Peterson: Recalling a special year

It’s hard to believe that 40 years have gone by since the spring of 1981.

I was watching some of the St. Cloud State-Massachusetts NCAA hockey championship game over the weekend when it struck me how fast the years have flown by since.

In April of 1981, I was just returning from Duluth, Minn., with the late Tom LaJeunesse. We had just covered the Final Four, which featured Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

It was a good solid tournament with all the entrants coming from the Upper Midwest in the old days when the WCHA was the true hockey power in the nation.

It would also be the last Final Four (now the Frozen Four) for Tech and its legendary coach John MacInnes.

MacInnes had made a habit of bringing his teams to the event over the years, winning three national crowns and coming in second several times.

But things didn’t go well for the physically ailing MacInnes and his team that year. They dropped an opening 7-2 decision to Minnesota before defeating NMU in the consolation game.

It was also the first NCAA hockey event covered by a new sports channel, ESPN.

I remember sitting next to ESPN hockey analyst Tom Mee in the press box, and fielding questions about the Huskies gloried past.

The sports scene in the Copper Country was going through a particularly good stage at the time.

High school hockey — started a decade earlier — was producing several strong teams.

In addition to a Houghton’s state title a year later, Hancock would add another two a few years later. And Calumet High would begin a very impressive run with six state crowns over the years.

Ron Warner was putting together a football dynasty at Lake Linden-Hubbell, eventually winning two state championships and coming close a few more times.

Basketball was also very strong in 1981, with Dollar Bay, led by the late Jim Bronczyk, a dominant force.

There were legendary local names on the scene in multiple sports back then.

Names like Klingbeil, Givens, Filpus, Hauswirth, Sawicky, Pomroy, Kentala, Markham, Frantti and many others were on the sports pages.

I was in my second year as sports editor at the Mining Gazette. I had the opportunity to watch some of the finest athletes ever produced here.

Many of my colleagues and coaches from that era have retired or passed away. But the year, 1981, still sticks in my memory.

As I reflect on it, it was a true privilege to have written about those teams and players.


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