Taking on a slap shot for indoor hockey

With a Zach Parise-type move, Darin Rahm swiftly pulled a wooden hockey stick out of the corner in his Marshall Chamber of Commerce office.

He held it like he was eyeing up a puck.

“It’s just a wooden stick. It doesn’t look too special,” I said, as I sat in the opposite corner of his office.

But that’s were I was wrong, and Rahm started my lesson on hockey. Not just any hockey — Minnesota hockey. Especially southwest Minnesota hockey.

“Today you can spend $400 easily on a hockey stick,” said Marshall’s director of Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Back in the day you would get a piece of wood for 20 bucks. That was a lot. Equipment has really changed the game. It has made players better.”

But not necessarily tougher as I found out. Like a lot of other southwest Minnesota natives, Rahm loves his hockey. He grew up on it. He lived and breathed hockey. The stick he picked up was one of several that were sitting inside a Minnesota Gophers container.

Today, Rahm schedules hockey games and other events at the 1-year-old Red Baron Arena. Team pictures of successful Gopher hockey teams adorn the walls of his office. A Minnesota Gopher pennant is displayed on the wall above his printer.

I fired a few questions at him and he started reminiscing his youth. You know, back in the day.

“My earliest recollection of skating, I was 4 outside on a pond, skating with a cousin,” Rahm told me. “As far as I’m concerned, hockey was part of my life. I never considered not playing hockey. I would say it was a given that I would play hockey.

He told me the story of one day trying on goalie gear and skating on the ice. “I was a forward. You wouldn’t find me between the pipes,” he said. “I played goalie once when I was young on a Saturday afternoon. I put on the goalie equipment on and there was an older kid. I was probably 12 at the time and he took a slap shot and that puck whizzed by my neck. It was the first and last shot I ever saw as a goalie. I skated right back into the warming house and took everything off. Curiosity almost killed me. Never again will I put the goalie pads on.” He laughed.

“Don’t get me wrong, Minnesota is a hockey state, but It took some toughness to play hockey in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, eventually the ’80s. You had a special love for it. You were outside. At least the majority of us were outside. A lot of toe freezing, a lot of frostbite. Frozen nostrils.”

“It was a short season,” he said. But not anymore. At least for today’s Marshall kids. A year ago, the Red Baron Arena opened for business. Rahm calls that event a game-changer for young Marshall hockey players who can now play up to six months out of the year instead of the two or three months when hockey was played outside or in the “Bubble.” The Lockwood Motors Arena came along, but it was only one sheet of ice. There are two sheets of ice inside the Red Baron Arena.

“If you ask some of the coaches, they can already see the difference in the progression for some of the kids. They are amazed on how much faster some of the kids are now,” he said.

Today, Rahm spends a lot of time watching games inside the Red Baron Arena. “Do you look out there (on the ice) and say, ‘you guys got it easy?'” I asked.

“We do have the claim to fame. Our generation played outside,” he said. “But I will tell you this, today’s kids are bigger and faster and stronger. I like to think that we had a little better sense of hockey back then. And some of the small things that go with the game. They are just better athletes now.”

Rahm, like in his playing days, has worked hard to win over the critics who said building the arena was a waste of money. They said it would sit empty for six months out of the year. He still sometimes have to play that goalie role to take on the criticisms. But he sees only smooth skating for hockey growth in Marshall.

“Do you think you won over some of the critics?” I asked. “Oh yea,” he answered. “I know for a fact we overcame some of the skepticism. There is always going to be a certain percentage of people who didn’t like the way it was funded. I don’t know if we ever going to win those people over. I think there is a good group of people here that want to see Marshall grow and to understand those amenities come with a price — whether it’s user fees or its taxes. I think we have a good base of people here who understand that there taxes are being spent on good things. And the Red Baron Area and Expo is definitely one of those good things for the community.”

And for Marshall’s most valuable investment into the future — its youth.

You can take that between the pipes.