The hockey legacy of Jim Metzen

The longtime Minnesota legislator has played an integral role in growing hockey through Mighty Ducks legislation


By John Hamre
Let’s Play Hockey Columnist

Minnesota didn’t become the “State of Hockey” overnight. Years of tradition – wintertime freezes of the lakes, outdoor rinks being flooded, and indoor community rinks developed over time – have all helped grow hockey in Minnesota over the past century. The availability of many skating facilities and ice-time resources as part of public park systems have advanced opportunities of many young hockey players in Minnesota. Availability to ice time has made Minnesota a world-renowned talent producer in hockey, and provides venues for physical activity and recreation.


Two-tier debate heats up in Warroad

This article originally appeared in the March 7, 1991 edition of Let’s Play Hockey.

By Tom Powers

Things are changing up in Hockeytown, U.S.A. And nobody in this proud hockey hamlet is happy about it.

“Our community is divided,” said Tom King, hockey coach at Warroad High School. “I don’t like this at all. It’s pretty obvious that this will split our town apart. Split it wide open.”

The issue in question is two-class hockey. The problem is what to do about it. Does Warroad play up as a Class AA program next year, or does it play Class A like the vast majority of schools its size will.


For too many here, this choice is the equivalent of naming their own poison.

“I wish it would just go away,” King said of the upcoming decision.

“The hockey tradition here runs very deep,” said Joe Biondi, the school’s athletic director. “We want some input from the community on where we want to go. This affects scheduling and changes natural rivalries.”

The town of 1,800 seems almost evenly divided on the issue. Take the Christian brothers, for example.

Billy Christian sat behind his cramped desk at the Christian Brothers hockey stick plant in Warroad. When you think of the name Christian, you think of Olympic gold, of course. Billy was a member of the 1960 championship team. His son Dave was a member of the 1980 team.

Needless to say, Billy Christian is a respected figure in his home town. His name is right up there with other favorite sons such as Henry Boucha and Alan Hangsleben.

“We’re just kidding ourselves into thinking that we can compete with schools like Edina, Bloomington, Anoka…,” he said. “I’ve been for a two-class system all along. You win a state tournament and, five years from now, nobody is going to say that Warroad won a “B” tournament. They’ll say that Warroad won a state title.”

Across the hall, Roger Christian, Billy’s brother, sat in his office. He too was a member of the 1960 team.

“I’d rather go to the big tournament once every 20 years than go to that lower tournament every year,” he said, shaking his head. “I’d rather see everything stay just the way it is.”

Meanwhile, King says he voted against two-class hockey. But his own principal, who had the other vote from Warroad, nullified that by being in favor of it.

“He’s a basketball guy and thinks it’s great,” King said. What a mess. If Warroad plays up, it would lose many of its regional rivalries and have to traverse much of the upper half of the state to encounter Class AA competition. That would result in five or six overnight trips per year. Those are tough on the budget as well as the kids’ schoolwork.

It also would be more difficult to make the tournament while competing exclusively against schools with much bigger enrollments.

On the other hand, many people here believe there is only one tournament worth attending - the Big Show in St. Paul. In addition, arch-rival Roseau, situated just down the road apiece, has stated it will play up. It would really gall folks in Warroad to see Roseau play up and their school play Class A.

There are many other problems.

“Will the kids pull the plug and jump ship?” King wondered. “If we go Class A we’ll lose kids. They have a lot of choices. Too many options. There is open enrollment and there is Junior A hockey. And the junior leagues are actively recruiting high school seniors now.”

What about the kids, anyway? During all of the political wrangling, a few have bothered to ask the kids how they feel about two-class hockey.

Derek Ewald, a junior, is one of Warroad’s best players. He says he does not want to spend his senior year in pursuit of anything less than an appearance in the Big Show. He says he might not play for Warroad next year if the school plays Class A.

“Because of the competition,” he said, “You could get 100 points a year but it won’t do you any good if you’re playing weak teams. We want to play the big schools. This way, we have to work.”
Teammate Shaun Ponplun, another junior, agreed.

“It’s really stupid to change everything,” he said. “There is no other feeling like playing in the state tournament. I played there my freshman year and it was really something.”

“If we go “A” I think I’d go play junior league hockey to stay up in competition. I want to go to a Division I college and playing against weak teams won’t help.”

Just another bullet for Warroad administrators to pop into the chamber before pulling the trigger.

Some people are going to be sorely disappointed. But which ones? It’s a problem facing a lot of Minnesota schools right now.

Question of the Week

Who will win the 2016 Stanley Cup?


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