Copper Country Matters: Hockey History in the Keweenaw


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HOUGHTON, MI – It’s name is Houghton. Better known as the birthplace of professional hockey in North America. Where being able to ice skate at an early age is the norm and the passion of the sport runs deep with its people.

“Anytime that you do something you really enjoy doing, you usually get to be fairly knowledgeable about the sport or whatever the interest is,” says Bob Erkkila, Hockey historian.
Longtime Calumet resident Bob Erkkila has seen a number of players come and go, having played as a goalie as a young boy.
“It’s so ingrained, it’s like anything else- you know, it’s a tradition,” says Erkkila. “Kids grow up coming to the rink watching their older brothers and watching their uncles play and then they want to play, they start at 4 or 5 years old. In any real hockey community, that’s how it starts and that’s how it keeps going on- that tradition.”
Local entrepreneur James Dee and Canadian John ‘Doc’ Gibson, the founding father’s of professional hockey, would spring the idea of a professional league in 1904. Prestigious silverware, such as the MacNaughton Cup, made winning an incentive.
“The Portage Lake team actually won the U.S. Championship in 1904,” said Bill Sproule, professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Michigan Tech University. “They were challenged by a top team in Canada in a series. It was in Houghton and it was billed as the World’s Championship. Portage Lake won and a couple of months later, that’s when Dee and Gibson promoted the idea of a professional hockey league.”
As the oldest indoor ice hockey arena in North America, the Calumet Colosseum is still used by minor leaguers and the area’s high schoolers alike.
“We’ve got a lot of Canadians that come in with their kids to play junior hockey here, especially from the Sault area and sometimes from Thunder Bay, and they’re amazed when they look through this building,” says Erkkila. “It reminds them of the buildings that were up in Canada years ago and the pictures- they’re amazed and really shocked that we had such a high level of hockey here for so long.”
“And I think the same thing happens in other sports, whether it’s baseball or football, it’s the same passion you have,” said Sproule. “It is kind of a special game. I guess to my roots in Canada, but it is a special game.”

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