from five different players, with Oliver scoring the eventual game-winner.
It must have been a long 22-mile bus ride back to Warroad.
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.
Click HERE to read previous Year of the Ram stories.
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