Hockey players reminisce

HANCOCK – In the days before the Houghton County Arena, young rink rats in Hancock relied almost entirely on outdoor rinks to get their ice time.

Some veterans of those days came to reminisce for a panel discussion at the arena Saturday as part of Hancock’s sesquicentennial celebration.

Leading the discussion was Dave Hermanson, a member of the Laurn-Grove team that won the juvenile national championship in 1963-64.

Hermanson wore a vintage Laurn-Grove jersey, which the team financed from sales at the concession stand.

The Laurn-Grove rink, which is still in use, was built in 1947 to honor Hancock natives Alvin Laurn and Robert Grove, who died at sea during World War II.

Led by coach Joe Houle, the Laurn-Grove team won a succession of Michigan Amateur Hockey Association championships in 1955, 1959, 1960 and 1961, along with the national championship.

Hermanson said Houle was universally well-liked among the players.

“He was a good coach, but better than that, he was a good human being,” he said.

There were other popular rinks, now gone. Terrace Park once had a rink and shack donated by businessman Norbert Kahn, which sparked a popular hockey club. The Hillside rink, run by the private Hillside Athletic Club, had its own noted team; people in attendance also recalled its selection of waltzes for public skating, as well as its 10-cent admission fee.

Gordy Schaaf recalled a popular workaround for the onerous fee: “put skates on at home, skate over there, and then climb over the bank.”

There was also a short-lived rink on the current site of the Superior National Bank parking lot on Quincy Street.

“They had to take it away from there because pucks were hitting the cars,” Schaaf said.

By the 1970s, junior hockey was wilting in the area. That reversed with the construction of the Houghton County Arena, which Hermanson called a “godsend.”

The initial idea was to put a roof over one of the outdoor rinks, said Dave Wiitanen, who was instrumental in the effort to build the arena. They raised $95,000 from local businesses, and received additional money from sources such as the Copper Country Junior Hockey Association and Department of Natural Resources. Finlandia University also donated money for a Zamboni.

“We did a lot of great things to get it here,” Wiitanen said.

After the Hillside Athletic Club disbanded, it still had $15,000 left in its treasury. That money went to the arena for dasher boards, bleachers and Plexiglass.

As the presentation ended, the crowd was encouraged to stick around and chat, as the thumps of sticks and pucks rose up from the rink below.