HANCOCK - Copper Country Oldtimers Hockey runs a six-team local hockey league, hosts a 30-team regional tournament, sends several teams to the 340-plus-team USA Pond Hockey National Championships and still manages to give back to the community.
Coordinating efforts on such a large scale, particularly through an all-volunteer organization, takes significant financial backing, and a new partnership with River Valley Bank will allow the Oldtimers to have an even bigger impact.
"River Valley is about community, and these guys are about community. Hockey is a big thing in the area, so it just made sense," River Valley Houghton Manager Kristina Coon said.
John Kivisto of The Red Team takes on Bruno’s Motors defenders Randy Stevens (3) and Pete Rouleau in the 2012 Copper Country Oldtimers Tournament March 17, 2012 at Dee Stadium.
The bank recently donated $3,000 to the Oldtimers - part of $35,000 in total community donations - which will be used to help send four teams to Wisconsin to compete in the pond hockey championships, and make the 30th annual Copper Country Oldtimers Tournament the best yet.
"It's a wonderful opportunity for our community organization, the Oldtimers, to partner with a corporate sponsor to promote not only a bunch of guys going to play hockey on Sundays drinking beer, but the other things that happen in the community and the economic impact of bringing at that time of year a whole bunch of people into the area for our tournament, and us being able to represent, under their name, this area and our league at a national-type tournament," said Brian Hannon from the Oldtimers.
Teams from the Copper Country Oldtimers Hockey league (ccoldtimers.com) play every Sunday morning October through March, usually at Houghton County Arena (Dee Stadium in the case of schedule conflicts). Now, as the calendar hits February, players from the league are preparing for the Feb. 8-10 Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships in Eagle River, Wis., and their 30th annual tournament the weekend of March 17.
Pond Hockey National Championships
Two years ago, just one local team, the Parkway Motors' 50-and-older team captained by Joe Marino, made the trek to Dollar Lake in Eagle River. All they did was come home with a championship.
Last year, Marino convinced two other local teams to join him. Bob Perreault's 60-and-older team won the championship in the inaugural year of that age group, and Lee DeForge's 40-and-older team placed second in its division. Marino guided his team, renamed Team Marino, to a second straight 50-and-older title.
This year, bolstered by River Valley's support and through some local connections with USA Hockey (like former Michigan Technological University Assistant Athletic Director for Communications and Marketing Dave Fischer, now senior director of communications for USA Hockey; and Manager of Adult Hockey Scott Aldrich), four teams from four different age groups will fight for championships in the four-on-four tournament, which is played on 28 outdoor rinks. The event, which started with just 40 teams in 2006, now has more economic impact on Eagle River than its World Championship Snowmobile Derby.
Perreault's River Valley/Monte team will try to defend its 60-and-older title, while Marino's River Valley Pioneers will shoot for the 50-and-older three-peat. Hannon's team, the River Valley Sharks (which uses San Jose Sharks jerseys borrowed through Copper Country native Mike Aldrich, the SJ equipment manager) will try for its first 40-and-older championship. Finally, Ryan DeForge will guide the River Valley Huskies' 30-and-older team in its first trip to the tournament.
"We have four divisions covered and we'll all have stickers on our helmets that say River Valley, and part of the funds will go to help our entry fee and us being able to represent the league down there and hopefully come back with four titles," Hannon said.
For more information on the Pond Hockey National Championships, visit usahockey.com and see "Adult" under the "Players" tab.
No matter how the teams fare in Wisconsin, members of the Copper Country Oldtimers will return home and gear up to host their own tournament in March, a week after hosting the championships from their regular season. In its 30 years, the tournament has grown from eight to 30 teams, and only ice time limitations at Houghton County Arena and Dee Stadium have prevented it from growing further.
"Right now we've basically outgrown the capacity of the rinks we have down here," Perreault said. "It's not that we can't have more teams. A lot of it is help and a lot of it is being able to put the teams on the ice."
Games already start from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. throughout the day for the 30 teams, about half of which come from out of town, and CCOH treasurer Ryan DeForge estimates the tournament brings between $40,000 and $50,000 into the community through hotels, restaurants, etc.
"The Oldtimers Tournament in March is a great event that is not only a lot of fun, but also provides a nice economic boost to the area as people travel from out of town. We're lucky to have people here that are willing to take time to organize these type of events," River Valley Calumet Manager Brian Donnelly said. "The Copper Country Oldtimers is an organization whose values align with our own in the way they support youth hockey and other causes here in the Copper Country."
The tournament itself costs about $25,000 to run for ice time, referees, etc., but community partnerships like the one with River Valley (rivervalleybank.com) allow it to continue on year after year.
"The biggest thing is (the River Valley donation) helps secure the league and the tournament for being around for a long time, because running a league like this is tough," DeForge said.
River Valley's donation, along with other sponsorships, doesn't just help the league run its tournament, it allows the Oldtimers to in turn give back to the community through donations of their own.
"For the last five years for the gate (proceeds) on Sundays whatever organization wants to come in and collect the money, that's gone to them," said Tom Pintar, from the Oldtimers.
Some of the previous donation recipients who have benefited from Oldtimers/corporate partnerships include local outdoor rinks like the KennerDome in Oskar, Laurn-Grove in Hancock and the West Houghton rink, with this year's slated to go to the Copper Country Junior Hockey Association. The Oldtimers have also funded emergency equipment such as defibrillators for local arenas.
"The Copper Country Oldtimers league does a lot that the community and people aren't aware of. I wasn't," said Coon.
According to one of the Oldtimers tournament organizers, Ducky Maki, it's pretty clear why partnerships work: "We're all one big hockey family."