Doc Gibson would’ve been proud/Paul Peterson
By every account I’ve ever read, the late and great John L. “Doc” Gibson was a master organizer and promoter.
The man who introduced hockey to the Copper Country nearly 115 years ago arrived here along with a group of doctors who were hired to take care of the medical needs of the many miners in the area.
It was the so-called “Copper Boom,” and it would would provide jobs for thousands of people for the next 70 years.
Gibson came from an area of Canada where a relatively new sport – hockey to be specific – was already popular.
He and his fellow doctors quickly organized a team that would compete in a league against Hancock, Laurium and the American Soo.
That team evolved into the famed Portage Lake Pioneers, who would win the first world championship in 1904 over the Montreal Wanderers.
The Pioneers outscored opponents by a 273-48 margin as all-time hockey greats like Fred “Cyclone” Taylor, Hod and Bruce Stuart and goaltender Riley Hern led the way.
Teams from Portage Lake and the Calumet-Laurium-Keweenaw areas have been playing ever since the turn of the century.
There have been many matchups between the two rivals since then. They were named the PL Flyers and the C-L-K Radars for a time, but the rivalry never waned.
In the 1940s and 1950s, players like Tony Bukovich and Bernie Ruelle of Portage Lake often matched up against Frank “Puppy” Gresnick and Johnny Whittaker of C-L-K.
“Those games against Portage Lake were always wars,” the late Gresnick recalled a few years ago. “We played harder against them … than we did other teams in the league.”
Bukovich also remembered games against C-L-K the most vividly.
“When we played against them, you knew you had better lace up your skates tight,” the late PL standout recalled. “They were going to play you hard, but cleanly.”
The names have changed over the years, but the Pioneers and Wolverines still battle each other tooth-and-nail for the aptly named Gibson Cup.
Just this past weekend, the two time-honored rivals met in the third and decisive game of this year’s cup series.
Portage Lake came out on top for the fifth straight year, riding the emotion of playing for fallen teammate Roger Lewis.
Calumet had dominated the series for a time a decade or so ago. But the Wolverines have been recently outmatched on defense. Their coach Bruce “Cukie” Coppo has acknowledged that fact.
“But it’s the Gibson Cup and that means a lot to both teams,” Coppo noted. “It’s always hotly contested.”
And somewhere in hockey heaven, you know that “Doc” Gibson is smiling, secure in the fact that the sport he brought here, is still very much alive …