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It runs in the family

Joe Bukovich, like brother Tony, an athlete worth remembering

July 27, 2012
By Paul Peterson - For the Gazette , The Daily Mining Gazette

PAINESDALE - The late Joe Bukovich spent a good part of his athletic career in the shadow of a more famous brother.

But he was an above average athlete in his own right, playing hockey and baseball for three decades.

However, older brother Tony garnered a good deal of the newspaper headlines for his play, which included a short stint with the Detroit Red Wings.

He was also a pitcher in the Brooklyn Dodgers minor league system and was later inducted into the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame.

Tony, who scored a goal in his first shift with the Red Wings, lost his roster spot when the Red Wings brought up a promising newcomer by the name of Gordie Howe in 1947.

The late Frank "Puppy" Gresnick played many years for Calumet senior hockey teams. That career included many games against the Bukovich brothers, who were playing for the archrival Portage Lake Pioneers.

In an interview in 1996, Gresnick said that Joe Bukovich was a "solid hockey player who probably didn't receive the credit he should have."

"Tony (Bukovich) was a tremendous skater who had the hardest shot I've ever seen around here," Gresnick noted. "But Joe Bukovich did a lot of the dirty work, working in the corners and setting up his teammates. He was an important part of their team, no question."

Brother Mike also played for the Pioneers - giving the Painesdale family a trio of players on the ice at one time.

Growing up in Painesdale in the 1930s, Joe and his siblings were on the ice almost from morning to night.

"All of the kids used to get up early in the morning so that we could shovel off the ice rink," Tony recalled in a 1998 interview. "It's not like today when the kids expect the rink to be ready for them."

The youngsters played until they were called inside by their parents, usually around 9 or 10 p.m.

"It was that way everywhere in the Copper Country back then," Gresnick recalled. "There was nothing else going (on) .... we figured we might as well play hockey."

Joe Bukovich got his start with the Painesdale Pontiac Chiefs at the age of 16. He moved up to the Painesdale Panthers Athletic Club the following season, helping his team win the coveted MacNaughton Cup in 1937.

He followed that up with a stint with the Fort Worth Rangers of the American Hockey Association in the 1941-42 season. But the league folded the next season because of World War II.

He returned to the ice for the 1945-46 campaign with the Los Angeles Monarchs.

After playing the next season with the Duluth Coolerators (brother Mike was also on the team), he returned to the area.

Teaming uip with his two brothers, he helped Portage Lake win the Gibson Cup in 1948.

In a memorable 1951 playoff win against the Marquette Iron Rangers. Tony accounted for eight goals and an assist. Joe chipped in four assists in the 12-2 outcome, again playing his supporting role to the hilt.

After retiring from the Pioneers in 1955, he helped out new Michigan Tech coach John MacInnes. Serving as an unofficial assistant coach, he earned the respect of the legendary MTU skipper.

"He was a very knowledgeable hockey man," MacInnes told the Daily Mining Gazette. "He was a big help to our program."

Also a solid baseball performer, Joe played infield for the South Range Rangers of the old Northern Wisconsin-U.P. League.

"Tony did the pitching most of the time and played some shortstop," noted the late Wally Savela of Tapiola. "But Joe was a fixture in the infield with his glove. He was also a very good hitter."

Joe Bukovich turned to the skate-sharpening business after his playing days ended and also served as mentor for many younger players.

After his death in 2007, the Joe Buk Memorial Tournament was started, pitting four high school teams together at Dee Stadium every season.

His brother Tony often said that Joe was "one of the most underrated hockey players ever to play around here."

"He was an unbelievably fast skater .... and he really knew how to play the game."

And who would have known better?

 
 

 

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