Clafton Leaving Raider Hockey
Grant Clafton is resigning from his position as the head hockey coach at Greenway High School after five years at the helm of one of Minnesota’s most storied programs. His resignation was accepted by the Greenway School Board at their May 27 meeting.
“When I took the job,” Clafton said, “I felt it would be about a five to seven year deal for me to do it right. Coaching Greenway has been my number one priority for the last five years. I’ve put 150% of my energy into this. When you can’t do that every year, then it is time to step down and let someone else who is the right person for the job do it.”
Clafton leaves behind a legacy of success that includes coaching the Raiders to the 2019 Class A state championship game and picking up state coach of the year honors in 2018. Greenway had a 90-41-2 record over his five year tenure and played in three consecutive Section 7A title games.
“The best memories for me are that each season we seemed to have a building block that led to another step the following year,” he recalls.
The team had been struggling to fill a roster in the years before Clafton arrived. In his first season, the team made their first appearance in the section semifinals in Duluth since 2003. The next year, the Raiders made it a step further to the section final game against Hermantown before a 5-1 loss ended their season. Greenway pushed the Hawks to double overtime in the section final the following season before losing a 5-4 nailbiter. The Raiders finally broke through the next year and beat Hermantown to advance to state. That win propelled Greenway to the state title game.
“There was always something that was the next step of the process,” Clafton remembers. “I thought it was pretty neat how that worked out each year.”
The players certainly bought in to Clafton’s philosophy.
“I told the kids we couldn’t accomplish everything in one season,” he continued. “It takes time to get to the ultimate goal. That’s why I feel every single kid in the rebuilding process the last ten years played a role in our success.”
Greenway athletic director Dan Mell has been more than satisfied with what Clafton brought to the program.
“It’s been good having Grant here,” Mell said. “When you go 18 years without being down at the state tournament and a coach brings you there, that’s success. We would have loved to have had Grant back next year. He left on good terms and I appreciate him both as an individual and for what he did for our program.”
Clafton’s hiring five years ago did raise a few eyebrows on the west end of the Iron Range. As a 2001 Grand Rapids graduate who starred on Thunderhawk teams during one of the fiercest era’s of the Greenway-Grand Rapids rivalry, some people saw him as an enemy.
“From the day that I arrived,” he said. “I felt like I was accepted. The support I got from the community was really good and it continued on that way. I am really appreciative of the Greenway program. I feel really lucky to have coached the kids I coached and to be associated with these families.”
The 37 year old Clafton will likely have plenty of coaching opportunities in the future.
“He is a die-hard coach, Mell added. “I think coaching hockey will be something he does for a long time.”
For now, Clafton is not sure what the future will hold.
“I don’t have plans,” he said. “There comes a time when you just need to move on in another direction. Right now, I’m not sure what that direction is.”
However, he does feel he is leaving the Greenway program in good shape.
“The next four years should be pretty good,” he noted. “The bantam team was strong last year and with guys like Ty Donahue, Aidan Rajala, and Bodie Jorgenson back, they have the chance to be competitive. Also, the numbers at the mite level are quite high and there are some legacy players there, former players’ kids, that will do well.”
The search for Clafton’s replacement will be a little delayed due to coronavirus issues.
“We don’t know what is going on with fall sports and sports in general right now,” Dan Mell said. “We will kind of hold off on putting the job out there until we have a better time frame from the state high school league on when we can start high school athletics again.”
The name of Andy Sertich, Greenway’s current lead assistant, will certainly be brought up for the position. If interested, his familiarity with the program and experience as a college and professional player would seem to make him an ideal candidate. Clafton was a bit more direct about Sertich.
“I do think Andy should get the job,” Clafton said.
Regardless of what the future holds for the Greenway hockey program, the five years Grant Clafton spent with the program will be remembered as a time of improvement for the team and success on the ice.
John can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @JohnNalan.