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.