For the vast majority of Minnesota high school teams, an away game means a Greyhound-style bus with bathrooms and adjustable seats.
“Roseau has never used those,” said coach Scott Oliver. “And never will.”
When the Rams travel, they do so in a traditional school bus, with their equipment packed in a trailer hitched up behind them. Coaches, managers, the stats team, varsity and the junior varsities all pack onto one bus for a journey that could take six hours to Blaine or St. Paul.
Mercifully, the season opener for the Rams takes place a mere hour away in Thief River Falls at Ralph Engelstad Arena, the smaller of two rinks in the Midwest named after the deceased construction magnate and former hockey player. The junior Ralph still seats 2,800 plus standing room.
“It’ll be a big crowd,” Oliver said.
Indeed, not only is it the first game of the season, but the Minnesota hockey newspaper Let’s Play Hockey recently came out with its annual rankings: Roseau is No. 1 with a bullet, and therefore a target as well.
Three teams will get a first preliminary crack at the Rams this weekend at the annual Thanksgiving Scrimmage in Moorhead, 200 miles southeast of Roseau. Blaine (ranked No. 10), Eastview (No. 18) and Brainerd will all serve as tests before the Rams take on the Thief River Falls Prowlers on Tuesday.
The scrimmage will give Oliver one more chance to decide who plays varsity and who plays JV.
“We don’t have a lot of time,” he said of the pre-season. “It’s basically a two-week period to get our systems in place.”
Although Minnesota rules permit a player to skate in both the JV and varsity games on the same night (for a maximum of four non-consecutive periods), some kids will no doubt be disappointed when they are relegated to JV status.
This is where Oliver becomes more than just an X’s and O’s guy.
“Eventually we have to turn these kids out into society,” he said. “I’m not just teaching hockey, I’m teaching coping skills.”
For those who make varsity, the mandate is clear.
“The skills – skating, passing, shooting – have always been emphasized in this community,” he said. “And team play; no one is more important than the team.”
Oliver likes to preach team discipline, but certainly not in the ‘trap’ sense.
“Once we’re disciplined, I want them to be creative,” he said. “Now you can spit the bit out.”
Left winger Cole Kostrzewski is one of those players who wasn’t afraid to take chances during tryouts last week and that’s why the young graduate of the team’s bantam program is getting a long look from the coaching staff.
“Anytime a sophomore is practicing with the varsity, it’s impressive,” Oliver said. “He definitely took the tryout concept and ran with it.”
At 5-foot-9 and 155 pounds, Kostrzewski isn’t the biggest Ram (both Dana Didrikson and Nick Oliver are over 6-feet-tall and 200 pounds), but likes to play a physical game and wasn’t intimidated by the fact a lot of Roseau fans showed up just to watch team scrimmages.
“We treat these scrimmages like games,” he said. “We work hard in practice and even harder in games.”
In fact, over the summer the Rams had a special guest who witnessed their commitment: University of North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol.
“He said, ‘Are you guys trying this hard because I’m here, or do you always practice this way?’ ” Kostrzewski recalled.
On Wednesday night, Kostrzewski was once again at the rink, this time skating with some of last year’s Rams who had returned to town for Thanksgiving.
With high expectations on the season and the opener less than a week away, it’s exactly where you’d expect to find a Roseau kid.
Click HERE to read last week’s Year of the Ram story.
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.
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