Warroadians like to say that their small Minnesota town is known for three things: Walleye, windows and hockey. Walleye because of its prime location on Lake of the Woods, windows because Marvin Windows and Doors is headquartered there and hockey because of sheer numbers.
With a population of 1,781 in 2010, Warroad, Minnesota has produced a surprising number of professional and Olympic hockey players. With nine hometown kids skating in the big leagues over the years, Warroad is slowly reclaiming the title “Hockeytown, USA” from Detroit. While the Motor City earned this nickname years ago due to its habit of winning Stanley Cup championships, Warroad’s right to the moniker has been earned through its community’s rich hockey tradition.
Roger, left, and Bill (Billy) Christian outside their Christian Bros. hockey stick factory in Warroad, Minn., August 1988. Star Tribune staff photo.
Sure, the Detroit Red Wings’ 11 Stanley Cup wins may carry more weight than Warroad’s six high school state championship titles in the past 20 years, and a four-time National Champ—now defunct—amateur American Senior ice hockey team. But considering this tiny Minnesota town’s population is 350 times smaller than Detroit, it’s jaw-dropping that Warroad has produced more homegrown Olympians than you can shake a hockey stick at.
Warroad’s hockey pride can be linked back to its first Olympic athlete, Gordon Christian, who won a silver medal playing for the U.S. at the 1956 Winter Olympics in Italy. This was just the start of the Christian family’s strong hockey-influence on Warroad. In 1960, brothers Bill and Roger Christian won Olympic gold medals playing hockey for the U.S., and 20 years later, Dave Christian was a member of the “Miracle on Ice” 1980 U.S. men’s hockey team that brought home gold.
With gold medals earning them rock star status back home in Minnesota, Bill and Roger Christian, along with Hal Bakke, founded the Christian Brothers Hockey Company based in Warroad. The sons of a carpenter, the Christians began producing hockey sticks in 1964 using the slogan “Hockey Sticks Made by Hockey Players.” The company’s big break came in 1980 after Bill’s son Dave won Olympic gold as part of the “Miracle on Ice” team.
Thanks to free publicity from members of the U.S. Men’s Olympic hockey team, sales increased approximately 40%, but by the mid-’80s, the Christian Brothers began to feel the squeeze of competition from Easton—a baseball bat manufacturer that expanded into hockey sticks. With some big-name endorsements and a profit margin of more than 30%, Easton slowly pulled ahead of the Christian Brothers, eventually leaving them in the dust. As hockey players shifted away from wooden sticks, the Christian Brothers could no longer compete and finally shuttered their factory in 2003.
After its factory, name and trademarks changed hands several times, the Christian Brothers’ tradition of made-in-America hockey sticks found new life in 2012 with BOA Athletics. After purchasing the Christian Brothers’ manufacturing equipment, Boa has continued producing high-quality hockey sticks, including the classic wooden sticks made famous by the Warroad Olympians. Operating alongside BOA, are Eleven Hockey and Olympus Athletics—founded by Warroad native Jay Fisher and James Marvin, Eleven Hockey began as a hockey R & D lab and private labeling company before morphing into Olympus, an online sporting goods retailer.
Hockey tradition in Warroad may have started with the Christian Brothers’ American-made hockey sticks, but it doesn’t end there. Since 1980, Warroad has produced four NHL players and two more Olympic silver medal-winning hockey players. Henry Boucha is a former NHL player and 1972 Winter Olympic Silver Medalist; Alan Hangsleben is a former NHL player; T.J. Oshie is a current NHL player for the St. Louis Blues; Gisele Marvin is a current member of the United States national women’s ice hockey team and 2010 Olympic silver medalist; Brock Nelson is a current NHL player with the New York Islanders.
During 2014’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Warroad has the opportunity to be the only town in America to be represented on both the men’s and women’s Olympic hockey teams. Gisèle “Gigi” Marvin will be skating for the Red, White and Blue at the Olympics for the second time, while T.J. Oshie is in the running for his first Olympic appearance.
If anyone is keeping count—and many Warroadians most likely are—the fact that this small community of 1,781 has produced 9 NHL and Olympic-level hockey players over the past 50 years is amazing. Not to mention the dozens of Warroadians who have played outstanding hockey at other levels, and the local, made-in-America hockey companies Warroad has supported over the years. No, there isn’t something in the water. This is simply a small Minnesota town absolutely steeped in hockey tradition and culture.
Step aside, Detroit. Warroad, Minnesota is here to claim its title: Hockeytown, USA.
Annie Erling Gofus writes for http://www.summitolympus.com/. Follow Annie on Twitter (@AnnieErGo) or email her firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image Courtesy of: http://www.startribune.com/local/133688683.html
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