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Rams fever puts fishing trip on ice

Ice in the traditional Outdoors page sense took a back seat last weekend when I canceled a fishing trip to Lake of the Woods. Instead of heading north, I shifted gears and steered the truck south to St. Paul last Friday morning to share in a coll...

Ice in the traditional Outdoors page sense took a back seat last weekend when I canceled a fishing trip to Lake of the Woods.

Instead of heading north, I shifted gears and steered the truck south to St. Paul last Friday morning to share in a collective hometown experience of anticipation, frayed nerves and -- ultimately -- jubilation, the likes of which I haven't experienced in quite some time.

The occasion was the Minnesota state Class AA boys hockey tournament, and my hometown high school Roseau Rams had made the trek from northern Minnesota to represent Section 8AA in the cavernous Xcel Energy Center.

It was, quite frankly, a magical three days that I'll be reliving in my mind for long time.

In case you've had your head stuck in an ice hole for the past week, the Rams won it all, defeating the Grand Rapids Thunderhawks 5-1 in last Saturday night's championship game. More than 17,500 fans -- nearly seven times the population of Roseau -- packed the Xcel to watch two storied, northern Minnesota teams play for the title.

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When the buzzer sounded and celebration replaced the butterflies, the Rams found themselves atop the big mountain of tradition that is Minnesota high school hockey.

And in that moment, the huge tradition that is Roseau hockey -- a record 31 state tournament appearances, a record seven boys hockey titles -- got a little bit larger.

It's a great story line that "tiny Roseau" -- a phrase the metro papers often use to describe my hometown -- opts to play with the big schools and compete in the Class AA tournament. At 325 students in grades 10-12, Roseau is small enough to compete in Class A. The tournaments are held the same weekend, and last weekend, Roseau was the second-smallest school in either class.

By comparison, the largest school in last weekend's AA tournament had nearly 2,500 students in grades 10-12.

David and Goliath scenarios aside, there's no obvious reason I should care how a school I haven't attended in nearly 30 years fares in a hockey tournament. High school classmates now have boys on the team, and I know one of the players, but that's the most tangible connection.

I did care, though -- a lot. And so did the dozens of other green-clad Roseau fans I saw last weekend in St. Paul. Some were classmates, others mere acquaintances. Some still live up north, and others live in the Twin Cities or points beyond.

We cared because it was Roseau, and those young men out on the ice represented our connection to a tradition.

I thought about that last Friday night after the Rams defeated Rochester Century 3-1 to advance to the championship game. I've attended a lot of UND hockey games over the years, and I've watched them win a couple of national championships, but I've never found my stomach tied up in knots the way it was last weekend.

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It started before the puck dropped for Roseau's first game Thursday morning, and it stayed that way until the Rams scored with 1:06 remaining Saturday night to put the championship game out of reach.

Actually, it was out of reach before then, but I decided it was safe to start breathing again with a four-goal lead.

I was fortunate enough to be in the heart of the Roseau section when the clock ticked toward zero. Caught up as I was in the moment, I looked around and marveled at the mini-dramas unfolding nearby.

I was tempted to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming.

Next to me, two close friends were watching their son -- my lone acquaintance on the team -- realize a dream come true. Moments later, he'd join his teammates in a mob of celebration they'll remember the rest of their lives.

As someone whose hockey career ended in fourth grade, I can only imagine what that feeling must have been like.

As someone who graduated nearly 30 years ago and hasn't lived in Roseau for nearly as long, it felt incredible. I get a lump in my throat nearly every time I think about it.

I know I'm not alone.

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Maybe that's why, when someone asks me where I'm from, I'll say I live in Grand Forks, before quickly adding, "but I'm from Roseau."

Gotta love those Rams.

Reach Dokken at 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or bdokken@gfherald.com .

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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