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Retro Columns

DID YOU KNOW ? (first posted JANUARY 2009)
Posted on: 01-05-2009

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      The New Year's Day 2009 NHL
"Winter Classic" at Chicago's
Wrigley Field (RED WINGS 6,
Blackhawks 4) was the third
modern outdoor game.
      The outdoor event sparked
some historians to recall the first
professional hockey team and
league were both founded on frozen
ponds in the Great Lakes region.
      DID YOU KNOW the first pro
team and ice hockey league were
both organized by a University of
Detroit educated dentist?
      Berlin (renamed Kitchener), Ontario native John L. "Jack" Gibson
excelled at four things, not necessarily in this order:   Academics, hockey,
football and soccer. Gibson was such a talented soccer player he was tendered
a developmental offer from the famous Everton "football" squad in England.
Rather than go overseas, Gibson decided to remain in North America to play
"American football" and ice hockey while he continued his education.
      A member of the University of Michigan Wolverine gridiron team, Gibson went on
to post-graduate studies at the University of Detroit Dental School. Upon graduation
from UofD, "Doc" Gibson moved north to set up a dental practice in Houghton of
Michigan's Upper Penninsula.
      Houghton Mining Gazette newspaper cub reporter (later editor) Merv Youngs
convinced Gibson to come north to help form a new hockey club with local businessman
James R. Dee. Like Thomas Edison, Dee was a former telegraph operator and Dee rode
Edison's coattails to bring the telephone, electric lights and the motion picture theater
to Copper Country.
      Relocating to the UP at age 22 Gibson recruited other talented hockey players to
form the Portage Lake team for the 1902-03 season. Gibson's collection played their
first game at Dee's enclosed Houghton Amphidrome at frozen Portage Lake on
December 29, 1902 when they defeated the University of Toronto ice men 13-2.
      In its second season of 1903-04 Portage Lake became the first ice hockey team
to pay all its players. They were worth their small salaries as the Portage Lake squad
went 24-2 and out-scored their foes 273-48 for their 26 game schedule. Their only
regular season loss as a 7-6 squeaker to the American Soo. After capturing the United
States Championship from Pittsburgh two games to one (5-1 and 7-0 wins plus a 5-2 loss),
Portage Lake defeated the famed Montreal Wanderers 8-4 and 9-2 before 5000 fans at
the Amphidrome in March of 1904 for the unofficial "World Championship."         
      Gibson then attracted other individuals to help form the original version of the
International Hockey League (IHL) for the 1904-05 season. Clubs were based in
Houghton, Calumet and Sault Ste. Marie in the UP, at Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and
also in Pittsburgh, PA. The league included stars such as Cyclone Taylor, Riley Hern
and Hod & Bruce Stuart. All played part of their careers for Portage Lake. All were
elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
      While all IHL players were paid at least a minimum of $15-to-$40 per week, Taylor
was reportedly paid $3000 to come to the Upper Penninsula.   
      Gibson didn't just found the Portage Lake club. He was also its captain and one
of its star players. In 54 career games for his Houghton-based squad Gibson scored
20 goals.   
      Portage Lake dominated the league and issued Stanley Cup challenges to the
Ottawa Silver Seven in 1905 and to the Montreal Wanderers in 1906, but the
trustees of the Stanley Cup refused to accept Portage Lake's requests because
at that time the S-Cup was still considered an amateur-only and Canada-only trophy.
      Unable to compete for the Stanley Cup, many IHL players returned to Canada
and after three years and two titles for Portage Lake the original IHL folded.
      "Doc" Gibson would also return to Canada, not to play hockey, but to establish
a successful dental practice in Calgary, Alberta. He remained in that prairie city
until his death less than a month after his 74th birthday in 1954.
      The Gibson Cup was created in 1938 for the champion of the Michigan-Ontario
Hockey League. Fittingly, the first Gibson Cup was awarded to Portage Lake in the
spring of 1939. The Senior (adult) Hockey title remains as the prize of UP hockey and
is the third oldest hockey trophy in North America behind the Stanley Cup (1893)
and Allan/MacNaughton Cup (1913) of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.      
     Gibson's contributions to the sport were finally given proper recognition in 1973
when he was part of the inaugural class of inductees to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame
in Eveleth, Minnesota and again in 1976 when he was elected to the "Builders" section
of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.


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