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Pigs outskate heat in annual charity hockey game

The law enforcement and fire departments teams pose after the Pigs-N-Heat fundraiser on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020, in Houghton, Mich. (Adam Niemi/The Daily Mining Gazette)

HOUGHTON — The John MacInnes Student Ice Arena was the place to be Saturday eveningn for a night of family fun. On center stage was the annual Pigs-N-Heat hockey game, the annual charitable hockey game between local law enforcement and fire and rescue workers drew close to 5,000 spectators and raised more than $15,000 for The Copper Country Police and Fire Relief Fund.

While the Pigs, the law enforcement squad, came out on on top with a 10-8 victory, the real winner was the emergency relief fund that this game supports each February.

“This is a great event that helps many people in our community. The funds raised here help people with immediate needs after a fire or needs dealing with a crime,” said Annette Butina of the Adams Township Volunteer Fire Department.

Butina, who sang the National Anthem, added that she has been involved with this event since its early days more than 25 years ago.

Erin Pizzi of Superior National Bank, and a board member of the Copper Country Police and Fire Relief Fund, echoed a similar sentiment.

“This night means a lot to me because I have family members in both (fire and law) professions,” she said. “It’s great that we are able to give back to the community in their time of need.”

As the hockey rivalry unfolded on the ice, games and face paintings for kids were going on throughout the concourse. As well there were more than 125 items being raffled off in a silent auction. There was a 50/50 drawing and several special raffles that included firearms and cash prizes.

“This is our biggest fundraiser, and everybody likes to see the ‘B’ teams on the ice,” said Christina Verran, secretary of the fund’s board.

The ‘B’ teams consisted of those first responders who were either just beginning their hockey careers or resurrecting it after many years away from the game, think junior varsity at best. They played the first period while the more experienced players of the ‘A’ teams took over for the remaining two periods.

Among the ‘B’ skaters for the Heat was Jason Swain a near 20-year veteran of the United States Coast Guard stationed in Dollar Bay. He was one of four Coast Guard members who made their debuts in this year’s Pigs-N- Heat battle.

It was Swain who put the Heat on the scoreboard first with an opening goal.

“The puck came to me just inside the blue line, and I took a shot, and it went in,” he said.

He added that it had been quite a while since his playing days as a youth, but he and his fellow co-workers worked out the kinks with some lunch-time practices at the outdoor rink in Dollar Bay over the past month.

“We had to see if we could still skate,” he said laughing.

After one period of play, the Heat were up 4-1. However, while the two teams would trade goals over the next 40 minutes, the Pigs were able to take a two-goal lead at 10-8 in the waning minutes of the third and hold on to victory.

Wade Hanke, of the Houghton County Police Department, had a hat trick in his team’s winning effort. This was his third year playing in this event. He thanked the heads-up play of his teammates for his three tallies.

“We came out with good energy and played well together,” he said. “My guys knew where I was and they hit me with the passes.”

City of Houghton Police Chief John Donnelly took much of the credit for his squad’s last-minute resurgence.

“Late in the game, I benched myself and we went from two goals down to two goals up in three minutes,” he said with a smile.

Brian Lasenen, a conservation officer with the local Department of Natural Resources said that this was his eighth or ninth year partaking in the event as a member of law enforcement. The 2004 Calumet High School graduate had two assists and a goal on the night. He summed the night the best way anyone could

“This is a fun community event and the money goes to a great cause,” he said.

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