By Dan Hardenbrook

Anyone who pays any attention to hockey around here knows we’ve had decades of greatness on the ice. There are banners from some of the very best teams hanging in the rafters at the barn. With amazing moments and unforgettable games, Newberry’s hockey history is rich— though it was born in a barn—and now it’s heading to one of the state’s biggest stages.

After conquering almost every challenge in Michigan Amateur Hockey Association play, including multiple championships and state tournament appearances, the launch of a high school team featuring kids from Newberry, Manistique, and Munising has launched a new era.

And it’s going to be good. Someone needs to put the MHSAA on notice, because the best of the best from house hockey are coming for high school hockey next.

The new team is called the Manistique Emeralds and they will wear green and white, but there is plenty of orange and black out there, too. Newberry will provide the head coach, our own John Nutkins, who has been a fixture in the local hockey scene for years. Nutkins was also one of the biggest supporters of the local move to high school hockey.

“I played 18U house hockey,” he said. “If you looked in the stands, you were lucky if it was just your parents or grandparents in the stands. In high school hockey everybody shows up. It’s high speed, it’s fun, and it’s just like other high school sports. It’s the atmosphere and the experience, and also we have some highly skilled players and this could be a stepping stone for them. It keeps them up to speed with other players who have the opportunity.”

Nutkins is expecting big things during the debut season. “I haven’t been this excited for a hockey season in a long time,” he said. “I coached the ‘04 birth year kids (this year’s seniors) all the way through youth hockey and we didn’t think we could pull it off in time, so I’m excited for the seniors. I’m also excited for the coaches and all of the players and parents.”

One of the biggest challenges was selecting the team that would take the ice. Coaches were blown away by the response when 33 players, all highly skilled and with championship experience, showed up for tryouts, which had to be extended longer than expected.

“The hardest part is you like the kids. All of them are great kids. You know them, you’ve coached a lot of them, and it’s tough. But we made sure that for the kids that didn’t make it, we brought them in and had a talk about what they can do to get better. And we are making sure we still get them an opportunity outside of the varsity team.”

Though the team is brand new, Nutkins thinks they’re ready. He says some of their strengths include size on defense, good leadership with the seniors, and the team’s depth.

“Our speed and puck movement are strong. There are concepts we are working on that we are catching on quickly to. I always have high expectations and expect us to do well. As long as we get better every time we touch the ice, I’ll be a happy coach,” says Nutkins. “We have a lot of strong skaters. It’s been competitive in practice. Everybody is being pushed every day and it’s already making us better.”

Nutkins will be joined by another longtime leader of teams in Newberry. Ben Rahilly will join Nutkins’ coaching staff, which will also include Manistique’s Steve Hinkson and Tiger Marcotte, and Munising’s Ryan Lindstrom.

Players from Newberry include Jacob Brown, Chazze Bultema, Zach Burton, Eric Edwards, Gavin and Johnny Nutkins, Matthew Rahilly, and Cameron Skeans. The team will open up their inaugural season Thursday at Kingsford. The game will be broadcast live on the M-123FM Facebook page.