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Hockey lives another day at Greenway

By Loren Nelson, Editor, 11/06/09, 3:42PM CST


Raiders avoid merger with rival Grand Rapids; will have new coach and revamped schedule

You live in Taconite, you play hockey. Same goes for Coleraine.

Throw in a half-dozen more like-minded small towns smack dab in the heart of the Iron Range and you not only get the amalgamation that is Greenway High School but the foundation of a darned good boys hockey team.

At least that’s traditionally been the case for one the state’s most storied hockey programs. Tiny Greenway High (enrollment: 292) has made nine state tournament appearances, won three state championships (1967; 1968; 1992, Tier II) and made headlines as recently as 2001 when the Raiders opted to play up in Class AA and compete against the state’s largest programs. Fueled by superstars Gino Guyer and Andy Sertich, Greenway not only reached the state tournament that season but finished a respectable third.

Hard times have hit the Raiders’ in recent years, however, with the bottom dropping out this spring in the aftermath of a 4-22-0 season.

The contract for head coach Jeff Antonovich was not renewed. An unofficial head count showed only about seven or eight players interested in playing in 2009-10. Putting together a full schedule in the intensely competitive Iron Range Conference was ruled out of the question.

It got so bad there was talk of the Greenway hockey program, from the high school level all the way down, merging with archrival Grand Rapids ---- a partnership so unlikely it would have been akin to Coke and Pepsi joining forces.

“It seemed like whatever could go wrong, did go wrong,” Greenway athletic director Tim Guyer said. “What’s funny is that this group here, or at least our high school team last year, was one game away from going to the Bantam A state tournament. A number of those players have moved, and it just all fell apart.”

Hockey does not die easily on the Range. Pat Guyer ---- Gino’s father, Tim’s brother and the Raiders’ head coach for 13 seasons before retiring in 2003 ---- decided to take his own head count of potential high school hockey players. With the help of longtime friend and Greenway youth hockey coach Jim Lawson, they came up with a more encouraging number.

“We went out in the end of August to get an idea of what kids were going to play and not play,” Pat Guyer said. “We went to each and every one of them to make sure they had an interest.”

It was determined there were enough players to field a team. Lawson, a 1979 Greenway High graduate who played in the old East Coast Hockey League, recently was hired as coach. The Raiders’ toned-down schedule remains a work in progress, but there are 17 games set so far with more on the way, according to Tim Guyer.

“We fought like hell for the program,” said Lawson, who also serves as the mayor of Taconite (a town with a population 325 and a place where, according to Lawson, “most of us are related”).

Lawson said there are 130 players in the youth program, with multiple teams at every level. Surviving what looks to be a stretch of three lean years (Greenway probably won’t play a full IRC schedule next season, either) became a priority.

“Some people wanted us to combine with Grand Rapids, and we kind of thought that was the direction it was going to go,” Lawson said. “We wanted to keep our own identity. Once it went over there, it wasn’t coming back here.”

Greenway will not field a junior varsity team this season. The only traditional conference opponent it will play is Eveleth. The rest of the Raiders’ schedule is dotted with small-school teams such as Becker/Big Lake and Walker-Hackensack-Akeley. Opponents that will be unfamiliar to most Raiders’ fans and players.

“I looked at the schedule and I didn’t even know a lot of those schools had hockey programs,” said Pat Ollila, Greenway High’s activities director secretary. “Truly they are schools are our size.

“For Greenway to give up hockey, oh my gosh. The Lawsons and Guyers, families that have played hockey here for generations, they are going to go down fighting.”

Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub managing editor, can be reached at 612-379-1030 ext. 126 or loren.nelson@tstmedia.com.

Coaching changes entering 2009-10 season

School 2008-09 coach 2009-10 coach Comments
Becker/Big Lake Marc Canton Jon Samuelson Samuelson played high school hockey at Piine City and club hockey at South Dakota State and Minnesota State-Mankato. This is his first head coaching position.
Bloomington Kennedy Todd Kennedy Dave Dillon Dillon was a four-year letterwinner at Bloomington Kennedy before playing for the University of Minnesota.
Champlin Park Paul Bailey Pat Janostin Janostin played at UM-Duluth and was a fourth-round pick by the New York Rangers in 1985.
East Ridge No program Doug Long Long previously coached both the boys and girls hockey programs at Stillwater.
Fairmont Mike Hitchcock Bryan Wilken Wilken is a 1989 Fairmont High graduate who most recently coached at the bantam level in Fairmont. This is his first high school coaching position.
Greenway Jeff Antonovich Jim Lawson Lawson is a 1979 graduate of Greenway High who played professionally in the East Coast Hockey League. He has coached in the Greenway youth hockey system and also has served as a high school assistant.
Mankato West Ken Essay Curtis Doell Essay stepped down after 10 seasons to become West's athletic director. Doell, a West assistant coach since 2000, played at UM-Duluth and in the American Hockey League.
Monticello Josh Solem Ben Monahan Monahan is a 1996 Robbinsdale Armstrong graduate who was a Monticello assistant for the last two seasons. He is completing his education degree at St. Cloud State.
North Branch Darrell Schulte Randy Gendreau Gendreau is a former varsity and junior varsity assistant coach at Chisago Lakes.
Prior Lake Dan Germundson Joe Pankratz Pankratz, a former Bloomington Jefferson and Omaha Lancers star, had been coaching in the Prior Lake youth system.
Rochester Lourdes Aaron Gill Josh Spaniol Spaniol, a Rochester Mayo graduate, was an assistant in the Lourdes' program for the previous three seasons.
Roseau Scott Oliver Andy Lundbohm Lundbohm, a former Roseau player, was a Rams assistant coach for the previous five seasons. His staff includes former NHL players and Roseau natives Aaron Broten and Bryan "Butsy" Erickson. Oliver, who guided the Rams to a state title in 2007, will coach the junior varsity.
River Lakes Jeff Boonstra Jeff Melby Melby was the head coach at Winadu High in Pittsfield, Mass., for six years. He also was a River Lakes assistant for two seasons.
St. Cloud Apollo Kris Dougherty Pete Matanich Dougherty took the head girls hockey coaching position at Fargo North. Matanich, a 1997 Apollo graduate, had been a St. Cloud Tech assistant for nine seasons.
St. Cloud Tech Chad Hommerding Neil Andruschak Andruschak played at UM-Crookston and was both an assistant and head coach at St. Benedict.
Shakopee Ed Loiselle Jeff Vizenor Vizenor was the head women's hockey coach at Minnesota State-Mankato for seven-plus seasons.