Andrew Vitalis

Feeling Superior

Superior High School captured its 13th boys’ state hockey title last season. Now the Spartans are hungry for another.


By Andrew Vitalis

Jason Kalin knows success. He and his Superior High School boys' hockey program have lived it, breathed it for decades. Kalin himself was a part of two state championship teams as a player for the Spartans in 1990 and 1992. Superior won three more titles in 1994, 1995 and 1996. As a coach, Kalin lifted the hardware in 2003 and 2005. As a matter of fact, since being head coach, Kalin and the Spartans have been to the state tournament every season except one (15th season). With all of that said, with all of the past success stories, championship banners and hardware in the trophy case, no prior season could hold a candle (or skate) to the Spartans’ march to success in 2014-15.

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Hockey in Every State

... and Canadian province. Fridley native Jeff Keacher is on an amazing quest to play hockey in all 50 states and 10 Canadian provinces in six months

By Andrew Vitalis

Let’s Play Hockey

There Jeff Keacher was, standing in the hot Nevada sun, enjoying the Las Vegas strip. There he was taking in the sights and sounds of one of the most famous atmospheres in the world.

There he was standing in front of hundreds of locals and tourists alike, in hockey pads. No, not handing out hockey pads or even trying to sell them – he was actually standing there dressed in hockey pads.

It’s just one of many, OK hundreds, of stories Keacher has been able to share from his current rink adventure; a six-month hockey tour taking him to all 50 states and all 10 Canadian provinces with the goal of playing hockey in all of them. The journey began last June in Fridley, Minn., and barring any unforeseen hurdles, will end back in Minnesota in late December. Needless to say it’s been a memorable experience.

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History at the Hippodrome

By Andrew Vitalis

Let’s Play Hockey

Fifty years. It’s been five decades since International Falls and Duluth East met for the Region VII final and the stories are still being told. It was, and continues to be, a “where were you when” moment for everyone associated with the game. Still today, Mike “Lefty” Curran, then a junior goaltender for International Falls, is asked about that historic night at the Hippodrome in Eveleth.

“I talk to people in their mid-50s who tell me where they were that night or what they were doing,” Curran said. “They talk about being in the stands when they were five or six years old and they still remember that game like it was yesterday. The whole thing was pretty incredible.”

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Ben Gordon: a jack of all trades on the ice

By Andrew Vitalis

Let’s Play Hockey

As it turns out, the Minnesota state high school hockey “experience” truly does cross borders, city limits and even time zones. Ben Gordon, a former Minnesota Mr. Hockey finalist and Gopher hockey standout, remembers being glued to his computer to watch the 2011 Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament. As he puts it, the tournament consumed his day.

He even found himself watching the games on the internet, sometimes just hours before he was scheduled to take the ice as a member of the Reading Royals of the ECHL. After that, it was the WCHA Final Five, then the NCAA Tournament; all taking place in the land of 10,000 lakes.

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Hockey is a family affair for the Rau household

By Andrew Vitalis

Let’s Play Hockey


If you look in the Eden Prairie hockey dictionary under the name Rau, you will most likely find words like “tradition,” “dedication” and “dynasty.” Strong words, yes, but very appropriate.

The Rau name has been donning the back of an Eden Prairie uniform for 10 years and is a constant in the Eagle record book. Matt and Chad played for the Eagles’ 2003 state tournament team. This season, twin brothers Kyle and Curt, both seniors, have helped Eden Prairie to the section championship and another shot at a state tourney.

The Eagles faced Wayzata for the Section 6AA crown on Wednesday night. For parents Mike and Lynne, the section title game will be yet another hectic experience to watch from the stands, although they certainly have been there before.

“We enjoy it,” Mike said. “You still get nervous for the kids; you get excited for them because you know what’s at stake. I think you understand the process better after going through it. It’s fun seeing the kids have success.”

It has been, and continues to be, a family affair. Ironically, if not for a career move in 1996, the Rau family could have landed elsewhere. Mike, who played high school hockey at Edina and baseball at the University of Minnesota, remembers a work transfer which brought him to Minnesota from Chicago.

Mike and Lynne looked at houses in Edina and Bloomington before landing in Eden Prairie. To the Raus, it was a simple twist of fate. To some Eagle hockey fans, that decision was aided by the hockey gods themselves. The rest, as they say, is history.

Matt, the oldest, burst onto the hockey scene in 2001, followed shortly by Chad. Chad’s time was short lived. The talented winger spent just two seasons at the high school level before moving onto the USHL to play with Des Moines.

During that short time in an Eden Prairie uniform, Chad proved to be one of the best players in the state, and along with brother Matt, helped the Eagles advance to the state tournament. Chad eventually starred at Colorado College while Matt went on to play for St. Olaf.

Serving as “stick boys” for Matt and Chad’s hockey teams were two more Raus, twin brothers Kyle and Curt. To date, it’s debatable whether or not the brothers have put the hockey sticks down.

“We were always at the rink. Our first word was ‘hockey,’” laughed Curt, an Eden Prairie senior defenseman. “We started playing at a young age. We were always around the rink watching our brothers so it was just natural for us to start playing the game.”

“When we were younger, we were always going to our brothers’ games,” added Kyle, a senior center. “I think we were three or four at the time.”

“They went to a lot of hockey games when they were young,” Mike said. “They were exposed to the game early and I think it has turned out to be an advantage for them. There has always been a little rivalry between the siblings. They push each other in their own way and I think that’s been good.”

Competition has certainly been a constant in the Rau household. For years, the backyard was equipped with an outdoor rink. That rink served as a classroom for the brothers.

Mike remembers Christmas Day tournaments and endless, let’s say, brotherly disagreements.

Even so, the goal was always to improve and inspire. As it has turned out, that classroom, along with a penalty box full of support from their parents, has netted great results.

“We kind of exposed the kids to hockey but they were the ones who decided to take it to the next level; that’s what they decided they wanted to do. That’s been their passion,” Mike said.

“We are always honest with each other. If someone’s not doing well, we get on their case and try to work through whatever the problem is,” Curt said, when asked about his relationship with his brothers. “I remember doing a lot of one-on-one drills on the outdoor rink and taking part in shooting competitions with them. It’s fun because there is a little sibling rivalry there but it acts as a good thing. I think we have learned to never take anything negative on the ice. If we had an argument off the ice, we would patch things up on the ice.”

Chad, currently a member of the Houston Aeros of the AHL, played four seasons in the WCHA for Colorado College. He was named to the All-WCHA first team twice.

Meanwhile, Kyle has committed to play for the University of Minnesota and is widely considered to be one of the top prospects in North America. When Kyle broke the Eden Prairie scoring record, Kyle called Chad to rub it in. Chad responded by reminding his younger brother that he only spent two seasons at EP, adding that the record would have been his if he would have played another season of high school hockey. Ah, brotherly love.

“Who doesn’t want to have more accomplishments than their older brother,” Kyle said, who is tied for 10th in the state in scoring with 69 points this season and is a Mr. Hockey finalist. “I remember he would always come home with all of his awards from Colorado College and put them on the dresser for everyone to see. It was kind of a fun motivator for me.”

That motivation continues to drive the twins. Already with one state title under his belt, Kyle would like nothing more than to add a little hardware of his own to his dresser.

With one game standing between the Eagles and the state tourney, Kyle and Curt aren’t ready to hang up their high school skates just yet. Both played a part in the Eagles’ section semifinal win over Minnetonka by scoring a goal and would love to keep that momentum going. They are also well aware of what their brothers have accomplished on the ice before them and are ready to carry on the family tradition.

“People reminded us when we were growing up about our brothers and I think that ended up helping us. I think it drove Kyle and me to be better,” Curt said.

“Just going to all of those games, watching my older brothers play, you would see what types of things you would have to work on yourself,” Kyle said. “I would ask them a bunch of questions about things. Being able to do that has been really important for me.

“(My family) has always kept me humble. They have always reminded me that there are other guys out there who are better than I am and knowing that pushes me to get better.”

Win or lose, there will be no regrets for any of them. The Rau family has been a staple in the Eagle hockey program for years and they’ve loved every minute of it. Now, with their varsity hockey career nearly complete, things have officially begun to change around the Rau household.

Certainly a lot of hockey is ahead of the family, but the conversation around the dinner table at family get-togethers has changed. It’s become obvious that their dedication to one another goes well beyond the hockey rink. As Kyle puts it, hockey has become an excuse to see each other.

With Matt, now a fourth-year medical student at Creighton University, and Chad, a second-year pro in Houston, Mike and Lynne have become accustomed to watching from a distance. The brothers will spread out even more next season as Kyle takes his talents to the University of Minnesota and Curt plans on tackling junior hockey.

“We don’t see each other as much as we used to,” Mike said. “The kids have gotten older, have other interests. When (Curt and Kyle) were young, every conversation revolved around hockey. Now, when we all get together, we rarely talk about it. They just enjoy each other’s company and talk about life.”

In other words, instead of a pickup game in the backyard, the Raus will simply settle for a family photo. Of course, they’ll probably all be wearing skates.