I played in my first Great Lakes Hockey League in about 8 or 9 years last night. It was against the Monroe Blues, a team that wasn’t even in existence in my short stint in the league. We wound up losing the game 9-7 despite out shooting the home team 60-39. It was a very interesting game. Myself, like many of my Calumet teammates could not find the back of the net on point-blank opportunities.
For those of you unaware, the Great Lakes Hockey League was formed in 1937 and is one of very few, if any, adult full-check leagues in the country. What this means is that any players over the age of 18 are eligible to play. The league is full-check and USA Hockey sanctioned. It is more than a glorified men’s league as this league has its fair share of talent. Guys who have minor pro, college and junior careers that officially enter the working world and still want to play competitive hockey.
Playing for the Calumet Wolverines in itself is an honor and something I will always take pride in. The team was formed in 1901, yes you read that correctly, and has been in existence ever since. I am sure it is probably one of the oldest teams in the United States, if not North America. 11 miles down the road you have the Portage Lake Pioneers, founded in 1905 and the birthplace of professional hockey.
Adding to the history of the team, my mother grew up in Calumet and ever since I decided to join the league, even though I was living in Houghton, MI (home of the Portage Lake Pioneers) I played with Calumet. My grandfather lived up there until his death and made the journey every day to work in the White Pine mine and I felt that the familial history was enough to make it the team I chose to play for.
Back to the game. Our team had several chances to bury the puck, but we just couldn’t. I myself got stopped a handful of times right in the crease. I, along with my teammates broke the ice in the third period, however, it was too little too late.
Going into the game, I felt like maybe I would be out of place. Maybe I wouldn’t be able to keep up. When I stepped out on the ice, it felt great. The warm-ups in the GLHL are 15 minutes in length with a resurface afterwards. This is perfect for an old-timer like me as I spent a good 5 minutes stretching out before getting the blood going.
The first couple shifts, I was just getting adjusted to playing the Calumet style of hockey, focusing on my assignments and trying not to be too far out of position. Once I felt comfortable with that, I was able to find my stride and really push myself. I was getting more touches of the puck and despite the occasional mistake here and then seemed to making some good plays.
My first scoring chance came in the first period. An errant shot went off the end boards and as I was crashing the net, came right to me. I thought I could beat the goalie on the short-side, the same side the puck came off the boards on, but he challenged me and cut down the angle. My shot went off his pad and into the corner. Thinking back, I should have anticipated his aggressiveness and held the puck, taking it around him on my forehand and depositing it into a wide-open net.
My second chance came in the second period. I was on the back-door and through a scramble my teammate passed me the puck. I one-timed it and the goalie made a sliding pad stop. I got my own rebound and tried to put it over his pad, but didn’t find any luck. I then batted the puck out of mid-air and he had a response with the paddle of his stick. This time I should have taken the initial one timer, but once that was stopped collected the rebound, shifted to my backhand creating some distance between myself and the goalie and roofed a shot into the net.
My third scoring chance came from a scramble in front of the net. The goalie was down and I was able to pull the puck from the assortment of legs and sticks. I fired a shot low on the ice, stick side. The goalie, without even seeing the puck, just happened to hand his stick down and the puck glanced off the handle of his stick. Given the fact that I completed what I had intended, I don’t know if I would do anything different.
All-in-all it was a great experience. Despite my initial objections and fears about playing, I am glad I did. Despite losing it was great to be in the same locker room with some guys I haven’t seen in several years and even one player I coached. The greatest feeling of all though, was donning that Calumet Wolverines jersey and representing all the history, pride and legacy that comes with it.
For more information on the GLHL click here
For more information on the Calumet Wolverines and Portage Lake Pioneers click here