Team Copper Country playing for more than a national title

Members of Team CC gather around their coaching staff during practice Tuesday. (Daver Karnosky/Daily Mining Gazette)

HOUGHTON — As the Team Copper Country 18U Tier 2 hockey team has returned from spring break and spent the week preparing for this weekend’s national championship tournament, three members of the group enter the weekend with the type of off-ice problems that playing a little hockey might be just the cure for.

Houghton’s Kevin Bostwick, Marquette’s Joe Phillips and Kingsford’s Daunte Fortner all have family members battling life-debilitating diseases. For Bostwick and Phillips, they each have a parent suffering from cancer. Fortner’s younger brother is dealing with scoliosis.

For the trio, having a five-day tournament where they and their teammates are looking to defend their title might be just what the doctor ordered.

“I know that hockey and being a part of a team is often a great support system,” head coach Micah Stipech said. “One of the parents even said that about last week’s tournament [the state playoffs in Marquette], that this is great for them right now.”

The elder Bostwick went in for a checkup recently and was told that he needed further testing as soon as the family could get to Wausau. The news that he was to be tested for a form of leukemia came just as the defenseman was preparing for Team Michigan tryouts last weekend.

Jon feels that hockey is exactly what his son needs right now while he waits for his treatment plan recommendation.

“As a family, we gave him a choice,” said Jon Bostwick, Sr., Kevin’s father. “I told him he earned that tryout and that he should go.

“I think everyone is just kind of fighting through it, to be honest. I told him that I don’t change anyone’s life … I am sure it is on his mind.”

Phillips, who joined Team CC this past fall, was looking forward to joining his new friends when his mother, Tracy, discovered a lump in a breast. After further testing, it was determined that Tracy, in fact, has breast cancer.

While she has done everything she can to convince her family that she is ready to fight, knowing that Joe has hockey and the support of his new teammates means a lot to the hockey mom.

“I think it’s great,” said Phillips. “I think that, right now, it’s a good time for all of this. It’s a nice distraction for him and it is a really good outlet.

“I am happy that he has that team and he has that support.”

Another new addition to Team CC this season, Fortner grew close to several teammates in the fall and was excited to play against his friends throughout the high school season. At the same time, he was keeping an eye out for his brother, Reese, a diminutive sophomore winger on one of the Flivvers’ other lines.

Reese was diagnosed with scoliosis in sixth grade, but that has not kept him from being Daunte’s workout partner, both in weight and hockey skills training. Seeing his younger brother suffer but work as hard as he was, drove the elder brother to work harder and keep an eye on his brother during games.

After the conclusion of the Flivvers’ season, the Fortners traveled to New Jersey for Reese to undergo a special surgery that should provide him the relief he has been searching for. He now has a goal for his senior year: to play for Team CC.

“The people of the Copper Country have just been amazing,” said Derek Fortner, the boys’ father. “We can’t say enough about them. For them to even consider talking about Reese, who is not even on the team, but would like to play there someday, for them to talk about him is amazing.”

All three families are grateful to the Team CC coaching staff and the players for rallying around their struggling teammates. The players will wear a sticker on their helmets that simply reads, “We are all,” with the initials R.F., T.P. and J.B. worked into the last letter of each word, respectively.

“You just don’t get that type of bonding with other sports,” Fortner said. “I don’t care what anybody says. It’s not in baseball, it’s not in football. Hockey is a different sport. It’s just amazing how it has transformed our lives here.”

Stipech echoed Fortner’s comments.

“Our slogan is ‘We are all Team Copper Country,'” he said. “Part of the reason was bringing our team together from all of these different schools. That slogan takes on a whole new meaning when you have teammates whose family members are going through tough stuff.”