enthusiasts, players gather to celebrate collection of memories
For more than half a century, thousands of area hockey fans crammed
into the Palestra in Marquette to cheer on their hometown favorites.
When the Palestra opened at the North end of Third Street in 1921, teams
were formed with local talent, and players used makeshift uniforms and
As interest in the sport grew, other teams, some with paid players,
briefly held the hockey spotlight in Marquette before disbanding or
changing their team name.
Marquette fans watched the Blackbirds, the Owls, the Millionaires and
the Buccaneers all come and go, but the most notable groups of players
to call the Palestra their home ice were Marquettes last two semi-professional
squads: the Sentinels (1941, 1944-61), and the Iron Rangers (1964-76).
Each team enjoyed success and generated a strong following in the community
before financial difficulties led to their collapse. By 1976, the final
horn had sounded on semi-pro hockey in Marquette. But, while the skates
have been hung up for nearly three decades, a group of former players
and the Marquette County Historical Society have worked to preserve
this era on the walls of Lakeview Arena.
Marquettes hockey history will be celebrated from 4:00 to 9:00
p.m. on August 7 as former Iron Rangers and Sentinels gather for the
dedication of a new photo exhibit. The display features sixty enlarged
photos of teams from 1924 through 1976, forty other historical hockey
items including programs and a history of the Palestra, and a section
on Marquette womens teams.
More than fifty former players planned on attending the dedication as
of July 15. Invitations were sent to more than 125 players, coaches
and directors from the teams.
Former fans and others interested in the history of the sport in Marquette
also are invited to attend the event and interact with former team members,
said John Vasseau, a former Sentinel and an organizer for the event.
This is a chance for fans to visit with old players and friends,
Vasseau said. A lot of people might think this is a players
reunion and they would be sticking their nose in, but this is for the
fans as much as it is for the players.
A $10 fee will be charged to help cover expenses, and a cash bar and
hors doeuvres will be available during the ceremony.
Players and coaches attending the dedication thus far include: Steve
and Jeff Carlson of the Iron Rangers, more famously known as two of
the three Hanson brothers from the movie Slapshot, Weldy Olson, who
won an Olympic gold medal in 1960; Mark and Ted Olson; Jim Swenor; Jim
Jacobson; Ron Johnson; Bucky ONeill; Doug Peterson; Bob Marlowe;
Karen Koch, the first female goalie at any professional level when she
played with the Rangers in 68-69; and Norman Boots
Kukak, who played before World War II for the Sentinels and other Marquette
teams. Many other local favorites plan to attend, some of whom have
not been back in Marquette for thirty years, Vasseau said.
Oakie Brumm, a former Sentinel player and head coach of both the Iron
Rangers and the Sentinels for many years, will attend the event and
has been one of the primary backers of the photo museum, which has been
in the making since 1991.
Brumm coached the Sentinels beginning in 1955 and quickly led them to
success. In 1956 the Sentinels captured the Gibson Cup, a highly coveted
trophy throughout the Upper Peninsula that was awarded to the winner
of the Michigan-Ontario Hockey League playoffs. That night was one of
Brumms most memorable as a coach because Marquette fans packed
the Palestra to the point that people were forced out the door, he said.
It was not uncommon to have more than 3,000 supporters in the arena,
which only had seating for about 1,800.
The fans were very knowledgeable, very loyal and very supportive,
Brumm said. They were about everything you would ever want in
The Sentinels, named after Sentinel antifreeze, which was produced by
the teams sponsor, Cliffs Dow Chemical Company, went on to win
championships during the next three seasons as well; they won the Michigan-Ontario
League in 1957, the American Hockey State Senior title in 1958 and the
Mid-American League championship in 1959.
Marquettes team was made up almost entirely of local players who
needed full-time jobs to support themselves.
Players worked eight or nine hours a day, then practiced at night and
played games on the weekend, Brumm said. While many players were compensated,
the league was not designed to support the players financially, but
offered many a place to continue playing hockey at a high level while
starting their professional careers.
There were a lot of very good players that just didnt have
anywhere else to play except in our league, Brumm said. It
was a very good league.
Before the NHL expanded in 1969, many players from the Sentinels and
later the Iron Rangers, were talented enough to play at that top level,
but there were few openings, Brumm said.
Still, many Sentinel opponents went on to successful NHL or Olympic
careers after playing in the league, including Lou Nanne, who played
for the Minnesota North Stars, and Herb Brooks, who coached the U.S.
Olympic team to a gold medal in the 1980 Olympics.
However, by 1961, many players could no longer afford to play for the
Sentinels. The Michigan-Ontario Hockey League folded and the team followed
suit soon after.
A few years later, a group of supporters came together to continue semi-professional
hockey in Marquette, founding the Iron Rangers. Unlike the Sentinels,
the Iron Rangers had more imported players, mostly Canadians, but about
half the team was comprised of local players, said Bob Hoppe, president
of the Iron Rangers for eight years.
The Iron Rangers took hockey to another level as they joined the United
States Hockey League, which sent many players to Olympic teams. Players
were paid more, but most still needed to work to support themselves
financially, Hoppe said.
The team also offered many young players college scholarships to NMU
as compensation, Hoppe said.
Hoppe also was president of the USHL for ten years and watched the Iron
Rangers find success under Brumm, who coached the team for all but its
final two seasons.
The Rangers won the USHL playoffs in 1967 and captured league championships
For the lifetime of the Iron Rangers, it was the No. 1 game in
town, said Floyd Summers, a former Iron Ranger who also will be
attending the dedication. The Thursday night and Saturday night
games always drew big crowds.
Summers played for the Rangers for nine seasons, including 1974 when
the Carlson brothers joined the squad.
Later portrayed as Charlestown Chiefs in Slapshot, the hit movie about
a fictional minor league hockey team that made its way to the top primarily
through fighting, the Carlson brothers accurately portrayed the rough
environment of old-time hockey, Summers said.
It really wasnt much different than Slapshot, Summers
said. Guys stood up for one anotherthats the nature
The city announced plans to construct Lakeview Arena in 1974, which
would provide more seating and better access for fans. However, ice
time at the new rink was more expensive and the team was not attracting
enough fans, said Hoppe, who was on the board that created the arena.
When the Palestra closed in 1974 and was demolished that August, the
Iron Rangers already prominent financial problems became too overwhelming.
I worked for four or five years to build the arena that basically
put my team out of business, Hoppe said.
When Northern Michigan University started its Division I hockey program
in 1976, the competition for entertaining hockey fans in Marquette became
Halfway through the 76 season, Iron Ranger players stopped being
paid and the team soon disbanded after trying to stick together for
a brief period. Marquettes semi-professional hockey stint eventually
ended, but a permanent hockey history on the walls of Lakeview will
keep old-time hockey alive, Hoppe said.
Anyone who knows former players or directors who did not receive an
invitation is asked to contact Vasseau at 228-7312 or Hoppe at 249-9512.
Hopefully, well provide three or four hours of entertainment,
Hoppe said. Its beginning to draw a lot of interest and
it should be a fun night.