Manistique Hockey Co-Op Off to Successful Debut

By John Vrancic
Special for

February 4, 2022

MANISTIQUE — There’s a new kid on the block in Upper Peninsula high school hockey this season.

The Manistique Emeralds, who launched a co-op program for the first time, already have made some noise while posting a 5-4-1 record through their first 10 games.

Manistique is fresh from a 2-1 triumph over Painesdale Jeffers on home ice Saturday.

Also included in the co-op venture are Newberry, Munising and Eben Junction Superior Central.

“It feels great to have a high school program here,” said Manistique junior forward Carter Miller. “This is a big change from house league hockey. The high school game is a lot faster. This has been a pretty big transition. We had to get in shape faster and start a little earlier.”

The victory ended a two-game losing streak for the Emeralds, who dropped a 6-5 overtime decision to Escanaba on Friday and absorbed a 2-1 loss to Kingsford at Iron Mountain Jan. 25.

“It was a very exciting game last night,” coach John Nutkins said after Saturday’s game. “We trailed by three goals twice and took them into overtime. I think that gave us a lot of momentum for the rest of the season. We outplayed Kingsford, but had trouble putting the puck in the net. The guys are pulling together. We have to keep working and improving. We feel we’re in a stretch where we can win some games.”

The Emeralds travel to the Copper Country this weekend to face Negaunee on Friday and Jeffers on Saturday at Michigan Tech.

“They (Negaunee) don’t have a lot of guys, but they take quick shots,” said sophomore goaltender Alex Noble. “We just have to put pressure on the puck.

Manistique hockey“(Defeating Jeffers) is a big W for us. I think this will give us momentum going into next weekend. We’ve been in a lot of close games. We didn’t give up against Esky. That was a real big game for us.”

Dakota Maki, a senior forward from Superior Central, put the Emeralds on the board first in a 6-1 road loss to Escanaba.

“That’s definitely not a game we want to remember,” said Nutkins. “Although, it was exciting to get the early goal. They have a great hockey program, but I don’t think that’s who we are. It’s always kind of a feeling out process. In the first game at Iron Mountain they (Kingsford) were flying. It was kind of a culture shock. I feel we’ve improved a lot from the beginning of the season.”

Manistique dropped a 1-0 decision to the Flivvers on Nov. 18, then tied with Jeffers 1-1 and beat the Hancock jayvees 2-0 at MTU at the start of December.

The Emeralds followed that with a 7-3 triumph over Kingsford in their home debut Dec. 16.

“That was definitely exciting,” said Gavin Nutkins, a sophomore forward from Newberry. “There were more than 300 people here. I’ve never experienced that before. The fans have supported us very well. I think we’ve done very well. We are just getting into game shape, and it’s starting to show.”

Noble stopped 26 shots in Saturday’s victory over Jeffers.

“This is a big step up,” he said. “We just have to work hard for it. This is a bit stronger competition and a faster game.”

Gavin Nutkins said he got interested in hockey at a very young age.

“I played baseball and football, but nothing compares with hockey,” he added. “It’s really hard with school. My dad’s the coach, which makes it a little easier. It’s about an hour’s drive both ways. We usually get home about 9:30 or 10 p.m., then I have to study for 2-3 hours, get about six hours of sleep and go to school. Sometimes you get a little tired.”

John Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

PHOTOS (Top) Manistique attempts to maintain possession against Painesdale Jeffers. (Middle) The Emeralds defend in front of their goal against Escanaba last month. (Photos by Veronica Edwards.)