Brothers have huge impact on area hockey
It’s 8:30 in the morning this past Friday and two pick-up trucks arrive in the icy parking lot outside the Falcon Center on the campus of UW-River Falls. Brothers Matt and Joe Cranston walk inside to work out for a couple hours. It’s a routine they’re used to. They talk hockey and business most days.
These days there’s a lot to talk about.
Older brother, Matt, is 62 years old and in his 17th year as the head coach for the St. Croix Valley Fusion high school girls’ hockey team. Just over a month ago, Matt notched his 300th win with the co-op team that includes River Falls, Baldwin-Woodville, and St. Croix Central high schools.
Younger brother, Joe, is the 58-year-old head coach for the #1 ranked NCAA Division III women’s hockey team at UW-River Falls. Joe is in his 24th year at the helm. The Falcons recently knocked off second ranked Gustavus Adolphus 2-1 in overtime at Hunt Arena on Jan. 31. Senior Abigail Stow scored with just 5.5 seconds left in overtime.
“One of our football players just told me while we were working out that game was the best sporting event he’d seen in years,” said Joe. “The place was packed.”
Matt and Joe Cranston did not bring up wins or rankings. That stuff is for sports writers. It was rarely discussed in the hour-long conversation. When the Cranston brothers are talking hockey, they’re talking about people and relationships and the reason they are this way is right in front of them on the wall.
Inside Joe’s office hangs a framed red Falcon jersey with “G-Man” stitched above the #11, both Cranston broth-ers’ old hockey number when they played. The “G-Man” is for Gary Cranston, their father. Gary played basketball and baseball at the University of North Dakota but he coached youth hockey for 30 years in Fergus Falls, Minn., where Matt and Joe grew up. Gary started girls’ hockey in northern Minnesota back in the 1970’s. Their dad died on New Year’s Day in 2009 and Joe’s players and assistant coaches gave him the framed jersey.
“My dad told me it doesn’t matter if you’re coaching the Gopher men’s team or if you’re coaching the pee wee team, coaching hockey is the same,” said Joe. “You’re trying to make a difference in someone’s life.”
“I say my dad’s philosophies and quotes every single day of my life,” said Matt.
“He (Matt) tells us to throw the puck at the soda machine,” said Fusion senior captain Trinity Mittl. “That’s what his dad said to him and it means he wants us to take more shots.”
“Both Matt and I, we think about our dad every single day and all the lessons he taught us,” said Joe. “Hockey is just an avenue and it’s a way to make the world a better place and impact lives.”
“There are givers and takers and Dad said ‘you better be a giver,’” said Matt.
The Cranston brothers, without question, have listened to their father in the giving department.
Joe Cranston started the UW-River Falls women’s hockey program in 1999, after coaching the Somerset High School boys’ team for over a decade. Over 450 wins and 24-years later, Joe’s Falcons have either won the conference title or tournament, or both, for the last 14 seasons.
“We started with nothing and now we have a lot to be proud of,” said Joe.
Like a proud father, he listed a number of former players and how many are involved in hockey and coaching now.
Matt Cranston had three young daughters who played hockey. They are the reason he’s the founding father of girls’ youth and high school hockey in the area. The Fusion won three consecutive state titles in 2009, 2010, and 2011. His daughter, Alice, was an allstate player those three years and the state player of the year her senior season in 2011.
“We started from scratch and we finally got it (school boards’ decisions) to pass,” said Matt. “We came out of the rink crying and the moms were hugging. It was a big deal.”
“He’s (Matt) really nice and funny,” said sophomore Fusion forward Alexis Ralston. “He does the gritty a lot, but he’s so prepared for things and he always has a plan what we’re going to do in situations and we practice those a lot.”
“He (Matt) would do anything for any one of us,” said Mittl. “He’s a very selfless coach and he’s super giving. I’m very thankful for the opportunity to play under him.”
“When we bring in recruits,” said Joe. “They’re amazed at the relationships we have with our players.”
The Brothers Cranston aren’t only attached at the hockey hip, they are in business as well and, once again, have their dad, Gary Cranston to thank. Gary was a vice-president at Otter Tail Power in Fergus Falls for 28 years before growing tired of the corporate world. He cashed in his chips and started selling shaved ice and Scotch eggs at fairs and festivals. Joe went into business with his dad and they are at the Minnesota and North Dakota State Fairs, among other festivals. Joe’s been in the fair concession business since he first started at UW-River Falls. Matt has been selling blooming onions for 14 years at the exact same fairs as Joe.
“It pays a lot better than being a college or high school hockey coach,” said Joe. “Let’s just put it that way.”
“A lot of his girls and a lot of my girls come out to wherever we are,” said Matt/ “They work and make money and then we move to a new place.”
The Cranston brothers have close to 1,000 combined wins in college and high school hockey. Combined, they have 41 years of coaching for the same programs they each started. They both graduated from UW-River Falls and they spend just about every waking moment together in the summer selling concessions at state and county fairs. Two brothers and two best friends.
“It can’t get any more special,” said Matt.