Gibson Cup starts Friday: A rivalry older than most

Eddie O’Neill/Daily Mining Gazette Calumet’s Rory Anderson battles for a puck in the corner with Eagle River’s Alex Kornely during a game earlier this season at the Calumet Colosseum.

CALUMET — It has been called the Stanley Cup of the North. It measures two feet in height and is 16 inches wide. It weighs around 12 pounds. There is even a documentary about it from Vice Sports.

It is also named after Hockey Hall of Famer John L. (Doc) Gibson who was a player/coach and hockey pioneer who organized the first professional hockey league. The league consisted of five teams back in 1904.

Two of those teams, the Calumet Wolverines and the Portage Lake Pioneers, both of whom play in the Great Lakes Hockey League (GLHL), will battle it out this weekend to take home the coveted Gibson Cup.

This end -of-the-season tradition between these two peninsula rivals has been going on since the late 1930s.

The puck will first drop in this best-of-three series Friday in the Calumet Colosseum, or “Hockeyville USA,” as it was appropriately labeled Sunday, and then at the Dee Stadium in Houghton on Saturday. Game Three, if necessary, will be back in Calumet on Sunday evening.

After nine straight years of losing the Cup, the Wolverines finally took it back in last year’s series. It sits tall in a customized trophy case in the lobby of the Colosseum for all the world to see.

“When you lift that cup, and you see the inscriptions on it, you know it is something special,” said Mike Babcock of the Wolverines, who has been playing for the coveted trophy since 2005. “It commemorates what is believed to be hockey’s oldest rivalry and the Gibson Cup celebrates that every year.”

Babcock said he has even heard from two of Doc Gibson’s grandchildren. They are planing on coming into town from Canada to take part in this weekend’s series.

He added that history is at stake here. While in the Copper Country hockey world, everybody knows each other and has grown up playing against one another, this weekend’s series takes on a whole new meaning. In short, friendships are placed on hold for the next three days.

“The hockey is intense and the hockey is real,” he said. “This is about a bunch of men who care more than they probably should about winning that cup and making their particular community proud.

“We could not win one game during the season, but as long as we win the Gibson Cup, it will make for a worthwhile season.”

He added that in the 10-plus years he has been playing for the Cup, the series has gone to a Game Three every time but once.

Cody Sivonen of the the Portage Lake Pioneers echoed a similar sentiment on the rivalry.

“The Gibson Cup means bragging rights all year long around here,” he said. “We want it back this year.”

Winning games has not been been a problem for Calumet this year. In fact, the Wolverines took first place in the regular season in the GLHL with a record of 12-4. However, they lost a week ago in the semifinals of the GLHL playoffs.

On the other side of the canal, the Pioneers struggled through the season as they went 5-11.

However, both sides agree that that is old news as Friday marks a whole new “season” of sorts.

Sivonen, who plays left wing for the Pioneers, said he and his team have been playing some of their best hockey as of late.

“We’ve really hit our stride over the last few games. Defense will be key for the us,” he said. “We’ve been focusing on our coverage in that end at our last couple of practices.”

On the other side, Babcock and the Wolverines are not worried. After all, they have had consistent scoring throughout the season from Rory Anderson and Logan Rastello.

“We’ve got a lot of talent this year and a lot of depth,” he said. “Hopefully we will take it in two.”

Either way, old-time hockey will take center stage this weekend in the Keweenaw Peninsula.