Opportunity knocks: Local kids get chance to see Red Wings, Blues during preseason contest

David Archambeau/Daily Mining Gazette Kids, along with community members, look on as Portage Lake’s Aaron Sturos attempts to tip a puck past Calumet’s Ryan Patrick during Game One of the Gibson Cup series at the Calumet Colosseum.

HANCOCK — With the recent announcement by the NHL that Calumet had won the Kraft Hockeyville USA contest, one of the biggest questions, outside of where would the NHL preseason game will be played, that needed answering was who would be participating.

One team seemed like an obvious answer, the Detroit Red Wings. Their opponent, much less so.

The San Jose Sharks approached the league, given the fact that their equipment manager, Mike Aldrich, is from the area, which they felt made them a natural choice. However, the league had other ideas.

Instead, as announced Tuesday, the Red Wings, who are, in fact, involved, will be playing the St. Louis Blues in an old Norris Division rivalry matchup.

No matter who ended up in the matchup, people in the Copper Country know it will mean a lot to have professional athletes spend a couple of days locally.

“I think it is great for the community,” said Finlandia men’s hockey coach Joe Burcar. “I think the Hockeyville is a pretty amazing thing for small town rinks.”

What strikes Burcar heavily is the sheer volume of community support the Copper Country, and really the entire Upper Peninsula, had to bring Hockeyville to Calumet.

“You see the community support, the voting of the area and the U.P.,” Burcar said, “it even extended past the U.P. for this community to win an event like that.”

Burcar is also excited for the area’s young hockey players, who will have a chance to see their heroes take the ice locally.

“I think it’s great for the youth,” he said. “It’s great for hockey in general. It’s great for the community it general. It’s such a boost.

“I think it is something that, for a lot of people, it’s going to be the memory of a lifetime. It’s nice to hear that the NHL, (during) their skates in the morning, they really want to see the youth at the rink. I think this is something that they are going to see it firsthand and it’s going to be surreal to a lot of people. I think a lot of people don’t have an opportunity to get to a Detroit or wherever they may be playing, so this is just an opportunity of a lifetime to create great memories for a lot of different people. It’s going to be a pretty special week.”

A former local hockey player turned coach, who left the Copper Country and helped build the hockey community in Anaheim, California, before an opening with the Lions drew him back, Burcar believes that the U.P. holds a special place in the United States hockey culture. After all, Detroit’s head coach is from the eastern end of the peninsula.

“We grew up with that sport,” he said. “We know people there. Jeff Blashill’s from Sault Ste. Marie. I have worked with him in the past. It’s funny that as much as we watch him on TV, now we are going to see him in our backyard, which is surreal.”

Burcar, like many people, is excited by the matchup, given that the two teams have a deep-rooted history with each other.

“It’s funny, because when I first came back from California, my mom got two tickets to the Hockeyville in Marquette. It was Carolina and Buffalo (in the game). I knew the coaches for Buffalo, but it’s not the same as Detroit Red Wings and the St. Louis Blues, which is an old rival for them, which makes it even more special for the community.”

The Blues have a connection to the Copper Country in defenseman Mitch Reinke, who is playing for their American Hockey League (AHL) club, the San Antonio Rampage. Reinke was recently named to the AHL’s All-Rookie Team after setting club records for goals (11), assists (32), points (43), and power play goals (8), by a defenseman.

Given that the Copper Country was hit last Summer with a tremendous amount of rain, causing flooding, and that tough weather was followed by a very hard-hitting Winter season in terms of snow, Hockeyville might be coming at just the right time for the area.

“You talked to people as the vote was going on…the people here to Marquette to the Soo to Ironwood to Iron Mountain, everybody somehow just pulls together or goes out of their way to support one another,” Burcar said. “It just reminds me of last summer, where everybody pulled together in devastation. In something like this, they pulled together in a good time.

“It just shows the support, (from) the people who have ties here that voted. It’s just a friendly reminder of how special this place is.”

“I think the timing of this could not be better,” said Burcar, “for an area that has been impacted by such a devastation last Summer. We pulled together and we are still fighting. We are going to see growth this Summer by fixing so much of the damage that was created last Summer.

“I think it is a great boost. I don’t know if there is a better word for that right now. I think it is just such a positive boost for the community to have something like that.”