Bruce Raboin wrapped up a lifetime of hockey at the end of this year’s girls high school campaign being named the Section 8A assistant coach of the year and announcing his retirement from both teaching and coaching.
Raboin was born and raised in International Falls and he and his wife Amy are moving back after the completion of the school year.
He played under U.S. hockey Hall of Fame coach Larry Ross alongside a lot of notable players in the Broncos program and because of his size got some varsity time beginning as a freshman.
During his high school stint, Raboin played with 14 players that went on to play at the Division I level but the Broncos never got to the state tournament out of Section 7 thanks to Grand Rapids.
Raboin had options to play D-I college hockey that nearly sent him to Denver before he “reluctantly” took a half scholarship and agreed to play for Brad Buetow and the Golden Gophers.
That never happened thanks to former playing partner Mike Bolstad who was at Providence College in Rhode Island. Raboin ended up on the east coast like many of his contemporaries, Neil Sheehy at Harvard, Gary Sampson at Boston College, Kevin Constantine at RPI.
“There was kind of an interest in the east because of that,” said Raboin.
Bolstad mentioned on a visit to Providence that Raboin was not completely sold on playing at Minnesota.
“I thought I was better and more deserving than a half scholarship,” he said.
Providence also offered another big name in the hockey world in head coach Lou Lamoriello.
After being invited to check out the Friars, Raboin hopped on a plane for his first trip to the east coast.
“I liked what I saw at Providence College; it was smaller campus,” Raboin said. “They kind of had a third of the team from Minnesota and a third from Canada and eastern players.”
The Friars had already awarded scholarship monies for the season but offered a full ride if Raboin would commit and could prove himself on the ice.
Raboin cracked the lineup right away and after a successful freshman 1979-80 season was drafted by the Washington Capitals in the National Hockey League entry draft.
Raboin played all four years at Providence making a trip to the NCAA tournament and finishing his college career with a 41-point effort his senior season for the Friars in 1982-83.
The Capitals were stacked with defensemen the likes of Rod Langway and Scott Stevens which sent Raboin to France after graduation to continue his playing career.
He was newly married to Amy and played for a team just outside of Paris for one season. Upon returning, he went to camp with the Capitals. A separated shoulder put him on a path through the Cap’s AHL affiliate the Binghamton Whalers.
“I was out there for six weeks and I saw the lifestyle,” said Raboin. “This was not what I wanted.”
He immediately stopped his professional playing career and moved back to International Falls to begin teaching special education.
He began coaching in the Broncos program and made a trip to the state tournament while continuing his education.
Amy and Bruce were both International Falls natives and wanted to make a change. Detroit Lakes had a teaching opening that turned into a career.
“The only thing I knew about Detroit Lakes was that on the Fourth of July the beach was crazy,” he said.
Raboin interviewed with special ed director Jim Kelstrup, Paul Maltrud and Paul Ness. His first visit was about teaching far more than hockey.
“I came for that job,” said Raboin. “Coaching was on the side.”
John Jacobson was the Laker head coach and offered Raboin a spot on staff, but hockey in DL took some getting used to.
“It was a bit of a culture shock for me,” said Raboin. “It didn’t have the same vibes. Football did, but it was kind of football here was like hockey in the Falls. The kids, that’s what they chose to do. We were playing hockey all the time, whether it was in the alley or the street or in a basement. That wasn’t the case here. I was always hopeful it was going to catch on but there were just too many other things of interest for kids to do. They don’t put the time in to get to the level that you need to get to if you aspire to really achieve in the game of hockey. You have to make the sacrifices; you have to put the time in. It doesn’t even really matter who your coaches are.”
Raboin’s early experiences in the DL program got him off to a positive start.
“It was good. The first years I was here the youth hockey program was well-organized. Jeff Grabow was the president at the time. You always had mavericks thinking they knew a better way, but he was always able to rally support and keep those guys off on the sidelines.”
After Jacobson’s retirement, Raboin continued as an assistant under Dave Balfour and the Laker boys made back-to-back trips to the state tournament 1995-96.
“Those were great experiences for the kids and us,” said Raboin.
Balfour moved on and Raboin took over the program for three years while his son Garrett, now an assistant at Minnesota, was coming through the DL varsity program.
After Garrett left to play defense at St. Cloud State University, Bruce was ready to be done coaching but took on the open JV head coaching job under new Laker coach Corey Poole for one year.
Raboin was the bantam coach and hockey coordinator the next season before joining the DL girls program with his daughters Maggie and Emily coming through the system assisting for Dan Maloney and Gretchen Norby and the Laker girls made their only state tournament appearance in 2012.
“For all the years and hours you put in, on and off the ice and on the road, state is just a great experience to have with the kids,” said Raboin.
While there have been decades of positive experiences with the DL program, Raboin has seen plenty of issues and had problems to overcome. He’s quick to point the finger at where many of those problems come from.
“It’s a one word answer - parents,” he said. “If people knew what some of these parents have said and done they’d say, ‘you’re kidding, you’re making this up.’”
No program is perfect all the time, but the Laker hockey program has had plenty of instances and conflicts that would make great news stories but are typically shushed for the betterment of the program or at least to keep the idea of DL hockey a neutral idea rather than kick up negativity.
“The people that are hurt by the whole thing are the players,” said Raboin. “As of late, these past five years have been just horrible for the game of hockey. Unfortunately, Detroit Lakes is guilty, as are a number of other communities. Parents are out of control.”
Having spent his entire life around hockey from the highest level on down has given Raboin a bigger perspective.
“My commitment is not to one player or one team,” Raboin said. “It’s to the game. The game has given me so much in my life and I always told everyone that’s the way I raised my kids. Whatever you take from the game, you need to give it back, someway, somehow, because it’s so valuable what you take away from the game.”
Raboin has witnessed the changes in youth hockey over the years and how that has impacted the game at the high school level.
“Like many hockey communities, the development of checkbook hockey has hurt us and made it difficult,” he said. “It has nothing to do with skill level. If you have the money you get the idea that you’re better but you’re not. You can’t write a check to know how to put the puck in the net. Not only does it do that to the young player, now the parents have an investment. The kids that really get it are humble, they’re workhorses and put the time in and want to. They’re respectful and these are the things we struggle for these days - respect, humility. You have to earn it. It’s not a gift.”
One thing Raboin has earned is a break from the game but hockey will never be far from the Raboin household with Garrett continuing his coaching career and grandchildren now picking up hockey sticks. If Bruce does not get back in, he’ll have plenty of time to coach at the family level.
“I had a lot of great years with some great kids and great parents, as well,” he said. “DL has been a great home for us. I’ll miss it a bit, but it’s time to move on. I’m ready to do something different.”