The players rehearsed a ritual repeated by the teams for 100 years: They unloaded their equipment and brought it to the racetrack, a place formerly known as “Madison Square Garden of the Northland,” according to the history website of the Northland. hockey

The Racecourse opened on January 1, 1922, when the Eveleth Reds beat the Duluth Hornets 10-6.

The Greyhounds fared better in their 5-3 victory on Tuesday, but the importance of the Racecourse to Minnesota hockey was not far from anyone’s mind.

Cole Christian of Duluth East, 5, struggles to keep the puck away from Dylan Hedley of Rock Ridge in the Greyhounds’ 5-3 win on Tuesday at Eveleth. Jamey Malcomb / Duluth News Tribune

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“You come in and that – I don’t know it smacks of hockey history for some reason,” Duluth East coach Steve Pitoscia said. “There are great black and white photos of guys from the day – legends like Willard Ikola and some of those guys who performed there. It’s just everywhere and then you go down below and it’s old concrete – it’s an old-fashioned barn in every sense of the word.

Originally built of wood at a cost of $ 50,000 by then-mayor Victor Essling, the racetrack underwent renovations in 1938 that replaced wooden walls with brick and added a hall. Artificial ice and concrete floors were added in 1950 and new locker rooms and locker rooms were built in 2002.

Rock Ridge defenseman Nick Troutwine said he spent almost 15 years skating and playing at the Racecourse.

“It’s almost like a second home for me,” Troutwine said. “It’s just crazy to think of all the great players who came from here and all the different great teams who skated on this ice. It’s crazy to think that it’s been 100 years since the rink was first built.

Despite the American Hockey Hall of Fame just over a mile away, the Hippodrome offers its own hockey history.

“You start to walk around and see all the hockey greats that have come out of here and it’s more like a museum,” said Rock Ridge coach Ben Johnson. “It’s just an amazing building to be 100 years old. It’s a fun place to play and we love it here.

Many of these greats – like John Mariucci, Frank Brimsek, Mike Karakas, Sam LoPresti and John Mayasich – performed under the direction of legendary trainer Cliff Thompson, who coached Eveleth to five state titles between 1920 and 1958 and compiled a record 534-26-9. Thompson’s teams won 78 straight games and four straight state titles from 1948 to 1951.

Former Eveleth and University of Minnesota great John Mayasich, left, and legendary Eveleth coach Cliff Thompson chat during the team's 4-game winning streak from 1948-1951. Image used by permission /

Former Eveleth and University of Minnesota great John Mayasich, left, and legendary Eveleth coach Cliff Thompson chat during the team’s 4-game winning streak from 1948-1951. Image used by permission /

Mayasich was one of those four teams and became the all-time leading scorer for the Minnesota Golden Gophers with 298 points. Pat Micheletti of Hibbing is second on the list with 269 points. Mayasich also won a silver medal at the 1956 Olympics in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, and gold in 1960 in Squaw Valley, California.

Mayasich, 88, said it was a treat when he got to play at the Hippodrome when he was little. He learned to play hockey the most traditional Minnesota way, outdoors. Teams were organized around the streets and those streets would become their rinks when he learned to play in the 1940s.

“People here haven’t put cars on the streets,” Mayasich said. “Most people didn’t have a car, we didn’t. It was our ice rink to play hockey. We shoveled goals on the snow banks and used a sponge ball or a tennis ball. This is where we learned our playing skills.

Mayasich also learned from watching the Eveleth Rangers of the Northern Hockey League play at the Hippodrome.

“I watched some of the players skate and I was like, ‘I’m going to try to skate like him,’ said Mayasich. “This is where I learned a lot of my skills.

And the legendary Mayasich 12-point match at the Hippodrome?

– It’s true, he said with a touch of modesty.

The match took place against a school in Duluth during Eveleth’s legendary run in the late 1940s, but Mayasich didn’t want to say which one. Cloquet had just started their hockey program and Duluth’s team roughed up the Lumberjacks 18-0 and Mayasich and his teammates took note.

“It wasn’t me, it was a team effort,” he said. “We said, ‘We’re going to teach them a lesson.’ You should never go out and increase the score of a team that is still learning the game. ”

A new era

Al Ratai, a Duluth East assistant, played for Virginia – Eveleth-Gilbert’s fiercest rival – in the late 1990s and said the teams have been battling at the Racecourse since he was a skater Peewee through high school.

“One of the first arenas I played in was here,” Ratai said.

Ratai’s most memorable game between the Golden Bears and the Blue Devils was in 1998 at the Hibbing Memorial Arena. Eveleth-Gilbert defeated Virginia’s Ratai team 3-2 in the Section 7A Championship and won the Class A State title.

Ratai said there was a “camaraderie” in the rivalry which led to the formation of friendships between the teams later.

Now, after generations of passionate city rivalry, Virginia and Eveleth-Gilbert have consolidated their neighborhoods in Rock Ridge. While the two high schools will be separated until the completion of the new building in Virginia in 2023, several sports – such as women’s and men’s football and hockey – are already competing under the Rock Ridge name.

“It’s very difficult, surreal for me to think of having to play with my biggest rival,” Ratai said. “But I hope they are very successful and progress very well.”

Rock Ridge already has a new ice rink at the Iron Trail Motors Event Center in Virginia with a cover of ice as well as dry land training facilities.

Although the new rink was state of the art, Ratai was happy that there were still games at the Hippodrome each season.

“I’m really happy that they were able to find a compromise to keep playing a few games here,” he said. “I think it’s important for the story, I think it’s important for the community of Eveleth and for these kids to be exposed to the history of hockey. It’s not just the big brand new buildings, there is a lot of blood, sweat and tears in this place.

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