Coppo completes fourth decade of hockey officiating

CALUMET – He’s one of the most recognizable faces during the Copper Country high school hockey season.

And now Bruce “Cukie” Coppo of Calumet has been recognized by the Michigan High School Athletic Association for completing 40 years of officiating high school hockey.

Coppo said that MHSAA officials told him he was the first person to gain the honor.

“They said there’s been a few people who have reffed 40 years in basketball and football,” Coppo commented. “But I was the first to do it in hockey.”

The game of hockey has run through Coppo’s veins ever since he started playing the game as a youngster growing up in Centennial Heights.

“I started out playing pond hockey … just like all the other kids in the neighborhood,” Coppo noted. “It was just what you did in the 1950s and 1960s.”

He played on several youth teams before he was introduced to officiating by Leonard Yeo, an official in the C-L-K Hockey Association.

There was a shortage of refs to work youth hockey games back then and Coppo, then 18, jumped right in. He often worked six or seven games a day when weekend junior tournaments were going on, according to northend hockey historian Bob Erkkila.

When prep hockey started up in the 1969-70 season, Coppo was there for one of the first games.

“I think Houghton and Calumet played in that game,” he said. “But I’m not sure, there’s been a lot of games since.”

Coppo said it’s been a pleasure to work games in the area.

“I believe we have some of the most knowledgeable hockey fans you’re going to find up here. But if you make a mistake, they’re going to let you know about it,” he said with a chuckle.

Erkkila said that Coppo is a respected official.

“I think that’s because he’s a player’s official,” Erkkila said. “He’s played the game himself and knows how to keep a game going without a lot of delays. I believe he has the respect of the coaches, players and fans.”

Coppo said he’s also had the opportunity to work games with several good officials.

“Guys like “Topper” Ricci, Joe Romano and Brien Ricci were all a pleasure to work with,” he noted. “And I’ve worked games with my own sons, which was special.”

His sons, Bruce Jr., Kevin, David and Tim have all been involved in hockey, either as players or officials.

Bruce has had a long association with the CLK Wolverines, being a charter member of the senior hockey team since 1964. He’s been a coach of the team for half of that time and holds team records for games played and goals scored.

But playing in “27 or 28 Gibson Cup series” has been the one of the highlights of his career.

“Those games are special,” he said. “It’s the second oldest hockey cup (only the MacNaughton Cup is older) around and named after the guy who started hockey up here.”

An avid golfer, he stays busy throughout the year. He’s been playing Oldtimer Hockey for many years and plans to continue that next winter.

As far as officiating, he has one major goal left:

“I want to make it 45 years in the game.”

Don’t bet that he won’t accomplish that.