Three games in three days finds us in Houghton, MI, home of the third and last GLHL team in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the Portage Lake Pioneers. And while Calumet, MI has the distinction of having the oldest operating indoor ice rink in the world, Houghton owns a different claim to fame: The Birthplace of Professional Hockey.
How so? I’ll let the signage do that talking.
There you go, the first league of paid players started up here in Houghton, MI. Who would have guessed? The New York Times did a story on Houghton, focusing on Michigan Tech last season. It’s a good read.
Michigan Tech plays at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena on the Michigan Tech campus. But we are taking in the Portage Lake Pioneers game at Dee Stadium, the seventh oldest ice arena in the world.
The Dee was built in 1927 after the Amphidrome, built in 1902, burned to the ground. If you’re interested in the history of hockey in the area, and the arenas that are up here, the Copper County Hockey History website is a valuable resource.
Everywhere you turn, the history of hockey in Houghton is on display. So much so that they dedicated a room to it in the lobby. I got a bunch of photos, so I’ll put them here, and you can click on anything you want to see larger.
Yes, those are USA Hockey trophies made of mini-kegs.
I don’t think swimming will be a problem.
I had to ask a few people to find out who Matt Manderfield was. He was a local businessman that did a lot of fundraising cookouts. According to one local, he has a chicken recipe that you could smell all over town when he was cooking it at the arena, which was quite often over the summers.
But let’s get to the game. Please rise for the playing of the national anthem.
The Portage Lake Pioneers are in black, the DePere Deacons are in the away whites. The Deacons are last in the league, and as of this writing have five points in the standings, own the worst goal differential, but are the second least penalized team in the league.
The puck is dropped, we are underway, and… oh, that was fast. 18 seconds in and we have our first goal.
Standing in front of the net is not without its dangers.
DePere gets on the board.
This is the result of DePere goalie Zach Turney taking a chop at Pios Neeco Belanger. This was in response to Belanger giving the goalie a tug on the leg, which did not go over well. Once the penalty was called, Turney made sure he got his 2 minutes worth of hacks and slashes in.
Unfortunately for Turney, the Pioneers scored on the power play, and who else got the goal but Neeco Belanger.
It turns out the DePere goaltender is a fan of the Chicago Bears, and one of his teammates told the Pioneers so. That could have contributed to the aggression he faced. Both teams were more interested in watching the Green Bay game than playing hockey.
The period ended 2-2. Let’s head to the lobby.
Hey, look. It’s our old pal Jeff Finger. He went to high school in Houghton.
Under the stands.
Back to the game.
Depere go up by one.
I missed the fourth Deacons goal, but caught the fifth. Or at least the aftermath.
We head to the second intermission with DePere up 5-3. They could really use this win. Can they hold on in the third?
This is exciting. Let’s head to the third. Pios have to get at least two.
With 1:55 left in the game, Portage Lake gets within one.
DePere makes a break for it.
With 42 seconds left and a one goal lead, DePere takes a cross-checking penalty. Do I need to tell you what happens next?
Portage Lake ties it up with ten seconds to go. We head to overtime.
We wouldn’t need much. Just 18 seconds.
I think I’m going to be sick.
How did that happen? Up by two goals with less than two minutes left, and then to lose in OT. DePere had none of the luck.
If you go to Dee Stadium, bundle up. It’s a cold place. Bring something to sit on, like a blanket. And maybe build a fire out of pieces of the stands. It was colder inside than it was outside, and that was saying something.