In late 1955, employees of a Roseau farm equipment shop put together their first snowmobile while the boss was out of town. Using a grain elevator conveyor belt as the track and the bumper of an old Chevy, the men used the vehicle to get to their hunting shacks without having to cross-country ski there.
When Polaris founder and owner Edgar Hetteen returned to find his men spending their time and materials not on farm equipment, but on innovation, he sold the snowmobile (which would eventually become the company’s claim to fame) in order to cover payroll. The rebels in question were David and Orlen Johnson and Paul Knochenmus.
Fifty-two years later, another generation of Knochenmus was heating up Roseau with his maverick ways.
As a freshman last season, Adam Knochenmus was advised not to try out for the Rams high school team; he was eligible to play in Roseau’s bantam program and the coaching staff felt he would develop better there. Knochemus had other ideas.
“I just wanted to get up to another level and play with better players,” he said.
With his explosive speed, Knochenmus left the coaching staff no option but to put him on the Rams’ junior varsity squad. The precocious Grade 9 student promptly went out and scored a hat trick in each of his first three games.
“It became evident that he was the most dominant player in the JV games,” said Rams coach Scott Oliver.
By the end of the 2006 calendar year, Knochenmus was bumped up to the varsity squad, where he helped the senior Rams win a state championship.
So what is Knochenmus doing for an encore? Proving people wrong, as always.
When the Rams played at Moorhead earlier in the season, the local radio team joked Knochenmus looked about 5-foot-4 in his skates, but his stature is a bit of an optical illusion.
True, the left-winger comes in at just 5-foot-7 and 160 pounds, but he plays on a line with 6-foot-2 Nick Oliver and 6-foot-3 Jason Fabian, so it’s easy to see how the eyes can play tricks on you.
Despite the frame, coach Oliver has seen improvements in Knochenmus’ game this year.
“He’s stronger,” he said. “He’s much more able to handle the physical play. When he uses his speed and stays wide, that’s when he’s at his best.”
For Knochenmus, size ain’t nothing but a number.
“I really don’t think about it,” he said. “If you work harder than those (bigger) guys, you can be better than them.”
One thing Knochenmus was thinking about earlier this week was the Rams’ date in Grand Forks, N.D., with that state’s reigning champs, the Red River Roughriders.
“We beat them 2-0 in a scrimmage this year, but one goal was an empty netter,” he noted.
Ironically, it was the Rams who needed their extra attacker on Tuesday, as Red River held Roseau scoreless through the first 50 minutes of a 51-minute showdown (Minnesota high school games have 17 minute periods).
The Roughriders had taken a 1-0 lead midway through the second when a dump-in took a funny bounce, stranding Rams goalie Mike Lee out of his crease and allowing an open score for Jacob LaDouceur.
It took some last-minute heroics from Nick Oliver, who scored on a power play with Lee pulled with 24 seconds remaining to tie the game.
Ben Nelson completed the comeback with a backhander in overtime. Dustin Moser and Aaron Ness assisted on both goals.
The Rams now sit at 14-0.
The Hockey News will be following the Roseau Rams high school hockey team every week, chronicling its journey on the road back to the state championship and providing an inside look at what its like to be a teenager on one of the most fabled varsity teams in America.
Click HERE to read previous Year of the Ram stories.
For more great stories and features like this, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.