The Houghton trip

Going to Houghton can be a little bit like going back in time. There’s some good and bad that comes with that.

The bad? Tom Miller went to get some concession food at the arena, but they didn’t take cards and there was no ATM in the arena.

The good? I expected to pay $2.50 to get a Gatorade out of a hotel vending machine. I was floored when I saw 20 oz. bottles for $1. You can also get beers for like $1.50 downtown and I once took a taxi from my hotel to the arena for $4, which is about the minimum charge anywhere else.

THE TRAVEL

There’s no way around it. Houghton isn’t easy to get to. I think this is the No. 1 reason why Michigan Tech is not in the NCHC. The team goes by bus. It’s about a 9-hour drive from Grand Forks — if the roads are good. They often are not. It typically snows about 200 inches per winter. The record low for snowfall in a winter is 81 inches, set back in the 1930s.

If you fly in, you have to go United through O’Hare. Delta/Northwest used to fly into Houghton/Hancock from Minneapolis, but quit its service a few years ago. I don’t like having to go through O’Hare, but the one good part is that United flies jets to Houghton/Hancock. On Delta/Northwest, you got a prop plane. I believe there are two flights in and two flights out each day.

THE CITY

For those that don’t know, Houghton (pop. 7,708)/Hancock (pop. 4,634) is like Grand Forks/EGF. There’s a river (which the locals call a lake) separating the two cities. Both cities are on a hill and it sort of reminds me of Duluth in that regard (I have no idea how they walk on the streets or drive on them when it’s icy). Hancock is home to Finlandia University. Houghton, as you probably know, is home to Michigan Tech.

The downtown has a classic, old school type of feeling to it. The roads are cobblestone. The businesses are one or two stories and right up by the street. It has bars, restaurants, motels and the newspaper.

If you go up the hill on the west side of the city, you will find the chain stories — a Walmart, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Quiznos, Applebees, McDonalds, etc. If you go up the hill on the east side of the city, you will get Michigan Tech’s campus.

THE ARENA

The arena has seats on two sides. On one end, it has a small set of bleachers and the box seats, which were recently installed a couple of years ago. They also recently put new chairs in the arena. Both upgrades have made John MacInnes Student Ice Arena look way better.

I’ve seen a vast range in crowds there. In 2007, they had a great student section that had some unique chants and really got into it. It made for a fun atmosphere. Two years ago, I counted 98 people in the building at puck drop. It really depends on circumstances, which is why I think Tech could become resurgent under the new WCHA alignment.

The most unique part is the band. Dressed in their yellow-and-black striped overalls, they are constantly playing. Once there’s a whistle, it only takes a split second for them to get going. The Copper County Anthem before the third period is Virg Foss’ favorite. The fans lock their arms together and sway during it. Virg told me that Rube Bjorkman refused to bring his team out to the bench until that was over, worried that his players were getting hypnotized by the swaying crowd.

Also, there’s no video board, so don’t miss any action. No replays.

THE CHARM

The greatest part about the city is the people. They are all very nice, smart and helpful. I don’t know if there’s a WCHA town where you will encounter nicer people.

You get a sense of Houghton’s charm when you walk into the press box and right by your seat, they leave you a bowl full of candy. I’ve never seen that anywhere else. Then, they bring Dominos at the first intermission — one of the only places that still provides media meals.

Basically, if you are not a nice person, you won’t fit in there.

THE FOOD

My restaurant of choice is The Ambassador. Being a thin-crust pizza fan, I always enjoy my thin-crust pepperoni from The Ambassador and this trip was no different. The Library also is a classic. It’s a nicer-looking place, but I didn’t feel out of place in my jeans and t-shirt (do I ever?).

Houghton is most famous for its pasties, though. Having roots in Eveleth, Minn., (and eight pasties from Paul’s Market currently in my freezer), I can appreciate the pasties. Suomi Home Bakery is one of the famous pasty places.

Photo 1: A view of Hancock from Houghton. If you look closely, you can see the river in the picture.

Photo 2: Downtown Houghton. Classic feel with the cobblestone roads and the old-school store fronts.

Photo 3: My favorite dining stop, The Ambassador

Photo 4: A view of the famous drawbridge between Houghton and Hancock. I believe this bridge made it onto the cover of a Tech hockey media guide once upon a time.

Photo 5: John MacInnes Student Ice Arena at opening faceoff.

Photo 6: A view from one end of MacInnes. Sorry it is not in focus (this is why I don’t take photos for the paper). You can see the box seats at the top. Below, there are tributes to Tech’s greatest players and national championship teams.

Photo 7: MacInnes from the other end.

Photo 8: During the six-hour layover in O’Hare Airport on Sunday morning, Miller and I decided to grab breakfast at the Chicago Blackhawks theme restaurant, where we could watch ESPN. Appropriately, we were seated next to these two jerseys. One Tech great, one UND great.

27 thoughts on “The Houghton trip

  1. Great stuff Brad. I love reading about the places UND goes to play. Seems like a very nice community…..here I thought the pop. was similar to Duluth or Fargo for some reason..?? I can see how UND has dropped a game or two there over the years…..9 hour bus ride!! I’m curious how the players feel about the bus ride…..sometimes they can be fun……but for 9 hours..??

  2. This place seems like my kind of town. I’m bumbed that I never made it up there when the Sioux were regular visitors. Hopefully they will play some NC games up there in the coming years… would be a great road trip for me and my boys.

  3. Great story, brad. Do they have steam plant heating the storm sewers there? Maybe that’s how they drive on streets in winter. That’s what Virginia, mn, has and it keeps streets wet all winter, but not icy.

  4. Wow, your story about the people, places, and food of Houghton was certainly more gracious than Brandon Veale’s incoherent, rude ramblings about UND in the Mining Gazette back on the 13th. Way to keep it on the high road and be a journalist with integrity and insight. Thanks for what you do!

  5. It is a nice travel guide for fans if they may ever get a chance to travel to some of these venues. I enjoy reading it, keep it up.

  6. Brad, they call the “river” a lake because it is connected to Lake Superior on both ends and it doesn’t really flow so technically its not a river. It was basically just a big bay but around 100 years ago they dug the West end out the last few miles so that the large “Lakers” could have easier access into the port for hauling Copper away.

    I haven’t been there in 5-6 years but I assume they still have parking meters downtown? My favorite part about that is they aren’t right on the curb like everywhere else, they are next to the buildings so they aren’t in the way when the City hauls all the snow out of downtown about once a week. Can you imagine having to dig around all those meters? Since they aren’t on the curb cleaning the streets/sidewalks of snow can be done much faster/easier.

    I think Tech will fare well in the “new” WCHA and I wish them the best.

  7. Houghton/Hancock is a great area! Awesome all year round, The canal is perfect for swimming/boating in the summer and it’s a pretty enchanting place in the winter.

  8. Watching the USA vs. Sweden prelim game and I did see Rocco on the ice or the Bench. Injured? Or do they have two teams, like a baseball split squad type deal?

  9. Great post, Schloss! On our trips to Houghton, I usually try to make it down to Dee Stadium to have a look around. There’s a hockey museum in the lobby, documenting the history of the game in the UP dating back to the early 1900′s. One of the game’s early superstars – Cyclone Taylor – played a season there (1906). And of course, this is the rink where Tony Esposito and Lou Angotti played when they were members of Michigan team. Thanks for the good read.

  10. In the spring of 1980, we played during Winter Carnival, and like many teams, struggled that weekend. We did not bus it- Gino chartered a DC3 from OBrian Airways. Loaded it ourselves, were our own stewardesses! Is the Douglas House still the team hotel?

  11. Interesting reading, but did you mean, um…pasties or pastries?

    Plus, any chance you can post a new header picture with this year’s team instead of last year’s?

  12. Your post is the next best thing to being there! then I went to wikipedia for even more on Houghton — what an interesting place! And remote indeed, though now I want to go there sometime :-)

  13. The Chicago Blackhawks themed bar at O’hare is actually an airport version of Stanley’s Kitchen and Tap. Stanley’s is a great bar and great for celebrity/athlete watching. I made the mistake of not going over there back in September when Bruce Springsteen was in town because sure enough, Bruce, Eddie Vedder, and Kerry Wood were all hanging out there together. For some reason, Vedder loves to go there and always ends up there when he’s in town.

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