It’s October and Houghton County has just experienced its first snow of the season. It’s barely sticking to the ground, but water is beginning to freeze. There, on the side of a road in Hancock, two little boys have been waiting for winter. Now that it’s here they are taking full advantage of the best thing cold weather has to offer a Houghton County youngster: ice. The duo stands on a puddle no more than three feet wide, crowding around a puck with sticks in hand. As they play their microscopic game of hockey cars speed by. Drivers don’t even glance their way — they’ve got places to be, and besides, what’s more normal in these parts than a kid playing hockey?
If you’re a boy born in the Copper Country, you’re practically birthed with blades on your feet and a stick in your hand. When you learn to walk, you learn to skate. When you learn to talk, you learn hockey lingo. When you learn to count, you learn numbers on jerseys and that there are 51 minutes in three periods.
Your veins are filled with equal parts blood and hockey — maybe a little more of the latter. You find comfort in the cold and a home on the ice. And in the case of three local coaches, you never want to leave. This is your home. And hockey, well, hockey is your life.
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Every day when Dan Giachino walks into the Calumet Colosseum, he finds himself slightly awestruck. He looks up at the blue and white banners hanging from the rafters and the coach knows he is part of history. From his playing days in the late ’90s until now, the building hasn’t stopped amazing him each time he opens the door.
“It is a special thing that I get to go there every day and take it all in,” he said. “The building has gotten a lot of updates and improvements, but ultimately it is the same building and the same ice that I grew up playing on.”
That building is part of the reason Giachino is still in Calumet. He graduated with a teaching degree but struggled to find a job as openings were few and far between. So Giachino took a job doing child support calculations at the courthouse. It wasn’t his dream job, but it allowed him to stay in his dream location. And living here allowed hockey to remain front and center in his life.
After playing as a Copper King, Giachino played four years of hockey at Finlandia before he had a realization. Coaching hadn’t really been on his radar, but Giachino figured out that his hockey abilities were more mental than physical.
“I realized I could help kids and help them get better,” he said. “We have a lot of hockey talent around the Copper Country and to try and guide them to make them better is fun. It is something I enjoy doing; just being able to connect with them and at the end of the day making them better hockey players when they leave the program.”
This is Giachino’s third full year as the head coach, and like Rouleau and Markham, getting here was a process. He started out coaching a midget Triple-A program, but the time commitment of a seven-month season was too much, so when Calumet debuted its first junior varsity hockey team, Giachino applied for the job. From there it was a natural progression to the head coaching gig.
And that is the only hockey job he ever wants. If the day comes that Giachino can no longer coach at Calumet, for whatever reason, then he won’t coach anywhere else.
“Hockey-wise, I don’t know that I would go on to anything else,” he said. “We just have a love of hockey here. You see how the Copper Country community gravitates real strongly to high school hockey. There has been a lot of success over the last 30 years between all three of the local programs. People love to rally around the local schools. That is something that keeps you wanting to do more and wanting to give back. You see that support and you see the people who show up to every single home game, people who don’t have kids on the team and they travel to games. You don’t see that everywhere.”
The fans keep Giachino wanting to do more, but his real support system is his wife of 11 years, and their two daughters, ages 3 and 5.
Hockey is a huge commitment of both time and energy, but Giachino’s little ones love it. They are too young to truly understand, but they both know how to skate and are interested in the game. When hockey is on TV at the Giachino household, the two little girls will happily sit and watch with their dad.
If it wasn’t for Ava and Mia, Giachino wouldn’t be the coach he is today, as they have taught him a valuable lesson.
“I think they have certainly helped with the patience side of things,” he said. “Coaching helps me to be a better dad, and being a dad helps me to be a better coach.”
Now Giachino has the patience to understand what kind of team he’s dealing with. The expectations tied to being the Calumet hockey coach are high, but some seasons they just aren’t attainable.
“We have had groups where we haven’t been that strong, and we’ve had groups where we have been to the state finals,” he said. “You learn how to coach to the group and what you have, and to learn what you have. You know that some years you have a legitimate chance of winning something, and some years the emphasis is just to get better.”
And for Giachino, that is what coaching is all about. At the end of the day, he simply wants to create better hockey players. Kids in the area are always going to play hockey, but he wants to make sure they play it well and play it right.
“Our job is to get them better, from the time they get into the program to the time they leave,” he said. “It is a culture. A lot of kids want to play hockey, their parents played hockey, and the expectation is if you are a young boy, you are going to play hockey when you get to be 5 or 6. We have a lot of people in the area who have a lot of hockey knowledge and that are willing to pass that down to our kids. That is what has sustained the level of hockey for the last 40 and 50 years.”
When he was playing, Giachino never imagined being one of the people passing down hockey knowledge, but now as he looks up into the Colosseum rafters, he knows he’s in the right place.