Grant Clafton experienced his share of high points during a five-year run as Greenway boys hockey head coach.
But none were as memorable as the 2018-19 team’s rise from the ashes in reaching the Class A state championship game.
“That whole season was a highlight of my playing and coaching career, no question about it,” Clafton said by phone Monday.
The 37-year-old’s stay in Coleraine ended Wednesday when the school board accepted his resignation.
Clafton, a 2001 graduate of neighboring rival Grand Rapids, was 90-48-2 with the Raiders, though had his worst season this past winter in going 13-13-1.
Despite the overall success, Clafton said the nonstop grind of high school hockey took its toll.
“In the summertime, when you are getting ready for a season, ordering equipment or organizing summer hockey camps, that stuff wears on you,” he said. “It really was overwhelming … and just wore on me over the last five years. It’s just good to take a step back and let somebody else take it over.
“It’s a job that requires 150% effort. As a player, you want your coach to be giving 150% and as a coach want your players to be giving 150%. So if you can’t match that, you can’t expect your players to match that.”
Clafton is pitching for assistant coach Andy Sertich to take over.
“I think he’s ready for it,” Clafton said. “That’s another reason for (stepping down). Andy is really invested in the youth program and has kids in the program. He’s a Greenway guy and it makes a lot of sense for the program to go in that direction.”
Sertich and fellow assistant Adam Johnson were part of that team two years ago that overcame a dismal start to win 11 straight games, including a double-overtime win over powerhouse Hermantown in the Section 7A final followed by two state tournament victories. The Raiders fell 5-2 to St. Cloud Cathedral in the final.
“The state tournament experience was awesome, but for me, the best thing was seeing the kids succeed by battling adversity after not meeting expectations (early in the season) but never quitting and working hard,” he said. “Seeing their hard work and positive attitudes pay off for them really capped off the rebuilding process Greenway has gone through the past 10 years.”
Clafton, who has spent the last 10 years selling medical devices for Arthrex, has yet to inform all of his players of his resignation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He did give them a heads up at the end-of-the-season meeting.
Clafton thanked his assistants and the community for their unending support, though he won’t be a stranger to area rinks. He expects to rejoin youth hockey at some point and will continue to coach in the Fall Elite League.
“If someone asks me to help out in youth hockey in the area, I’d do something like that,” he said. “I haven’t made any concrete decisions.”
Perhaps one day that will include coaching his son. Noah, Clafton’s first child, was born Saturday morning.