Oldtimers tournament returns for 38th season

Copper Country Cougars’ Hanna Impola shoots against Gino’s Restaurant defenseman Sarah Hockings during the 37th annual Copper Country Oldtimers hockey tournament at Dee Stadium on Saturday, March 19, 2022, in Houghton. (Eddie O’Neill/Daily Mining Gazette)

HANCOCK — With 37 teams made up of players from age 21 to over 60 descending on the Copper Country starting Thursday, the Copper Country Oldtimers Tournament will be in full swing for the 38th time in its history. Once a tournament that featured just a handful of teams, the Oldtimers tournament committee is excited to see so many teams entered this season.

“It’s like a heritage, you know?” said Tom Pintar, who is directing the tournament. “I mean, the thing has been going on 38 years, so to be able to be a part of it special. When it started, it was just a small little tournament. I don’t know how many teams they had, six teams or eight teams, and we’re up to 37.”

This is not the first time there have been this many teams involved, but it is exciting for everyone involved to get back to the area and play some hockey with old friends and family. Of course, to put on a tournament of this size, you need a lot of ice, so the Dee Stadium, the Houghton County Arena and the Calumet Colosseum will all see lots of action.

Pintar said that the tournament could not run smoothly without the help of volunteers, some are players from the Oldtimers Hockey League, others just simply want to chip-in.

“During the tournament, it gets difficult,” he said. “It takes a lot of volunteers to come, with the Oldtimers, to do it, and that can be hard at times.”

A committee of 10 or so members of the Copper Country Oldtimers Hockey League spend from November until the week of the tournament making sure everything is in place, from ice time, to entry door management, to score reporting, to providing food and drinks. Pintar has tried to start the setup process earlier than that, but usually that does not work as efficiently.

“It basically all starts sometime in November,” Pintar said. “I’ve tried starting it earlier and everything I’ve done from August, September, October, it’s all gone by January, with teams canceling and all kinds of stuff.”

The committee is always looking at the rules for the tournament every year, in an attempt to improve things wherever they can. This year, the focus was on tiebreakers.

This year, there are eight divisions, 21 and over, 30 and over Gold, 30 and over Silver, 30 and over Bronze, 40 and over, 50 and over, 60 and over, and Women’s. In the women’s division, there are six teams this year, which is exciting for the committee.

“Women’s hockey is popular, but it’s tough to implement it into a old man tournament like this,” said Pintar. “There is interest to play, and then you have to balance it all. You have three really solid hockey teams, and you have three beginner novice teams, and they’re gonna be playing against each other.”

Pintar said that during the team registration process, he talked to all of the teams to make sure that they understand the situation.

“I told the teams (to) find something in the weekend that is enjoyable for you,” he said. “If you’re a novice team, alumni team, for example, find something in that you admire in your opponent. These women that played college hockey, you get a chance to play against them, and they’re all nice people. Find something in the weekend to have fun with it.”

Having fun is a big reason why the Oldtimers tournament continues to be as strong as it is year after year. With teams in so many different age brackets, it is easy to find players who want to participate at every level, which adds to making the weekend special.

Last year, the championship game of the 21+ division featured 13 former NCAA Division I hockey players. For local hockey fans, and members of the other teams, getting to see players of that caliber perform in a wide-open style game can make special memories.

“It’s pretty awesome coming to the Houghton County Arena to watch the final game of the tournament and there’s 700-800 people in here,” said Pintar. “It’s like a college (game) almost. It’s pretty neat.”

Not only are former Division I college hockey players attracted to the tournament, but former National Hockey League players like Randy McKay have played in the tournament, as has NHL Hall of Famer Mickey Redmond, who played with a 60+ team last year.

While a number of players come from out of town to return to see their family and friends and also compete, there are also fans who come to watch the games as well.

“Guys love coming up,” Pintar said. “There is an older couple from Petoskey. They don’t even play hockey. They come up here to watch the 60 and over. They didn’t even know anybody on the team.

“I went to see Jet (Lucchesi) at the Dee Stadium the other day, and he said he got a phone call from this couple from Petoskey if the tournament was going on this year. They explained, ‘we love coming up here to watch that 60 and over division.’ They just come up here to watch those guys.”

Every year, Pintar says that his goal is that everyone has fun, and no one gets seriously injured over the course of the weekend.

“All it takes is one really, really bad injury, and then the weekend is messed up,” he said. “I don’t want to see paralysis, lost eyeballs, things like that.”

Pintar has been managing the tournament for the past 10 years, and he feels that this will probably be his last year at the helm. However, he has things in very good shape, thanks to the hard work of the committee around him, and he feels that he will be leaving the tournament in good hands moving forward.

Games will start at 6 p.m. at both the Houghton County Arena and at Dee Stadium on Thursday. On Friday, games start at noon at the Calumet Colosseum, 3 p.m. at Houghton County Arena and 4 p.m. at Dee Stadium. There are three marquee matchups taking place at Dee Stadium Friday starting at 5:20 p.m. with a 30 and over Gold game between Sarazin Dental and Rajala’s Kitchens.

Saturday, games at Houghton County Arena and Dee Stadium start at 9 a.m. with the final games of the day beginning at 8 p.m. In Calumet, games start at 5:40 p.m. with the final contest starting at 8:20 p.m.


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