Greenway senior Donte Lawson has played an integral role on the ice for the Raiders ever since he joined the varsity squad as a sophomore. This year he was coming off a junior season in which he recorded 72 points.
The expectations were high, however this past season couldn’t have ended any better for Lawson. The Raiders battled through a roller coaster regular season to place themselves in the Section 7A title game for the third year in row. Their opponent, Hermantown, had won seven straight section championships and were the No. 1 ranked team in the state, not dropping a game to a Class A team all season.
The Raiders switched the script and Lawson ended up scoring the game-winner for the Raiders giving them the section title. He went on to find the back of the net twice in Greenway’s 6-4 win over Delano in the state quarterfinals, then fed teammate Ben Troumbly 23 seconds into overtime to take down top-seeded Mahtomedi in the semifinals.
In all he put together his best season, finishing with 37 goals and 34 assists and was the recipient of the Herb Brooks Award upon completion of the state tournament.
For his efforts on the ice, Lawson was named the Boys Hockey Player of the Year by the Grand Rapids Herald-Review, Hibbing Daily Tribune and Mesabi Daily News.
Based on the returning players from last season’s team which had its hopes dashed in heartbreaking fashion to Hermantown in the section finals, Lawson knew this season the Raiders had the pieces in place to make another run for a rematch.
“We had the team we wanted,” he said. “We had a lot of guys who could fit every role, but it took a little bit getting them in the roles they had to be put in. We figured it out more than halfway through the season. Right away we thought we had it down, but then we went on that losing streak. Towards the end of the year when it mattered, that’s when everyone started playing their role.”
With a tough schedule which put the Raiders up against the state’s best teams, Greenway struggled to pick up wins midway through the season. However, Lawson said it came down to being patient. The Raiders were then able to reel off six straight wins heading into the section tournament.
“(The coaches) said good things are going to happen if we start to do the right things and we bought into the systems,” Lawson said. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy going in, Two Harbors was going to be a good opponent and Denfeld especially, we couldn’t look right to the finals.”
Greenway blew past Two Harbors 7-1, then downed Denfeld 6-2 in the semifinals to set up the matchup against the Hawks.
Lawson said the Raiders game plan was to keep it close in the final and were fortunate to receive a stellar performance in the first period from goalie Logan Wright who made 20 first period saves.
“We knew that with what we had been dealing with through the season with all the adversity that we had been through everything. We knew what we had to do and just rolled with it. We just wanted to stay in the game as much as we could and not let them get a big lead. It was a good thing we had our goalie playing his best hockey. The first period he was unreal for us.
“We just had to play good defense and our bounce would come.”
That bounce came in the form of a deflected shot from defenseman Aaron Elich who skated down the left side of the ice into the zone and fired a shot on Hawks goalie Cole Manahan. With Lawson heading to the net, the puck kicked off of Mananhan and onto Lawson’s stick. In a split second he buried the puck past Manahan to send the Raiders to state for the first time since 2001.
“It was right at the end of my shift and I was tired,” Lawson said of the game-winner. “Our (defenseman) came down the side and skated in and he shot it. The next thing I knew it was on my stick then I tapped it in and I don’t know what happened after it.
“For it finally being over and being on top this year, it was awesome.”
State was an intense experience for Lawson and the Raiders. Greenway fans showed up to the Xcel Center in droves, lining the seats of the arena in Green.
“The nerves were high and as soon as we went on the ice, I was just like, wow the seats were filled with green,” Lawson said. “I didn’t know we had that many people in our community, they showed up and were a huge part of it. The atmosphere was crazy for us.”
Lawson credited much of his scoring prowess to longtime friend and linemate Ben Troumbly.
The duo stifled opposing teams defenses.
“We’ve been best friends probably since we were five years old,” Lawson said. “We’ve been playing together since I can remember. It’s always a good feeling when you know where your linemate is on the ice.”
As the state tournament got underway Lawson was cheered on by his family and younger brother, Dominik, who had recently received his third kidney transplant, but was at the X to support his brother. That, with the community support, fueled Lawson and the Raiders to the state championship where they fell to St. Cloud Cathedral 5-2.
“The support from everybody all helped me through it,” Lawson said. “When I had to miss a practice to go down to the Cities they all supported me. My dad, he drove all over the state from the Cities because that’s where he was with my brother. Him coming to watch me, that gave me the motivation.”
Lawson said the whole experience at state flew by, but being able to play in the state championship was surreal.
“It was just a blur that whole week and was probably the best time of my life...to play in that final game was awesome.”
That experience wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for Lawson’s father, Jim, who along with another prior coach, Pat Guyer went door-to-door in the Greenway community to try and expand the youth program.
“I was really little when it was going down and him and Pay Guyer were going door to door,” Lawson said. “It’s kind of surreal now looking back on it seeing how far its came.”
After the season Lawson played a few games with the Minnesota Wilderness where he planned on continuing in the future. However at one of the games, Bemidji State hockey coach Tom Serratore, a Greenway graduate, took notice of Lawson and offered him an opportunity to play at the Division I level.
“I played a few games with the Wilderness and their coach came and watched me and liked my style,” Lawson said. “He’s a Greenway guy and he’ll help me out. That’s probably the best for my development to go there. When the offer came I took it.”
It’s now been more than two months since the Raiders’ run to the state title game. Lawson said he couldn’t have imagined a better experience then representing the Greenway community.
“Putting on the green and white sweater was the best decision my family ever made to put me in that school. I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else with any other group.”
All Iron Range Team
Donte Lawson, Greenway, F; Jack Peart, Grand Rapids, D; Ben Troumbly, Greenway, F;, Cameron Lantz, Greenway, D; Nikolai Rajala, Greenway F; Carter Clafton, Grand Rapids, G; Zach Kilen, VMIB, F; Elliot Van Orsdel, E-G, F; Will Troutwine, E-G, D; Christian Miller, Greenway, D; Cam Kriebich, VMIB, G; Cade Moreland, VMIB, F.
Honorable Mention: Caleb Bialke, VMIB, F; Ethan Lund, Hibbing, F; Logan Wright, Greenway G; Luke Olson, Ely, F; Nick Mattila, Ely, F.