Back Where Pro Hockey Started
The history lesson is not lost on the Detroit Red Wings.
Michigan Upper Peninsula towns such as Houghton, Sault Ste. Marie and Calumet were the locales where professional hockey was born. The International League, hockey’s first pro loop, existed there from 1904-07. Legendary Hall of Fame stars such as Cyclone Taylor and future NHLers Newsy Lalonde and Joe Hall were stars of the league.
They didn’t skate in the Calumet Colosseum, the 106-year-old rink where Thursday, Dylan Larkin and the Detroit Red Wings will face off against the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues in the annual Kraft Hockeyville game but because of them, the game continues to thrive in this northern Michigan town.
“It is cool,” Larkin admitted to Detroitredwings.com. “It’s an old barn, but the ice is great. The boards are like what we’re used to in the NHL.
“I just wish more people could enjoy the game. We’re really excited. We’re rolling with the things that we may not have in our normal game day but it’s very exciting being here.”
Back in the days when Jack Adams was running the Red Wings, he’d take players from the team on promotional tours to locales all over Michigan to help sell the game within the state. These days, sightings of the Red Wings in the UP are as rare as snow-less winters.
“I didn’t really know what to expect to be honest,” Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser admitted. “I figured everybody up here was going to be pretty excited. I didn’t know they were gonna shut the whole town down today. It’s pretty cool.
“I think it’s great. Obviously they’re doing some upgrades to the rink here, bringing the game here and all that. I think it’s good and it kind of spreads the game to some different cities it normally wouldn’t be in.”
Calumet literally rolled out the red carpet for the Wings when the team plane landed at the airport. Thursday’s game-day skate was a sold-out affair.
“I was talking to a kid, and he was so excited to see NHL players skate on the ice he skates on,” Larkin said. “I couldn’t imagine as a kid, the rink I grew up playing on, where guys came and skated, and let alone an NHL game.
“It’s pretty cool. A lot of kids, which is the way it should be, and hopefully more of the same tonight. It’s going to be a tough game playing against the Stanley Cup champions, they brought a lot of their regular guys, so it’ll be a fast game and fans will get to see a pretty good hockey game.”
At the same time, the players recognize they won’t be dealing with an NHL facility when they take the ice.
The Calumet Colosseum has seating for just 700 fans. It can squeeze in perhaps 1,000 with standing room. The rink didn’t have artificial ice until 1968 and is not the standard NHL dimensions of 200x85 feet.
“I think (Blues defenseman Colton) Paryako’s stick will be able to go from the slot to the boards, so it is a little bit smaller, but you just play,” Larkin said. “It’s hockey. It’ll be tight for everyone but I expect it to be a fast game.”
The rink utilized $150,000 in rink upgrades and $10,000 worth of new equipment for winning the Kraft Hockeyville competition. The Colosseum now has an entirely new ice plant, a new heating system, new sound system and refurbished locker rooms.
Follow me on Twitter @asktheduffer