Barry not big, but he packed a punch

CALUMET – Fred Barry wasn’t an imposing physical presence, but don’t tell that to foes who tried to tackle him on the football field or ran into him on the hockey rink.

The late Ahmeek native, who stood 5-foot-7 and weighed 160 pounds, had considerable skills in football, hockey and baseball, according to northend historian Bob Erkkila.

“Fred (Barry) was very knowledgeable about whatever sport he was playing in,” Erkkila said recently. “But he was also a physical player who gave out as much as he received.”

Bruce “Cukie” Coppo, who has logged more years than anyone with the Calumet Wolverines, said he learned more about hockey from Barry than anyone else.

“He was a real student of the game,” Coppo said. “He could anticipate what was going to happen … before it actually took place and make adjustments.”

A charter member of the Calumet High Sports Hall of Fame in 2013, Barry was also selected to the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.

As a senior at Calumet High School, Barry put together one of the finest seasons ever seen on a local gridiron.

During the 1953 season, Barry accounted for 1,717 yards of total offense. Of the that amount, 1,282 yards came rushing the football. He also scored 14 touchdowns, despite missing one game because of illness, and earned Class B All-State laurels.

The Copper Kings played a tough schedule and were a member of the Michigan-Wisconsin Conference. The league was comprised of Ironwood, Bessemer, Wakefield, Ashland, Wis., Hurley, Wis.

Negaunee, Ishpeming and Stambaugh filled out the schedule.

“It was a very tough conference, but Calumet was very competitive because of players like Fred Barry,” late Daily Mining Gazette sportswriter Dick Loranger said a number of years ago.

For all of his football talents, Barry is perhaps best remembered for his hockey exploits.

Playing senior hockey between 1953 and 1975 for several teams, he earned a reputation as a savvy player for the C-L-K Radars and later the Wolverines.

Paul Lehto coached Barry in the latter part of his career with the Wolverines. He remembers him as “one of the smartest hockey players around here.”

“And he was also very good teaching the younger players on our team,” Lehto said a few years ago.

Barry was recruited at a young age himself, joining the Radars while still in high school.

“Joe Savini (general manager of the team) asked him to play when he was a junior in high school,” Barry’s younger brother, Jack, recalled. “He could see the potential there.”

Teaming up with Johnny Whittaker – a future U.P. Hall of Fame pick – Barry quickly picked up the nuances of the game.

He would play mostly for the Radars and Wolverines, but had shorter stints with several other teams.

One of those came during the 1955-56 campaign when Portage Lake Pioneers coach Tony Bukovich invited him to join the team for the Senior Hockey Nationals.

“He (Barry) was just a natural when it came to hockey,” said the late Bukovich, who played for a time with the Detroit Red Wings. “He was a big help to us in the nationals.”

Portage Lake captured the event, which was held in Lewiston, Maine.

Barry played in the old United States Hockey League with the Des Moines Oak Leafs, Marquette Iron Rangers and Copper Country Chiefs. His last stint in a hockey uniform came with the Chiefs in 1975.

His overall play helped the Wolverines to several Gibson Cup wins over Portage Lake. He combined with Coppo in the 1960s and worked for a couple of seasons with Mike Usitalo, a future Michigan Tech standout.

“Fred (Barry) taught Mike Usitalo a lot about the game,” Lehto recalled. “And he set him up for some nice scoring chances (with the Wolverines).”

Erkkila said that Barry served as the conduit for northend hockey.

“First, he came in and learned under players like Johnny Whittaker and Puppy Gresnick,” Erkkila pointed out. “Then he passed that knowledge on to Bruce Coppo, who has been doing the same for younger players for 40 years.”

No slouch in baseball and softball, Barry played for several teams in his career.

“He played on the same American Legion baseball team (that went to the state finals) with George Brunet,” Jack Barry noted. “They were very good friends right from grade school.”

Brunet, of course, went on to have a long major league baseball career and still holds the minor league record for strikeouts.

Barry was good enough to be invited to tryout camps with the New York Giants and Kansas City Athletics.

Coppo said his former teammate had a knack for playing well in the big games.

“The higher the stakes, the better he played,” said the current Wolverines skipper.