Welcome to pro hockey’s home: Signs welcome visitors to Houghton’s history
HOUGHTON — The signage that welcomes travelers to “Houghton — the Birthplace of Professional Hockey” on the town’s city limits can be attributed to Dr. William Sproule, professor emeritus at Michigan Tech University, along with his extensive research on local hockey history.
1903-04 was the inaugural year of the shorted-lived International Hockey League (IHL) which featured five teams of paid professional players.
“In 2004, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of professional hockey here in the area,” said Sproule. “I got together with the city manager at the time and told him what I had discovered. He was excited about the story, and we planned a big centennial celebration. That’s when the signs went up, and we had a whole weekend of hockey related activities.”
Sproule said the weekend included the arrival of the Stanley Cup, talks and presentations.
“The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was even here,” he said. “It was a big deal.”
He said he is looking forward another big weekend coming up in September when the NHL and Hockeyville USA will roll into Calumet.
“It will be fun,” he said. “It will be a great boost to our area.”
Sproule noted that not all hockey die-hards accept Houghton as the “official” birthplace of professional hockey.
“There is a guy in Pittsburgh, that claims his town is the birthplace,” said Sproule. “And while he says that there were paid hockey players in a league there before here, they were paid with the promise of good jobs and a stipend to play hockey on the side. The pay was minimal and the players were more semi-pro than professionals. In the IHL here, the players were openly paid good money to play hockey and that’s all they did. It is a good ongoing debate we have; all in good fun.”