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The 2000s in Copper Country sports β€” Nos. 2-10

December 26, 2009
The Daily Mining Gazette

No. 2 - Calumet hockey dynasty continues

HOUGHTON - The rafters of Calumet Colosseum kept filling with banners in the 2000s, many of them provided by the Copper Kings.

The Calumet hockey juggernaut rolled to two more titles (2003 and 2008), the fourth and fifth in school history, and racked up the victories. Coach Jim Crawford climbed to second in the state list of wins by active coaches, with 446 midway though the 2009-10 season. His current mark of 446-204-16 is third all-time.

Calumet claimed the regional tournament at Michigan Tech five times this decade, including upset wins in 2008 and 2009.

In 2003, Calumet won a thrilling Division 3 semifinal over Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood on Jeff Erkkila's goal 3:54 into overtime.

Trailing in the third period of the championship game against Riverview Gabriel Richard, the Copper Kings finally broke through, as Brett Randell, Lorn Randell and Matt Helminen scored in the third period for a 3-1 win.

Just like the semifinal five years earlier, Calumet won its 2008 semifinal against Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central in the fourth minute of overtime - this time by Joe Hyrkas at 3:57.

Goaltender Tyler Junttila and forward Logan Rastello were the heroes in the championship game against Flint Powers Catholic. Junttila, whose hot hand Calumet rode throughout the tournament, made 32 saves in a shutout and Rastello scored 4:18 into overtime for the game's only goal.

Even when they were down, the Kings were tough to kill. After a rebuilding 2008-09 squad lost 18 regular season games, most in school history, the Kings ousted L'Anse and Jeffers, then shocked a high-flying Hancock squad 5-1 in the regional final before dropping an exciting quarterfinal to Big Rapids.

No. 3 - Tech men's basketball packs SDC

HOUGHTON - The SDC Gym was packed with an unprecedented electricity in a magical March of 2003, as Michigan Tech's men's basketball program had its best season in school history, culminating in hosting the Great Lakes Regional of the NCAA Tournament.

Already coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance the year before, coach Kevin Luke's Huskies went 25-2 in the regular season and reached No. 1 in the country in mid-February. Grand Valley St. used slowdown tactics to defeat the Huskies in the penultimate regular season game for Tech's only GLIAC loss, but the Huskies bounced back to win the GLIAC Tournament, defeating Ashland, Northern Michigan and Findlay in Houghton.

Tech was the first Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference school to host an NCAA regional, and attendance for the three sessions included the two largest crowds in SDC history.

Tech eliminated Indianapolis 90-75 in the quarterfinals before a sellout crowd of 3,570. Five Huskies finished in double figures, led by 24 points from Jason Marcotte.

Before 3,612 in the semifinals, the Huskies were upset 74-71 by Southern Indiana. J.T. Luginski had a game-high 22 points, but missed a potential game-tying three at the buzzer.

In addition to their team accolades, the 2002-03 Huskies featured consensus All-American and two-time GLIAC Player of the Year Matt Cameron.

No. 4 - Prep seasons change

HOUGHTON - Ending a legal saga spanning most of the previous 10 years, the Michigan High School Athletic Association finally relented and switched several high school sports seasons to comply with a lower court ruling on grounds of gender equity.

A group of Grand Rapids-area parents known as Communities for Equity sued the MHSAA in 1998 alleging that the alignment of girls' volleyball in the winter was among several season arrangements discriminatory to female athletes and cost them opportunities for exposure to college recruiters.

After the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the MHSAA's appeal on April 2, 2007, the MHSAA implemented a plan that moved volleyball into the fall and girls' basketball to winter, among other changes.

In a region that already had two major winter prep sports, the move was especially challenging. Both the WestPAC and Copper Country conferences set a plan in which boys' basketball games are played on Mondays and Thursdays in the first half of the season, then flip-flop with girls to play Tuesdays and Fridays in the second half.

Meanwhile, volleyball has earned increased exposure with less competition in the fall season.

No. 5 - Tech's women's hoops run goes to San Antonio

HOUGHTON - Michigan Tech's women's basketball team went on a tremendous run in the 2009 postseason, reaching all the way to the Elite Eight in San Antonio, Texas.

Coach John Barnes' Huskies won their first 15 GLIAC games and reached No. 8 in the country before losing three games in February and slipping to No. 20.

Tech still claimed the No. 1 seed in the GLIAC Tournament and hosted the semifinals and finals at the SDC Gym for the second consecutive year. However, back-to-back league crowns were not to be, as Hillsdale's Katie Cezat led the Chargers to a big early lead. The national player of the year had 36 points and 16 rebounds in Hillsdale's 81-69 win.

Tech still earned the fourth seed in the Great Lakes regional at Highland Heights, Ky. and dispatched Northwood in the quarterfinals before a shocking and thorough 76-53 domination of hosts Northern Kentucky, the No. 1 team in the country.

Tech stopped Indianapolis 69-52 for a berth in the Elite Eight at San Antonio before falling 61-53 in the national quarterfinals to eventual national champions Minnesota State, Mankato.

Still, the loss had a silver lining - all but one player returned for the ongoing 2009-10 campaign.

No. 6 - Gremlins crowned Class C girls' hoops champs

HOUGHTON - The Houghton girls' basketball program under coach Julie Filpus has dominated the decade, winning every district tournament and WestPAC regular season championship held.

But the crowning achievement of the Gremlin dynasty came in 2005, when Houghton took home the Class C state crown. After ousting Hancock and Calumet in districts, then Iron Mountain and Negaunee in regionals, the Gremlins defeated Kingsley 60-47 in Petoskey for a berth in the semifinals at East Lansing's Breslin Center.

Houghton bounced Olivet 61-46 in the semifinal, setting up a match-up with Michigan Center in the Dec. 3 championship game.

The Gremlins rallied from 24-14 down at halftime to take the lead early in the fourth quarter and sealed it by making 17-of-21 free throws in the fourth quarter en route to a 50-44 win. Alyssa Polso led the way with 22 points and 12-for-14 free-throw shooting.

No. 7 - Tech hockey suffers in worst decade of program's history

HOUGHTON - The 2000s didn't start off well for Michigan Tech's hockey program, and only rarely got better, as the Huskies lost more than 60 percent of their games.

After finishing the worst season in school history (1999-2000) with a 4-34 record, coach Tim Watters resigned in November 2000 after Minnesota State, Mankato swept the Huskies in Houghton. Mike Sertich took over for the next two-and-a-half years, but the program never climbed above ninth in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association standings.

After Sertich's retirement, Cornell assistant coach and Tech alumnus Jamie Russell took charge for the 2003-04 season, and after three years of struggles, the Huskies broke through in 2006-07, posting their first winning record (18-17-5) since 1993 and defeating Colorado College in a playoff series to earn the program's first WCHA Final Five berth since 1996.

With many of the key players coming back, hopes were high for the following season, but fizzled early, and the program has not approached those accomplishments since.

No. 8 - Finlandia athletic program grows

HANCOCK - After its establishment late in the 1990s, Finlandia University's athletic programs grew steadily throughout the decade, which included two national tournament championships and the admission of the school to NCAA Division III status.

In 2001, the Finlandia men's basketball team defeated Southern Virginia College 98-84 to win the National Small College Athletic Association title and in 2005, the women's basketball team won the United States Collegiate Athletic Association tournament.

The program expanded its offerings to 12, including men's and women's hockey, and has designs on even more expansion in the future: A football program is slated to debut in 2012, playing at a renovated Condon Field complex that will house several of FU's athletic teams.

No. 9 - Calumet leads Copper Country to volleyball prominence

CALUMET - At the beginning of the decade, prep volleyball teams in the Upper Peninsula had yet to play in a full-state tournament.

By the end of the decade, Copper Country squads were leading the charge downstate toward the top of Michigan's pecking order.

Chief among these pioneering programs was Calumet, which became the first U.P. team to play for a state volleyball championship after a 2008 semifinal win at Battle Creek against Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central. A championship was not to be, as Schoolcraft swept the Copper Kings in the Class C title match.

Houghton, Hancock and Lake Linden-Hubbell also made deep tournament runs in the decade.

No. 10 - Hometown hero: Finger makes it to NHL

HOUGHTON - One of the nation's most fervent hockey hotbeds returned a native son to the National Hockey League after a gap of 68 years.

Jeff Finger, born in Hancock and raised in Houghton, started the decade with three seasons at St. Cloud State in the WCHA before toiling through almost four full seasons in the minor leagues.

However, he made his NHL debut with the Colorado Avalanche in a Feb. 20, 2007 game against Calgary. A week later, he recorded his first assist, and then his first NHL goal, March 1 against the Chicago Blackhawks. Finger consolidated his spot in the NHL over the following season, then signed a lucrative four-year contract with Toronto in July of 2008.



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