COLERAINE — When Grant Clafton took over as head coach of the Greenway High School boys hockey team five years ago, the team was on the rise and he knew it.
After a handful of years where the program struggled to survive, it was resurrected under the leadership of Jim “Bird” Lawson. The Raiders’ play was back to respectability, but more important was the fact that the youth program was loaded with talent.
Greenway saw steady improvement under Clafton, reaching the Section 7A championship game twice – both losses to Hermantown with the second coming in overtime – in his second and third years. Then in 2019, after the Raiders struggled for first half of the season, they caught fire and rode that hot streak to the state Class A championship game when the ride stopped with a loss to St. Cloud Cathedral.
Earlier in the week Clafton, 37, announced he is stepping down as head coach of the program to pursue other interests. He made it clear it was a amicable departure from the position.
“I talked about it for awhile and then I just kind of kicked it around,” said Clafton about his resignation. “I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t want to do it and then I did it and then it was really regretful, but now I am kind of at peace with it.”
Clafton said he was fortunate to be able to become associated with great people and great kids at Greenway. He said he received much support not only from the hockey community of Greenway, but also from the community in general.
“I can’t say enough good things about the kids that I was able to have in my five years there as far as players – and most importantly people and their families,” said Clafton. “It was just a real positive and fortunate experience for me that I am super grateful for.”
Clafton said he feels good in the fact that the Greenway boys hockey program is in good shape as he leaves. He said the coaching throughout the entire program is outstanding.
“I do think the program is in really good standing,” Clafton explained. “I think that our Bantam team is going to be quite good this year and I think there is a strong three or four years of high compete coming for them, and the Mites numbers are really good.
“What I think is most exciting is you have a guy like (former Greenway star) Andy Sertich who has kids in the program at the youth level, and he is putting in a lot of time at the youth level with those kids. Ultimately I am a huge proponent that if Andy wants (the job), I think that would be the best move for the program because you have a guy that is totally invested in it. And to be honest, that’s what it takes; it takes 150 percent not just with the high school team but throughout the whole program.”
Clafton said he has many fond memories of his time at Greenway. He said Hermantown had a tight hold on the Section 7A championship and that he needed to change the mind set of the Greenway players. He recalls one of his players – Grant Troumbly – being injured for a good part of his senior year, but that he came back to score the winning goal against Hibbing-Chisholm in the section semifinals to propel the Raiders into the section finals.
The following year, Greenway lost to Hermantown again in the championship game in overtime, but in 2019 the Raiders turned the tables on the Hawks in beating them for a trip to the state tournament.
“We wanted a mind set that we weren’t going in hoping to win but we were expecting to win,” Clafton said. “It was just building off it every year and watching the success of the individual kids and how it literally put building blocks on for the following season to get to where we did.
“That was a huge accomplishment for the program and for those kids to beat Hermantown and get to state.”
Clafton said he is unsure on what he going to do next in the world of hockey. He did say he will continue to coach in the Fall Elite League, something he said he enjoys doing.
“I can imagine that I will be around the game in some capacity as far as helping out at youth levels or if someone asks for my help in any way I probably would help out in some regard,” Clafton explained. “At the same time, hockey was my identity for a long time. Now, I am content that if I had to leave and go away from the game forever. I would be fine with that.
“Five years ago I didn’t because I had personal goals that I wanted to achieve and prove. Now, I don’t have any super plans; I will just see how it goes. I plan to just take it easy.”
Clafton thanks the Greenway community for their support throughout the years along with his fellow coaches, along with Pat Guyer and Greenway Activities Director Dan Mell.
“I want to thank them for the opportunity to be involved in their program,” Clafton said.