Some games don’t make headlines/Paul Peterson
The great Don Mattson once said that some of the best games he ever played in never made the newspaper.
He was referring to scrimmages his Chassell High teams played against Houghton during the Panthers’ record-setting 65-game winning streak and three state championships between 1956-58.
“Coach (Ed Helakoski) realized that the only way we going to get better was to play against tough competition,” Mattson told me a few years ago. “And Houghton certainly was tough competition.”
Houghton won a state championship of its own in 1955 and also had a 39-game win streak under coaching genius John Gaffney.
The two teams, who never met in the regular season, pretty much broke even in those high-caliber practice games, according to most sources.
Another game that never reached print came in 1967 when the Chassell and Doelle independent basketball teams matched up in an early April game at the old Doelle gym.
Independent hoops in those days was strong, teams from Houghton, Hancock, Painesdale, Baraga and Dollar Bay also in the league.
Chassell brought in a very good team in that long ago evening. Mattson, a high school All-American in his day, was there along with plenty of other talent.
Dave Vertanen and Dennis Hietala – just coming off a season at Suomi College where they both started – were in the backcourt along with Mattson.
Vertanen, who led Suomi in scoring that season, had set the then Copper Country prep record for points in a campaign in 1966 with more than 500. Hietala was an outstanding wing player.
For size, Chassell put out 6-foot-7 Jack Kujansuu (a backup Suomi center) and 6-4 Doug Lancour, a strong inside player.
Doelle was outmatched on paper, but featured Bob Michaelson, one of seven brothers who starred at the Tapiola school over the years.
Art and Jack Saarela added size (both 6-2) and scoring punch. Five Saarela brothers played at Doelle and Houghton over the years.
The late Paul Heikkinen, Paul Kaurala and myself filled out the lineup. All of us were streak shooters, hot in one game and cold in the next.
To make a long story short, the two bitter rivals battled tooth-and-nail right from the opening tip-off. The game was played at a quick pace, and neither team could gain an advantage until the closing few minutes of the game.
Doelle was finally able to gain a slight edge, thanks to Michaelson’s hustling play and a flurry of outside shots.
When the game ended with Doelle a winner by a 102-98 score, the players involved respectfully shook hands.
They knew they had just played in a high-caliber game that very few people would ever know about …