A March moment without equal/Paul Peterson
I believe it was William Penn who once spoke of “never passing this way again.”
That’s the way I feel about a magical Saturday in March of 1981 when all the sports planets aligned in the Copper Country.
On that day, March 7 to be exact, approximately 10,000 fans streamed into the Michigan Tech Student Development Complex to watch three important games.
To my knowledge, there has never been that many people in the SDC on one given day for sports.
The day started in the afternoon with a meeting of undefeated prep basketball powers, Ewen-Trout Creek and Dollar Bay. Each team was 21-0 and ranked high in the U.P. and state polls.
To make the game that much more special, the same two foes had attracted more than 2,000 fans to Sherman Gym the year before in the final game ever played at that venerable site.
A capacity crowd of 3,507 shoehorned into the new SDC Gym that day and there must have been in excess of 4,000 with all the free passes.
The matchup created an atmosphere that could only be described as electric as fans from both sides alternated “We are DB” and “E-T-C” chants. On a quiet night … I can still hear that deafening litany.
I wouldn’t witness that kind of electricity again until 24 years later when the MTU men’s basketball team hosted the Division II Regionals. And I haven’t seen it since.
E-TC came out blazing that day. Behind 22 points by all-state guard Dave Besonen, the Panthers scored an unexpectedly easy 65-48 win. Bays ace Keith Kentala scored 26 points, but didn’t have enough assistance.
The big day continued later in the day when Houghton and Hancock met in the Region 16 hockey championship game before some 3,000 fans.
Coach Don Miller’s Gremlins grabbed a 3-0 lead after one period and rode it to a 7-1 win over their archrivals.
Dean Kari had a three-goal hat trick for the Gremlins, who were one season away from winning a state championship for their coach, whom I firmly believe should already be in the U.P. Sports Hall of Fame.
Freshman goalie John Mahr made 34 saves, while Hancock netmnder Pete Poggione came up with 36 stops.
The big day, which was seen in its entirety by many fans, concluded with Tech hosting North Dakota in an opening-round WCHA playoff game.
That was a common happening in those days, but one that hasn’t occurred very often since.
Coach John MacInnes’ Huskies scored a 7-4 win that evening behind two goals by Mike Lauen as 3,100 looked on.
Goaltender Frank Krieber – the spark in a late-season surge – came up with 34 saves. A sturdy defense was led by Tim Watters, who would gain All-American honors that season.
Mike Zuke, Bill Terry and Mel Pearson were other standouts that season in which MTU made it all the way to the Frozen Four in Duluth. It would be MacInnes’ – and Tech’s – last trip to the NCAA finals.
While Tech still hosts the prep hockey regionals, the university has been shut out of hosting postseason prep basketball since 2008.
And it’s unlikely we’ll ever see a high school tourney basketball game beyond the district round up here again because of current MHSAA policies.
I believe it’s a good bet the hockey Huskies, now under Pearson’s capable leadership, will again host an opening-round playoff series.
But the scenario will never be quite the same as it was on that early March day in 1981 when 10,000 fans went through the turnstiles…