New life: Wolverines proud to be a part of Hockeyville

CALUMET — Over the last couple of weeks, Sundays have taken on a new meaning in Calumet. Two weeks ago, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced that the home of the Copper Kings and Wolverines would be dubbed “Hockeyville USA.” A week later, the local senior men’s hockey team, the Wolverines, defeated the Portage Lake Pioneers in Game Three to win the Gibson Cup for a second year in a row.

In short, the hockey “gods” have seemingly looked with favor upon this tight-knit, hockey-crazed community. All the stars have lined up.

“For us (Calumet) to win Hockeyville is just awesome,” said Calumet native and Wolverines coach Bruce Coppo. “Here we are at the end of the world and we are being recognized nationally. The money that will come into the Copper Country surrounding the NHL game will be tremendous.”

Coppo, who has coached the Wolverines for 25 years, explained the the timing of the Hockeyville voting and the playing of the Gibson Cup could not have been better. The two events fed off each other perfectly.

First came Hockeyville. When online voting opened up at 7 a.m. on Saturday, March 30, Coppo and his team were on the road in Mosinee, Wisc. for the Great Lakes Hockey League (GLHL) championship tournament. However that did not deter him and his team from voting early and voting often.

“We were voting like crazy,” said longtime Wolverine player Mike Babcock. “Everybody was tapping away on their devices in the hotel and even in the locker room before our games that day. We rallied our social-media fans and told them to get out the vote. We have around 2,500 followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.”

While the Wolverines lost Saturday night in the GLHL semifinals, they returned home to the Upper Peninsula to learn that their hard work at the polls had paid off. Their home ice, the Calumet Colosseum, had just won the Hockeyville U.S.A. competition and had done so in grand style.

Coppo said that he had heard from the folks at Kraft (Hockeyville USA sponsor, along with the NHL) that the Calumet vote was off the charts in terms of numbers.

“They told me they’d never seen anything like it,” Coppo said. “In fact, it was the most votes that any arena or city had received since Hockeyville USA began several years ago.”

Then came the Gibson Cup – the season-ending rivalry series between Calumet and Portage Lake. The best-of-three series has been happening each spring since the late 1930s.

“The Gibson Cup is a big deal for our area,” said Wolverine captain Jeff Erkkila. “For those of us who grew up here, we watched our dads and uncles and older brothers talk about and play for the cup. We (as a team) all talked about how we needed to win the cup again this year so it will be here when all the activities are happening with the NHL game.”

Babcock recalled that before Game One at the Colosseum, Coppo pointed out in his pre-game locker room speech, that it would be an absolute shame if the team did not have the third oldest trophy in hockey available the weekend the NHL comes to town.

“It was definitely a motivator,” said Erkkila. “We wanted to make sure that the cup would be with us and that we had to win.”

Not only did the Wolverines get a pep talk from Coppo, but they also from the grandsons of John “Doc” Gibson, the Gibson Cup’s namesake. The brothers made the trek from Canada to enjoy the weekend tournament and shared some words of inspiration to both teams before Games One and Two.

All the fervor paid off as the Wolverines defeated the Pioneers 6-5 in Game Three on Sunday to keep the Gibson Cup in Hockeyville. It was Calumet’s second time in a row winning the trophy after losing in to the Pioneers for nine straight years previously.

Coppo and others also noted that winning Hockeyville just days earlier certainly made a difference in the atmosphere of the Colosseum a week later. The place was packed.

“We hadn’t seen that type of crowd for Wolverines hockey since the 1960s,” said Coppo who himself started playing for the Wolverines in the mid-1960s. “The news of Hockeyville just created a buzz in the Copper Country and everybody wanted to see what it was all about and the Gibson Cup coming the next week was perfect timing.”

With hockey season now over and the Gibson Cup in its rightful place, Babcock, Erkkila and Coppo all hope that a better buzz will take over the Calumet area. Their hope is that these two events will breath some life into the next generation of hockey players.

“Our numbers have dwindled a little bit over the years. Maybe this will create some activity that will get our kids back into hockey,” Coppo said. “When you have NHL teams coming into your neighborhood, it should generate some new interest.”