Journal Sports Writer
MARQUETTE — Local hockey fans filled up the Berry Events Center in droves on Saturday evening for the much-anticipated Marquette Hockey Night.
The night’s headliners were the local Yoopers United and the Detroit Red Wings Alumni as they squared off in an exhibition contest.
In an entertaining game for a great cause — the United Way of Marquette County — the teams tied 7-7.
Former Red Wings player and long-time Bally Sports Detroit color commentator Mickey Redmond highlighted the Wings Alumni squad. At 74 years old, Redmond took to the ice without a helmet just the way players did during his days in the National Hockey League.
Yoopers United was made up of local hockey players, which included Marquette native and former Wildcat and NHL player Justin Florek. In 10 career NHL games for the Boston Bruins, Florek netted two goals, including a postseason goal against the Red Wings in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.
At 32 years old, Florek now plays for the South Carolina Stingrays in the ECHL, but it’s still an interesting experience for a guy who has seen just about everything in hockey.
“It was pretty surreal out there, to be honest,” Florek said. “It was really cool to be back in town, we don’t live here anymore, but to be back in the town that I grew up in, it’s awesome.
“To be out there with guys that I grew up looking up to, Chris Gobert, Ryan Riipi, Jim Jackson, my old coach Jon Nebel (on Yoopers United), it goes down the list.
“Then to have the Wings come up, it’s just awesome. We’re all big Wings fans here in Marquette, so it was just really special and it’s for a special cause, and that makes it that much better.”
The game included two 30-minute periods with a continuous running clock. There was plenty of action, and some great plays from both teams to have the game result in a tie. Christian Howard netted the first goal of the game for the Yoopers from an assist by Wolff Belanger.
Corey Elkins got the Wings on the board after a scrum in front, with Alex Foster assisting. The game provided some quick scoring and back-and-forth action, as right off the ensuing faceoff, Nicholas Kosinski scored for the Yoopers to make it 2-1. Elkins continued to provide highlights with a sweet move to burn goalie Jeff Clark and tie the game once again.
Randy McKay gave the Wings a 3-2 lead after banging one in from the front of the net, but Jon Nebel had an answer for Yoopers United to tie it up.
After a hooking penalty on the Wings, David Bonk scored for Yoopers United on the power play with Kosinski assisting, making it 4-3. In the final minutes of the period, Foster scored to tie it again on a breakaway.
Kosinski scored his second goal of the game with 24 minutes left to give the lead back to Yoopers United. After assisting on Kosinski’s goal, Bonk scored to make it 6-4. The Wings needed to make a comeback, and they did with two goals in the next 10 minutes to tie it up. Foster scored again to cut it to 6-5 before Kevin Miller tied the game.
Belanger was able to come through with a goal to give the Yoopers a 7-6 lead with just over 11 minutes remaining. Neither team could score for the next nine minutes, and Detroit called timeout with 1:50 to go with an empty net.
Off the faceoff, a slapshot by Brent Peterson found the back of the net to tie the game. In the final seconds, Brett Love had a backhanded shot for the Yoopers to try and get them the win, but Red Wings goalie Ed Mio made the save.
“Hockey’s a wonderful sport and we play it because we love it,” Florek said. “It’s a hard and physical game, but we love it, and we love our fans. To give back is really special, and that’s why it’s so cool about the Wings coming up here and showing love for our fans, and helping give back to our community.”
It almost seems fitting for the game to have ended in a tie, since the real winners were the community. Area residents got to fill up the Berry and watch an entertaining night of hockey thanks to the Red Wings Alumni team.
But in the bigger picture, this event tremendously helped out the United Way, which will now be able to serve the community going forward in bigger and better ways.
“I don’t think enough good things can be said about the way United Way did the whole event.” Florek said. “I think everybody just had a great time, and it’s just so special, they do so many good things for everybody in our community.
“It’s just so nice seeing the support that they’ve had in this game, and hopefully moving forward.”
Travis Nelson can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.