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Sr. hockey continues rich tradition

December 22, 2011
Paul Peterson , For the Gazette

When the Calumet Wolverines and Portage Lake Pioneers face each other twice in the next week or so, it will mark the latest installment of the longest running sports series in the Copper Country.

Oh, the names have changed since the two old rivals first tangled early in the last century. But this is a series that has its roots deep in local sports tradition.

Hockey, as most diehards know, was introduced in Houghton by a group of dentists who were hired to take care of a growing number of miners in the area.

With the legendary John "Doc" Gibson running the show, the first Portage Lake teams were unbeatable for the most part. They are credited in many quarters with winning the very first Stanley Cup championship in 1904.

Calumet organized its first senior team a few years later with the "enlisted" help of some former Portage Lake players.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Over the past century, there have been a few gaps in the rivalry between Portage Lake and Calumet. But the Gibson Cup has been up for grabs by the two rivals in many years since the late 1940s.

Over the years, I've had the opportunity to talk to - and interview in some cases - some of the major characters in the long rivalry.

Local legends like Joe Bukovich and Bernie Ruelle of Portage Lake, Frank "Puppy" Gresnick and Fred Barry of Calumet, and many others.

The allure of the rivalry was such that it sometimes surpassed other athletic accomplishments of the players.

Butch Downey gained fame as an outstanding fast-pitch softball pitcher, but he cited his game-winning goal for Portage Lake in the 1969 Gibson Cup championship game as a highlight of his long athletic career.

And the late Leo Durocher, perhaps the finest all-around baseball player around here, often recalled his days as a defenseman for C-L-K and later the Copper Country Chiefs.

The late Rod Paavola was a member of the 1960 U.S. Olympic hockey team that won a gold medal. But Paavola, who later coached the Pioneers, said that winning the Gibson Cup rivaled that gold medal.

"I guess winning the Gibson meant a little more personally because it came against guys I had played against all my life," he said.

Bruce "Cukie" Coppo has been a player and coach for Calumet since the middle 1960s. He says the rivalry with Portage Lake has kept him going.

"I think the thing about it is that it's a good rivalry, not like some others you see in our league," Coppo said. "The two teams play hard but they play clean hockey."

Like all activities nowadays, finances are a major concern for the two local senior teams.

That's why any support they receive is much appreciated. After all, this is is the longest running sports show in town.



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