Legends: Coppo a standout athlete who chose MSU over MacInnes, MTU
HANCOCK — By any measure, Mike Coppo was one local product who got away from Michigan Tech’s hockey program.
The late Hancock native was all but signed and sealed to play for Tech coaching legend John MacInnes.
“I had talked to John (MacInnes) and it looked pretty solid I was going there,” Coppo said in a 2006 interview. “But Rob Roy (then a trainer at Michigan State) convinced me to take a trip to East Lansing). I liked it down there, and when it came time to sign, I decided on State.”
Mike’s brother, Paul, had starred at Tech in the early 1960s, and that appeared to give the Huskies the inside track.
“Wherever Paul went, I went,” he recalled. “He taught me just about everything I learned about hockey. And sports in general.”
There was no high school hockey in the area back then, but Coppo was a standout in football at Hancock High.
He was also a member of the Dollar Bay VFW Bantam team that won a national championship in 1958.
That talented team included future MTU standouts Mike Gorman and Bruce Riutta. There were also four other Dollar Bay VFW players who went on to play college hockey.
Coppo made the most of his time at Michigan State, including being a member of the 1966 NCAA championship team.
To get into the tournament, MSU had to upset defending NCAA champ Michigan Tech into the postseason.
Tech, which was 27-4 and led by All-American goaltender Tony Esposito, was favored by everyone to advance to the finals.
Taking advantage of an inexplicable home ice edge, the Spartans shocked Tech by a 4-3 score.
Rick Yeo, a member of that MTU squad that season, said the Huskies were the better team.
“Heck, they were a .500 team during the season,” Yeo said. “But they played well at home … and that was just one game.”
Coppo, who died in 2019, had a goal and assist in the MTU game, stood out in the NCAA Final Four.
After a tough 2-1 victory over Boston University in the semifinals, MSU easily dispatched Clarkson by a 6-1 score in the title as Coppo scored two goals.
He was named to the all-tourney team for his efforts.
He went on to play for the Green Bay Bobcats for several years, where he had the chance to team up with his brother, Paul.
“It was the only time I got the opportunity to be on the same team with him,” he said. “Bruce Riutta, Fuzzy Frenette and Emery Ruelle were also there. It was a lot of fun.”