Top of the World, Ma!
by Erik Nordberg, archivist
Students and Copper Country fans stood six deep around the arrival gate at the Houghton County Memorial Airport late Sunday afternoon, March 18. Cars were parked on both sides of the airport road almost out to the US-41 intersection. A chartered DC-3 taxied up to the gate, the passenger door opened, and immediately a clamorous cheer echoed across the snow-covered field to the accompaniment of the din of scores of automobile horns. The College Hockey Champions of the Nation had returned home!
—MCMT Alumni News, March 1962
It was 1962, the year that Michigan Tech hockey established itself as a premier college program. In addition to the national crown, the Huskies took the WCHA championship, brought home the MacNaughton Cup, and amassed a 29–3 record.
The program was well on its way to prominence in the preceding years, achieving second place finishes in both league and national playoffs. But the alignment of training, coaching, and on-ice performance in 1961–62 propelled the Huskies into elite status.
Yet, it didn’t look good in December 1961. The previous season ended with league playoff losses to defending NCAA champion Denver, and the new season began with two road losses to Michigan. The Wolverines proved one of Tech’s great nemeses at the time—and a personal challenge for sixth-year Husky coach (and former Wolverine goaltender) John MacInnes.
Following the opening losses, however, Tech posted eight consecutive wins, including four victories against Denver. The Husky team produced four of the league’s top scorers in Jerry Sullivan, Gene Rebellato, John Ivanitz, and Lou Angotti. Defensively, the blueline corps was led by seniors Henry Akervall and Elov Seger, with sophomore goaltender Gary Bauman creating a standout year in net. MacInnes noted the team’s “excellent forechecking, tremendous speed, overall scoring balance, and a tremendous goalie.”
January provided the “Big Rematch,” with Michigan travelling to Houghton for a pair of games at Dee Stadium. The Huskies thrilled the hometown crowd with a 4-2 victory on Friday, ending Michigan’s twelve-game winning streak (the tables were turned with a Wolverine victory the following evening).
The team set out on a fourteen-game winning tear through the WCHA and added two victories over the visiting Finnish National team.
Having captured the WCHA regular season title, the team set their sights on the MacNaughton Cup. Ironically, Michigan Tech had yet to hold the storied silver trophy, named for James MacNaughton, president of the Keweenaw’s most profitable copper mining company, Calumet & Hecla.
Tech disposed of Michigan State with a 5–1 victory in the first-round playoff game. Their competitor for the WCHA finals in Ann Arbor? Yes, the same Wolverine team that had delivered Tech’s only losses of the season. The Huskies’ come-from-behind 6–4 victory made headlines across the nation. A photograph of team members carrying the MacNaughton Cup to an awaiting crowd at the Houghton County Memorial Airport is still a favorite for Husky fans of all ages.
Both Michigan Tech and Michigan were selected to represent “The West” at the NCAA national championship playoffs in Utica, New York. The St. Lawrence “Larries” were no match for Tech in a 6-1 semifinal loss. Thankfully, the Huskies wouldn’t see the Wolverines on the ice, as Michigan lost its semifinal game to Clarkson.
The final, played on St. Patrick’s Day, featured a lot of scoring, mostly from the Huskies. Tech jumped to a 3–1 lead in the first period and added four more in the third to defeat the Clarkson Knights 7–1 and claim the national championship. John Ivanitz tallied a hat trick in the game, with Jerry Sullivan and Lou Angotti adding two goals each.
The stellar season was acknowledged with numerous awards and accolades. Lou Angotti was named the NCAA tournament MVP. Henry Akervall, Lou Angotti, Elov Seger, and Jerry Sullivan were named First Team All-Americans. And John MacInnes was named Coach of the Year.