Community hub: Local hockey players react to Hockeyville

CALUMET — For those who love hockey and play it as closely to year round as they can, Sunday’s news that the Calumet Colosseum won the 4th Kraft Hockeyville USA contest was akin to winning a championship. For a small, northern Upper Peninsula township like Calumet, winning the title, “Hockeyville,” is an affirmation that hockey is ingrained in the culture of those on the Keweenaw Peninsula.

The Colosseum, the oldest indoor ice arena in the world, is a quintessential “cradle to grave”-type ice arena in the fact that kids grow up and take their first steps on ice in the building, play their first organized hockey game on that rink, play their first high school on that rink, and then can play senior league or old timers on that ice the rest of their lives.

As some mentioned in their testimonials for the contest, the rink is also a community hub, where younger brothers and sisters grow up watching their older siblings play. Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles watch their children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews grow up on the Colosseum’s ice. The rink itself, especially when the Copper Kings are playing, transforms from what looks like a tiny airplane hanger into a loud, raucous barn where every hit, save, check and goal are cheered at the tops of fans’ lungs.

The Colosseum was actually up for Hockeyville during the first year of the contest, but did not end up winning that year.

Dylan Boberg, a recent graduate of Calumet High School, still skates at the Colosseum and he refs youth hockey throughout the Copper Country. He was excited to see NHL commissioner Gary Bettman make the announcement Sunday.

“It’s really pretty amazing,” said Boberg. “We were in the running for it a couple of years ago and did not end up coming out on top.

“It’s great for the community. It’s awesome how everybody just rallied around it. It’s going to be fun to see what comes next.”

That rallying support actually exists across the Upper Peninsula.

“My grandma has a bunch of friends in the Marquette area and they wanted us (to win),” said Isaac Avery, a Calumet High School graduate and a member of the Calumet Wolverines. “That’s just how the U.P. is. They see one of our teams or whatever it may be and they just get behind it. That’s pretty special.”

While the rivalries in youth hockey and high school are fierce, at the end of the day, the entire peninsula tends to identify with whichever team makes it to the state tournament, no matter the sport.

“It’s definitely heated between all the locals, but once you finally make it out, since it is so competitive, and you face the bigger teams from downstate, everyone is rooting for you,” Avery said. “You competed with them all year and you just want to see them do great things.”

The Colosseum, while being a hub for local hockey, is also steeped in hockey history, with some of the best players to come out of the area calling it their home rink growing up.

“It’s very deserving,” Boberg said. “It’s pretty cool growing up and seeing how much the rink has grown from the old, wooden boards, the short glass and everything else, to the new boards. The history that is in that building, it’s special. It’s nice to see that it is getting national recognition.

“I know a lot of people walk through that rink and see the jerseys and not think much of it, but if you actually look at those pictures, it digs deep into hockey history. There are some deep roots in that building.”

For Boberg, getting to know that his younger brother, who is growing up on the Colosseum ice currently, could get a chance to spend the rest of his life on the same sheet of ice that multiple professional players skated on.

“I actually told my little brother, the same rink that you play on, next year professionals are going to be playing on,” he said. “That is kind of nuts. It’s cool.”

Even for the “bigger kids,” knowing that you skated on the same rink as NHLers is something special.

“The rink is probably my favorite place in Calumet,” said Avery. “I have basically grown up in the rink. It’s going to be pretty cool to see that people who made it to ‘the show’ are going to play on the same rink where I put so much time into.”