An outsider’s opinion: Copper Country transplant offers his thoughts on Hockeyville

HANCOCK — The Copper Country has a way of growing on people who visit. Once they get here and find a group of people to join, they tend to stay and never look back, integrating themselves as best they can. One such individual is Finlandia University’s director of marketing and communications, Michael Babcock.

Of course, it helps that Babcock plays hockey for the Calumet Wolverines.

When first asked about what his take was on the Calumet Colosseum, where the Wolverines play their home games, being named Kraft’s Hockeyville USA for 2019, all Babcock could do was laugh.

Once he collected himself, he then went on to discuss the incredible amount of history in the building, which is the oldest indoor rink in operation in the world.

“I think that the history and the presence that you feel in the Calumet Colosseum, it was too much for the people at Kraft and NBC to ignore,” he said. “They were excited to get us on there, despite the fact that there had been somebody else in our region (Eagle River, Wisconsin, sits less than two hours away). That gave us a chance.”

People across the Upper Peninsula banded together to help vote for Calumet’s entry into the contest, something that Babcock says did not surprise him.

“I am not surprised in the slightest at how amazing the community was for doing what they did and getting out and voting,” he said. “People mashed away on their keyboards and their phones all weekend in the way yoopers do to get behind their community and help it.”

Born and raised in Minnesota, Babcock came to the Houghton area to play Midget AAA hockey for the Ojibwa Eagles and found himself a place he could call home. On Sunday, he closed out his 14th season with the Wolverines.

He has enjoyed getting the chance to stay in the area and play senior hockey, something, he said that attracted him into staying.

Of course, getting a chance to compete in some of the local rivalries helps as well, rivalries that are real in the moment they are playing out, but also get pushed aside quickly for someone in need.

“It’s really fun to see how communities are so close and have, especially when you look at sports, there’s hatred between high school rivalries,” he said. “There’s rivalries between all of the youth sports between Calumet and Houghton and Hancock and L’Anse. Those rivalries are real, but it’s amazing that with the ability to help one another, those rivalries just don’t matter. Everybody is going to jump behind the people around them to help out.

“That’s what doesn’t exist in a lot of other places. I grew up in the Twin Cities, and if the arena I grew up at was up for this, my community would have been 100 percent behind it, but the community a few miles down the road, would have completely ignored it. They wouldn’t have cared. It just doesn’t exist the way that it does in the U.P.”

The Colosseum, and to an extent, the Dee Stadium in Houghton and the Houghton County Arena in Hancock, acts as a community hub where kids grow up watching their brothers and sisters play hockey or figure skate. Babcock is proud to know that kids can grow up in Calumet and learn the game on the Colosseum’s ice, they can then mature on that ice and eventually play for the Copper Kings and, if they want to continue to play, the Wolverines might have a spot for them after high school, should they stick around the area.

“In all these towns, the arenas are really that (community hubs),” he said. “They provide a venue for any number of activities that take place. Everybody has memories, whether they play hockey or figure skate or don’t do anything like that. They still have memories of going to these places for important events in their lives.

“That’s why this is going to be so meaningful to the whole community.”

Babcock sees that the community’s economy will also benefit from something as positive as Hockeyville.

“It isn’t just the hockey community that will benefit from this,” he said. “Everybody who wants to find a good wedding venue is going to benefit from having that place improved. Everybody in the community is going to benefit from having two NHL teams here.”