Hockey Central

The Warroad Lakers

There is a bit of hockey history not much known outside of Northern Minnesota and Western Canada, but one which needs to be told. It is the story of the most successful senior hockey team in the United States. It is also the story of one man's dedication to Canada's national game in small-town America and how that dedication could turn this same small town into a producer of top hockey talent for half a century.

Warroad is a community of some 1,700 people located in Northwestern Minnesota on the shores of the Lake of the Woods about 11 miles south of the Manitoba border. Its principal industrial firm is Marvin Windows, a major enterprise which markets products internationally. Agriculture, logging, fishing and the manufacturing of hockey sticks are other commercial activities. The Marvin family has played a significant role in the community's life. Most notable are the brothers Bill, Tut (Randolph), Jack and Frank along with sister Mary. Bill is the retired mastermind behind Marvin Windows, which employs 3,000 people. Tut, a company vice president, is retired as well; Jack is a vice president who handles the firm's lumber and hardware retail operations, while Frank, now deceased, was in charge of the Company's Canadian operations. Mary left Warroad early for a career in Minneapolis-St. Paul. However, by far the best-known family member is Cal, who has owned and operated various motels and restaurants in the community. What he also has operated with a successful passion for 50 years is the Warroad Lakers.

Cal Marvin came back from World War II service with the Marine Corp after having participated in some of the most grueling South Pacific campaigns. He had played hockey before the war and he and others from the area were anxious to renew their part-time ice careers. Along with Dan McKinnon of nearby Williams, he approached the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks about heading a varsity program. The university accepted the idea and thus was born not only the Fighting Sioux but the Warroad Lakers. The young men of Warroad and its environs spent three to four years playing college hockey and drove home on Sundays to play for the Lakers. The team's name came from the nearby Lake of the Woods. The first Lakers team had 13 players and, besides Marvin and McKinnon, featured Clarence Schmidt, also from Williams, who had a brief wartime stint with the Boston Bruins, and Gordie Christian, who would play for the 1956 U.S. Olympic team. Rube Bjorkman, another early Laker, played for both the 1948 and 1952 U.S. Olympic squads. They played their home games on an outdoor rink behind the school and wore the colors of the Boston Bruins. There were no masks, mouthguards, helmets or Zambonis.

The Lakers played in the States-Dominion League for three years and continued to play on outside artificial ice until November, 1949. when Warroad Memorial Arena was opened. Cal Marvin had led the effort to build an indoor arena as a parallel activity to his involvement with the team. Fundraising efforts began on February 20, 1947, and the project was completed for a cost of only $30,000, as all labor was donated. The building was erected as a memorial to those who had died in the service of their country. It seated 1,800, but did not have the luxury of locker rooms at first. The players would change across the street in a local business and then walk to the arena. An artificial ice plant was added in the late 1960s.

By the 1950-51 season, the team was playing in the Northwest Hockey League with Crookston, Roseau, Hallock, Thief River Falls and Grand Forks. This would be the first of many league changes over the team's history. The first significant achievement for the Lakers occurred in 1955 when they won the United States intermediate championship against the Grand Falls Americans in that Montana city. The following year saw the club play the U.S. Olympic team for the first time, losing 6-2 in Eveleth, Minnesota. In 1958, the town was christened with the nickname "Hockeytown USA" by their major, Morris Taylor. Cal Marvin, who now was coaching the team exclusively, took a year's sabbatical to go behind the bench for the 1957-58 U.S. national team. The Marvin-coached Nationals finished fifth at the World Championships in Oslo and then became the first U.S. sports team to tour the Soviet Union after World War II. When Marvin returned to Warroad the next season, he coached the Lakers to a 7-1 victory over the Nationals in Warroad.

The late 1950s saw the Lakers' Sammy Graftstrom named as rookie of the year in the Ontario-Minnesota League. The team featured such former NHL players as goaltender Sugar Jim Henry (New York Rangers, Boston Bruins)and defenseman Ed Kryzanowski (Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks). Somewhat before this time, Bob Johnson, who would coach Wisconsin to three NCAA titles and lead Pittsburgh to a Stanley Cup, played for the Lakers when he was coaching Warroad High School.

As the decade closed, the team abandoned the Boston Bruins black and gold colors and adopted red, white and blue. Running a senior hockey team always was challenging financially and the club resorted to community auctions, bingo games, turkey shoots, fishing contests and even a male style show to raise funds.

The Lakers continued to be successful in league play as they expanded their international activities. One of the most significant events in Lakers history occurred in January 1960, when they defeated the U.S. Olympic team 6-4. A few weeks later this same U.S. team won an upset gold medal at Squaw Valley, California. Brothers Bill and Roger Christian of the Lakers were in the U.S. lineup, following in the footsteps of their brother Gordie and Dan McKinnon who were on the 1956 team. In March 1962, both the Swedish and Norwegian teams visited Warroad on their way to the world tournament in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It was a return trip for the Swedes, who had stopped in "Hockeytown" in 1960.

The Christian brothers returned to the U.S. Olympic team in 1964 but got back in time to join the Lakers as they accomplished another significant milestone by capturing the Canadian intermediate title by defeating Kamloops, British Columbia, and taking the Edmonton Journal Trophy. They became the first American-based team to win a Canadian amateur hockey championship. The previous year, a long-time Laker board member John Heneman began keeping statistics and while the early records are a bit lean, they do show that Bill Juzda, a member of the Stanley Cup winning Toronto Maple Leafs in 1949 and 1951, was in the Lakers lineup in 1964-65 and for a limited number of games the following year.

"Hockey sticks by hockey players," the trademark phrase for Christian Brothers Inc., got under way in 1964 as the two brothers launched their stick-making business. The Lakers reached the Western Canada finals of the Allan Cup in 1965 before losing to Nelson, British Columbia. While the Lakers achieved success in the Manitoba Senior Hockey League during the remainder of the decade, their Canadian intermediate victory and defeat of the 1960 U.S. Olympic team were the highlights of the 1960s.

Henry Boucha, an outstanding Warroad high school player, had a brief Lakers career in the early 1970s before he joined the 1972 U.S. Olympic team that won a silver medal in Sapporo, Japan. Boucha went on to play with the Detroit Red Wings and Minnesota North Stars before an eye injury brought a premature end to his career. Another Lakers milestone occurred in 1974 when the team won its second Canadian intermediate title by defeating the Embron (Ontario) Panthers, three games to none at nearby Roseau, Minnesota. This achievement earned them the Hardy Cup, a trophy not in existence at the time of their first intermediate victory in 1964. While Canadians might not have been happy with a U.S. victory, they would take considerable pride in the fact that 15 of the 21 Lakers were from North of the border. Blaine Comstock, a backup goaltender on the Hardy Cup team, went on to play for the United States at the 1976 Winter Olympics. Earlier in 1974, Roger Christian was honored on a special day for his 18 years of service with the team. Success at the intermediate level continued in the late 1970s as the club was the Western Canadian intermediate champion in 1977, losing to Campbellton, New Brunswick, in the finals. In 1979, they replaced the Western Canadian intermediate finals before losing to Quesnal, British Columbia.

As the 1980s opened, Lakers fans were pleased to see one of their own on the U.S. Olympic team once more. Dave Christian, son of Bill (who had retired after the 1979-80 season), was part of the "Miracle on Ice" as the United States won a surprising gold medal at Lake Placid. He subsequently played 16 years in the NHL with Winnipeg, Washington, Boston, St. Louis and Chicago. The Olympic team visited Warroad in both 1980 and 1984, while the Lakers tied the 1983 U.S. national team 6-6. The 1983-84 team toured Europe and complied a 5-0 record against teams in holland, France, Austria and West Germany. That same year a second indoor rink was built in the town and named the Olympic Arena. Under the chairmanship of Bill Christian, volunteers erected a metal building at a cost of $150,000. An ice plant was added later in the decade. The mid-to-late 1980s saw the beginnings of league membership problems that would plague the club until the end. In 1985, the Lakers became members of the Southeastern Manitoba Hockey League, but their membership was contingent on a yearly vote and eventually that vote went against them. While the league cited travel problems as the reason for the ouster there would appear to be some basis for the belief that their success was the root of the problem. The Lakers won the league title in 1985, 1987 and 1989. In addition to that they were Manitoba intermediate champions in 1989 and 1990.

As the 1990s began, the Lakers found a home in the Central Amateur Senior Hockey League, known popularly as the CASH League. The price for membership was that the Lakers would not be permitted any players from Manitoba. It did not really matter, as the locals were as successful in the CASH League as earlier teams had been in the Southeastern Manitoba Hockey League. The Lakers won the league title in 1992 and 1993 as well as advancing to the Allan Cup final four in both those seasons. In January, 1992, the Warroad club took its second trip to Europe and finished with a 3-1 record against the French, German and Austrian squads. The following month, Chris Imes became the ninth Laker to play for the United States in the Olympics when he suited up at Lillehammer, Norway.

On July 23, 1993, a new arena to replace the original Gardens was dedicated. Plans had begun back in 1989 for the new facility, as the old Gardens was a wood structure and it was feared it might be lost to fire or wind. As might be expected, Cal Marvin headed up the steering committee and his efforts were aided considerably by a $500,000 gift from brother Tut as well as another sizeable donation from brother Jack. The total cost of the new building was $4.5 million. The new Gardens played host to the Allan Cup finals in April, 1994 making Warroad the smallest city ever to host the event and only the second venue in the U.S. to do so. (Spokane, Washington had hosted the 1980 finals.) The Lakers had continued to play in the CASH League and, after advancing through various playoff levels, they carried a 33-5 record into the finals. The team featured 11 former NCAA Division I college players including Steve Johnson (North Dakota), Chris Imes (Maine), Larry Olimb (Minnesota) and veteran Scott Knutson (Chicago Circle). The Lakers emerged victorious with a 5-2 win over the St. Boniface, Manitoba Mohawks. Warroad had won the Allan Cup on their own ice with an entirely homegrown roster.

The next year, after playing in the Southeastern Manitoba League, the Lakers returned to the Allan Cup finals at Stoney Plain, Alberta. They defeated the host Eagles 3-2 on Wyatt Smith's third-period goal and the goaltending of Todd Kreibach. Stoney Plain was once again the opponent in the 1966 finals at Unity, Saskatchewan. The Lakers played an independent schedule that season and were going for the "three-peat," a feat never before accomplished in Allan Cup competition. (Three Winnipeg victories from 1911 to 1913 were accomplished by two different teams.) The Eagles scored the first goal, but it would be the only one they would get as Warroad responded with two goals in each period for a 6-1 victory and a third straight title.

The continuing difficulty of finding a league to play in was taking its toll on founder/manager Cal Marvin. While the Lakers played in the Hanover-Tache League in 1996-97, Marvin announced before the season that it would be the Lakers' last. Once again, Warroad fought its way to the Allan Cup finals at Powell River, British Columbia, but four title in a row was not to be as the Powell River Regals defeated the Lakers 7-3 in their last game to return the coveted trophy to Canada. Prior to the finals and earlier playoffs, a 50-year reunion for all Lakers alumni was staged on March 15, 1997, as Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson proclaimed "Car Marvin Day" in the state. It was one of many honors for Cal, who had been elected to the United States Hockey Hall of Fame, Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, University of North Dakota Athletic Hall of Fame and the Warroad High School Athletic Hall of Fame. The day featured a banquet, gift giving, speeches, reminiscences and a Lakers playoff victory.

Nephew Bob Marvin summed it all up when he said of his uncle: "We are grateful for all that you have given us. You've taught us how to really enjoy winter. You've taught us how to make things happen. You've taught us all about patience and perseverance. You've taught us how to win and once in a while how to lose. You've held our attention with your wit and wisdom."

Warroad Laker Achievements
1997 Allan Cup Finalists
1996 Allan Cup Champions
1995 Allan Cup Champions
1994 Allan Cup Champions
1993 CASH League and Manitoba-Sask. Champions
1992 CASH League and Manitoba-Sask. Champions
1991 CASH League Finalists
1990 Manitoba Intermediate AA Champions
1990 Southeastern Manitoba Hockey League Champions
1989 Manitoba Intermediate Champions
1987 Southeastern Manitoba Hockey League Champions
1985 Southeastern Manitoba Hockey League Champions
1980 Central Amateur Senior Hockey League Champions
1979 Western Canadian Intermediate Finalists
1976 Manitoba Eastern Hockey League Champions
1975 Manitoba Eastern Hockey League Champions
1974 Canadian Intermediate Champions
1973 Manitoba/Thunder Bay Intermediate Champions
1972 Central Canadian Hockey League Champions
1971 Western Canadian Intermediate Champions
1970 Manitoba Senior Hockey League Champions
1969 Manitoba Senior Hockey League Champions
1966 Manitoba Senior Hockey League Champions
1965 Western Canada Allan Cup Finalists
1964 Canadian Intermediate Champions
1963 Canadian Intermediate Finalists
1961 Ont./Minn. Hockey League Champions
1960 Ont./Minn. Hockey League and Cranford Cup Champions
1959 Ont./Minn. Hockey League and Cranford Cup Champions
1958 Cranford Cup Champions
1956 Northwest Hockey League Champions
1955 United States National Intermediate Champions