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Legends: Linder a key part of trailblazing Pioneers

Joe Linder, of Hancock, poses with the 1903-04 Portage Lake Pioneers. That season, the Pioneers became the first team in professional hockey to win a world championship. (Portage Lake Hockey Photo)

There’s little question the Portage Lake Pioneers of the early 1900s were trailblazers.

After all, the Pioneers of that era claimed the title as the first champions of professional hockey.

But while J.L. “Doc” Gibson received the lion’s share of the credit for their success, there were plenty of other heroes.

There was goaltender Riley Hern, who gave up less than two goals a game.

Hod Stuart and Bert Morrison were prolific (57 and 70 goals) scorers in the 1904 campaign when the Pioneers posted a 23-2 record and won professional hockey’s first world championship against the Montreal Wanderers, who later won four Stanley Cups.

Another key player was Joe Linder of Hancock, the youngest member on the Portage Lake team at 18 years old.

Gibson, a keen judge of talent, spotted Linder while he was playing for the Hancock High School team.

“(Linder) was a natural,” Gibson told The Daily Mining Gazette. “He has all the tools you look for in a hockey player. He’s a fast skater and a tough player.”

Linder’s toughness was illustrated when he sustained a serious head gash injury during a game.

The wound became infected and he ended up in the hospital for a few days. But he recovered quickly and returned to the ice.

Linder played a big role for the Pioneers in their 1904 world cup series victory over the Montreal Wanderers.

After his experience with Portage Lake, Linder went on to play for several senior clubs.

One of those teams, the Duluth Hockey Club, defeated the Victoria Club of Winnipeg for the senior crown in 1914.

“Winning over (Winnipeg) was a big accomplishment for our team,” he told the media afterward. “They were the best competition in our class.”

It marked the first time an American team defeated a Canadian squad in the competition.

Linder went on to coach several senior teams and was also the mentor at Hancock.

During his earlier years at Hancock High, he also played on the Bulldogs football and baseball teams. He was voted team captain three years in a row in all three sports.

An article on hockey history in Esquire Magazine in 1942 listed Linder “as the first great American-born hockey player.”

Joe was active in coaching and sponsoring teams after his playing days were over.

Linder, who died in 1948, was named to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 1975, and to the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame in 2019.

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