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Copper Country shows how special the area actually is

This past weekend, multiple sporting teams from schools all over the country descended on the Copper Country. In skiing, they were here for the U.S. Cross Country Championships. In basketball, the Ashland Eagles were in town to face the Michigan Tech Huskies for both men’s and women’s games. In hockey, the Brighton Bulldogs and the University of Detroit Jesuit Cubs were in town to face the Houghton Gremlins and the Calumet Copper Kings.

That makes for a whole bunch of extra traffic as teams and parents came to cheer each other on.

It was also a chance for the community we all know and love to show just special this area is.

The Copper Country is, by no means, an easy place to live. It snows seemingly six months out of the year with totals consistently reaching 200 or more inches. When it is not snowing, we like to joke that we just have six months of tough sledding. The truth is, while the summers are pretty, they tend to be warm, with humidity numbers seemingly near 90% or higher.

It takes a special soul to make it here.

We adopt all sorts of winter activities to help get us past the tough months. We ski, we snowmobile, we play outdoor hockey, we snowshoe, we race sled dogs. Some of us prefer the indoor sports of winter: basketball and indoor hockey. Those not into sports find themselves involved in statue-building or Heikinpaiva or any of a number of other activities.

We also look out for one another. That was never more prevalent than during the Father’s Day flooding in 2018, where police officers went above and beyond to attempt to save a child’s life; where neighbors helped each other dig their lives out of the mud and the muck that rolled down the hills in Ripley and Lake Linden; where still others helped their neighbors pick up the pieces of their lives off the road, where their house had settled in crumbled bits.

When I was growing up, I had no understanding of any of this. Having been born out of the area (Poughkeepsie, New York), I often felt like I could not get out of here fast enough. Unlike my friends and my teammates, I did not have family here, other than my parents and my brother. I was not surrounded by cousins. I did not have several brothers who had already been through the school system.

I had no real connection here.

Upon getting out of the area for college before coming back to finish up at Michigan Tech, I discovered the first traces of how this area had grown on me. From there, I chose to make my home here, helping out my mother, who has been through two rounds of breast cancer and still goes strong.

This past weekend, I spent several hours either at Dee Stadium or the Calumet Colosseum. Sure, I was there to cover high school hockey, helping out our sports editor. However, as I made the rounds in the rinks, I ran into people I have come to know and trust and enjoy the company of time and time again. It was wonderful to converse with all of them. They all carry a special place in my heart and remind me of why I love the game of hockey and find the community that surrounds the game so wonderful.

As special as it was to run into parents who have gotten to know me over the past several years, there was something else that caught my attention. When I was playing high school hockey for the Gremlins in the late 1990s, teams from the Detroit area did not come up to face the Houghtons, Hancocks and Calumets. Twenty-some years later, four or five teams from the metro area make the trek up to face what are consistently some of the top teams in D3.

I was interviewing Brighton coach Paul Moggach after his team’s 3-2 win over Houghton on Friday night, and he said something that I did not quite catch the moment he said it, but it became clear as I went back over the recording later that night.

“I told the boys before we came up here, and through the last couple of days, we will be a different team when we leave here,” he said. “That’s what it’s about. I mean, just being around good people, you know? Everybody around here is so kind and so nice, and they’re hockey people. It’s a hockey world and it just changes your whole view.”

I will point out I was asking him about what it meant for his club to make the trek to Houghton from Brighton, and his answer started with the above quote. He then followed that up by making another statement I have since found very interesting.

“The bonding is really important,” he said. “Just being part of the U.P. for a couple of days is really a blessing.”

Sure, he was focused on the hockey world, but Moggach’s thoughts really do extend to the greater community we have here in the Copper Country. We are all in this experience together, and we all are part of something very special here.

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