Legend: Riutta had talent to reach NHL
HANCOCK — He had enough talent to potentially reach the National Hockey League.
But late Hancock High product Bruce Riutta chose another path after athletics and it was one he was familiar with.
Riutta, a standout at Hancock High in football, excelled in that sport. Former Mining Gazette sportswriter Dick Loranger recalled in an interview a few years ago in which he said the 6-foot-3, 185-pound Riutta was capable of throwing a tight spiral.
“He could put the ball out there,” the late Loranger said. “Of course, passing the ball wasn’t used as much as it would be later ….but he was effective. He was a very good athlete.”
But it was in hockey where Riutta made his mark.
He first became a household name in 1960, when he helped the Dollar Bay VFW team capture the national Bantam championship.
Coached by Earl Gorman, the team had some of the finest young talent in the Copper Country.
In an interview in 2001, Riutta recalled the team, which defeated a team a strong Boston area team in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“We were pretty good. Mike Coppo played at Michigan State and Tom Gorman and I went on to play at Michigan Tech,” he said.
MTU’s legendary coach John MacInnes was quick to notice the talent in his backyard and recruited both.
Calling Riutta, “the finest defenseman I ever coached,” the late MacInnes cited his steadiness.
“You always knew where he (Riutta) was going to be. He was a stay-at-home kind of defenseman.”
Playing with players like Tony Esposito, Rick Yeo and Gary Milroy made his job easier.
“Our goaltending was so good,” he said. “If the other team beat our defensemen, they had to get past Tony (Esposito) or Rick Best. Heck, they both made All-American.”
Tech won the 1965 NCAA championship behind that array of talent.
Riutta, Milroy and and Yeo also gained All-American honors in their careers.
For the Hancock product, college was just the beginning of his hockey career.
He was a member of the 1968 U.S. Olympic hockey team that competed in Grenoble, France.
“It was the greatest thrill I ever experienced in athletics,” he said. “Having the chance to compete for your country is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Riutta was also a member of the U.S. National team between 1969 and 1971. One of his teammates was Herb Brooks, who would later coach at the University of Minnesota and who led the 1980 U.S. Olympic team that stunned the USSR squad in the famous “Miracle On Ice.”
“Herb Brooks was a very intense guy,” he recalled. “It didn’t surprise me that he got those kids to play that way.”
Bruce worked with his father, Emil, in the family’s coal business as a youngster. His Dad had been a pretty fair hockey player, himself. playing the Michigan College of Mines (MTU) in the 1930s.
Riutta, who drew some offers from some NHL teams, instead formed the Upper Great Lakes Coal Co. in Green Bay.
Riutta helped organize the Green Bay Bobcats, a team he played for between 1969 and 1975.
He was also instrumental in getting high school hockey going at Ashwaubenon, Wisconsin, in that period.
Riutta was later inducted into both the Michigan Tech Sports Hall of Fame and the U.P. Sports Hall of Fame.
He passed away in 2012.