Mike Matheny, John Miller, Mike Olson, Glen Dawson and Eric Swanson call themselves the Fab Five, and their passion for watching high school hockey has set a new level of superfandom for the sport. All photos by Cheryl A. Myers, SportsEngine
They hobnob with media personalities and NHL scouts, embed themselves with parents of star players (if only for a few hours) and gaze with awe at the speed and skill displayed on the ice.
They are boys’ high school hockey fanatics, unique in that their allegiance lies not with a particular team but in their shared quest to witness all the greatest players and games. Glen Dawson, Mike Matheny, John Miller, Mike Olson and Eric Swanson call themselves the Fab Five, and they are fully immersed in the thrills and excitement of another season.
And they have the texts to prove it.
The Fab Five, or FF for short, are prolific in their communications. As they discuss where the next great game might occur, who was the best prognosticator that week or which celebrity they bumped into at the rink that night, the group texts reach epic proportions. A couple dozen texts represent a slow day (probably the offseason).
Fab Five member Mike Matheny
More than 100 hundred texts is not uncommon, with 225 believed to be the single-day record.
“The texting? I’m sure the wives are wondering what is going on,” said Matheny, who at 33 is the youngest of the group that ranges in age all the way to 70. “At times you think there’s no way it can continue like that every night, but it most certainly does.”
The Fab Five have been watching hockey in Minnesota for, collectively, more than 200 years. This season they’ve attended a combined 150 or so high school games, fingers flying throughout each one as they share updates and highlights with the rest of the group. All five rarely attend the same game before convening at the state tournament, although they did assemble for Friday night’s Class 2A, Section 4 championship game between Hill-Murray and White Bear Lake at Aldrich Arena in Maplewood.
Fab Five members live and work throughout the Twin Cities and, naturally, prefer to frequent the rinks closest to home. Playoffs are the exception. Some in the group saw parts of as many as four section semifinal games last Saturday as they raced throughout the metro — from Edina to Bloomington, back to Edina and then south to Rosemount.
“We joke that John knows more about the players than their parents,” said the 63-year-old Olson. “He’s the encyclopedia of high school hockey. People are astounded at the information that John provides — who is the latest freshman phenom, who played in the Elite League and what their point totals were, who will be the top teams next season.”
Olson’s superfandom, meanwhile, goes all the way back to his days growing up in Edina. As a high schooler, he earned the nickname Mr. Hockey because of his near-permanent residence at local rinks.
Dawson, who at 70 still plays hockey at least twice a week, and Swanson, whose son Will was the starting goaltender for Mahtomedi at the 2015 Class 1A state tournament, are the other members of the group. The Fab Five have been together for about six years and are diverse not only in age but in their careers — attorney, chemist, bronze sculpture salesman, architectural designer and accountant. Their hometowns range from Wisconsin to northern Minnesota to the Twin Cities.
Fab Five member Glen Dawson.
They initially connected through mutual friendships, college or family ties, or simply by bumping into each other repeatedly at games and noting their shared interests. Some members of the group hunt and fish together, others will meet up for a round of golf.
“But the real main thread of why we are together is the high school hockey,” Olson said. “We are all very passionate about it.”
Added Dawson: “I’m just impressed with the skill level these kids have these days. I just marvel at what these guys can do.”
Guys like the Fab Five, fans who continue to show up to the games with smiles on their faces, loving every minute of it, are what make high school hockey unique and special.
— Pete Waggoner
Pete Waggoner of MNHockey.TV has been broadcasting high school hockey games for more than three decades. Over the years, he’s built a friendship with and appreciation for the group.
“I do enjoy speaking to them about their thoughts or their opinions on things,” Waggoner said. “They probably see more games than I do, so why not?
“Guys like the Fab Five, fans who continue to show up to the games with smiles on their faces, loving every minute of it, are what make high school hockey unique and special.”
Fab Five members, none of whom played varsity hockey in high school, have difficulty singling out the best player or greatest game they’ve seen. It’s like asking parents to choose their favorite child — they love them all equally.
Certain responsibilities come with Fab Five membership. Providing highlights and updates from games are a must — no excuses.
“Our (phone) chargers are very important,” said Olson, who took some serious heat from the group last Saturday when he struggled to get a cell signal inside the Bloomington Ice Garden. He was forced to leave the building between periods and send updates from the parking lot.
“Our motto is, ‘It’s not what the FF can do for you, it’s what can you do for the FF?’ ” Olson said.
Whoever arrives first at a rink saves seats for the others. If there’s a presale for tickets, the Fab Five member who lives closest to that rink is expected to stand in line and buy enough for all. Carpooling is commonplace. Best of all, Miller and Olson each have blocks of tickets to the state tournament that they share with the others (no text updates required at those games).
“This group is about gratitude, it’s about friendship, it’s about good times and having fun,” Olson said. “You always look forward to that next text because you don’t know what it is going to be, but you know it is going to be interesting.”
Added Swanson: ”Looking through the texting chain, I laugh out loud multiple times a day. And what’s better than that?”
Follow the adventures of the Fab Five on Twitter: @FabFiveHockeyf1