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Published January 25 2011

Moorhead-Roseau hockey rivalry runs deep

Roseau is the program that’s made a record 33 appearances at the Minnesota state high school hockey tournament.

The Rams have won a record seven state titles and have been mentioned in hockey documentaries when it comes to being Minnesota’s jewel program that’s often regarded with the “small school, big dreams” tab.

All that’s true until the talk focuses on the rivalry with Moorhead, which will be renewed tonight at the Moorhead Sports Center.

“They (Moorhead) are not quite cake eaters (a term used to describe large, affluent schools from the Twin Cities),” said Mike Lee, a Roseau alum and St. Cloud State goalie. “But we like to give them a label of being a team from a bigger city and look at it as ‘why do you have to beat up on the small town kids?’”

Lee, a former Fargo Force junior hockey team star, is a Roseau native who says the rivalry has made strides.

Warroad, located 20 miles from Roseau, was always the big rival until hockey was restructured into a two-class system.

Roseau, opting to play up a class, has made the now rite-of- passage-like, three-hour drive south to meet Moorhead in the regular season before the annual section final game that’s occurred the last 14 years.

So it has become Roseau, the town with as many stop lights as it does rinks, versus Moorhead, the town that has showed the state to not overlook western Minnesota hockey.

The rivalry has become so fierce that the last time a team other than these two represented Class 2A, Section 8 at the state tournament was 1996.

“I used to look at the rivalry against Moorhead that it was always going to be three games,” said former Roseau coach Scott Oliver, who won three section titles from 2006-08. “But the most important game was the third one, because whoever won that was going to state.”

Oliver, who coached for six seasons at Roseau, said the rivalry was a bit one-sided when he arrived in 2002.

Moorhead’s dominance created some bad memories for Roseau, said Oliver’s son, Nick, who is a forward with the Force and a St. Cloud State commit.

Nick Oliver said when his family moved from Crookston, he got a chance to learn up front about the rivalry.

“The people in that town want to beat Moorhead badly,” Nick Oliver said. “People have their calendars circled when that game comes up.”

That is because Moorhead enjoyed a dominant section run in the 1990s, emerging as one of the state’s perennial hockey powers. The same held true in the early part of the 2000s when Moorhead won the section five consecutive years.

“At the time when I got to Roseau, Moorhead was far and above of wherever we were in Roseau,” Oliver recalled. “We worked very hard to close the difference between where our program was at and where Moorhead’s was at.”

Roseau closed that gap by winning the section title four out of the last five years – including 2007, when Roseau won state.

This year, however, things are a bit different for these old rivals.

Moorhead (11-4-1, 3-1-1) has overcome a slow start, among other things, by winning its last five games.

Roseau (7-7, 1-1) has lost two straight games after winning five in a row, with one of those losses coming against Warroad, which lost to Moorhead 4-1 on Saturday.

Throw in section-leading upstart Bemidji (16-1-1, 5-0-1) and it could be an interesting year for these two old rivals if they look to make another run at state.

“For as long as I can remember, you had to go through Moorhead to get to the state tournament,” said Lee, who won two section titles at Roseau. “If you want to go to the Xcel Center, you got to go through Moorhead first.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Ryan S. Clark at (701) 241-5548