By Bill Brophy
In the basement of the so-called "hockey room" in his Iron Range retirement home, Mike Sertich looks at a large framed photo often and smiles. It is a photo of the 107-year-old MacNaughton Cup, the shiny and impressive trophy awarded to the regular season champion of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. Sertich was a part of the WCHA for 29 years -- three as a player at Minnesota Duluth, six as an assistant coach at his alma mater and 17 as head coach of the Bulldogs. He finished his career at Michigan Tech where he was the head coach for three seasons.
"The MacNaughton Cup is absolutely huge. It is the oldest trophy in college hockey and so hard to win," said Sertich. "Everyone who ever participated in the WCHA feels the same way about it as I do. It is a big, big deal to win. I look at that picture a lot and it always makes me feel good. If I were younger, I probably would have a tattoo of the Cup on my arm."
The Cup is not only coveted by hockey teams and players. It is a stunning piece of hardware. It is a trophy that symbolizes all the consistency, team work, and outstanding play that goes into a championship college hockey season. Currently it is presented to the league champion. For the last three years WCHA Commissioner Bill Robertson has awarded it to Minnesota State as its appreciative fans watched Coach Mike Hastings hand it off to his players for a celebratory skate around the rink.
From 1962 until 1965 the Cup went to the WCHA playoff winner. Otherwise it has been presented to the regular season champ since the league's first year, 1951. A traveling trophy is on display each season
The MacNaughton Cup is hand-crafted of pure silver and stands nearly three-feet high and weighs some 40 pounds. It has the words "American Amateur Hockey Association" inscribed near the top of the cup above the handles. Etched into the front center of the cup are two hockey players. The Cup has pine cones, pine needles and icicles around the top rim and base. The front base has crossed hockey sticks and skate blades. The back base bears the name "James MacNaughton Trophy".
Michigan Tech University is the trustee for the MacNaughton Cup, named after a Upper Peninsula businessman, James MacNaughton, who donated the prized trophy. Tech has brought the Cup home to Copper Country seven times, most recently in 2016 when the Huskies shared the WCHA title with Minnesota State.
The Cup has been in existence and associated with amateur hockey in America since 1914.
"It is a big deal for anyone who knows the history of college hockey, but it is especially important to the people in the UP," said Sertich who coached in Houghton, Mi. where snowy winters are long and hockey is part of the culture. "The history is pretty neat."
In 1913, MacNaughton, then president of Calumet and Hecla, Inc. and an avid supporter of amateur ice hockey, authorized the president of the American Hockey Association to purchase a cup--he said the price didn't matter--and present it to the Association's championship team at the end of the season. The first winner was a team from the Cleveland (OH) Athletic Club.
The MacNaughton Cup remained with the American Hockey Association until 1932. From 1933 to 1950, the Cup was fought for only by semi-pro and intermediate hockey clubs in the UP.
In 1951, the MacNaughton Cup was donated by Calumet and Hecla, Inc., through the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Endicott R. Lovell, to the newly-founded Midwest Collegiate Hockey League (MCHL), a forerunner of the WCHA. Lovell, MacNaughton's son-in-law and president of the company, was also an avid supporter of amateur ice hockey.
The MCHL was comprised of Michigan Tech, Colorado College, Denver, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, and North Dakota. Michigan Tech University became the trustee for the MacNaughton Cup. In the original spirit of the trophy, the league decided to award the trophy to its regular season champion.
In 1953 the MCHL became the Western Intercollegiate Hockey League (WIHL). The MacNaughton Cup remained a part of the WIHL until the league was disbanded in March of 1958. There was no league play for the 1958-59 season. In 1959-60, the seven original MCHL/WIHL teams resumed formal competition under the new name of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
During the 1961-62 through the 1964-65 seasons the Cup was awarded to the WCHA's playoff champion instead of the regular season champion. From the 1965-66 season to the 1981-82 season, the Cup was again awarded to the WCHA's regular season champion.
Michigan Tech left the WCHA in 1981 to join the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA). Since Michigan Tech is the trustee of the Cup, the trophy went with it to the CCHA. When Michigan Tech returned to the WCHA for the 1984-85 season the MacNaughton Cup also returned.
Sertich knows that history well. He was the coach at Duluth which won its first WCHA title in 1984, led by Hobey Baker-winner Tom Kurvers. But because Tech was in the CCHA that season, the Bulldogs didn't get the Cup. UMD came back to win the WCHA title the next year and officials from Bowling Green, the CCHA champ and Cup holder from 1982-84, brought it to Sertich and his team. "It sat on the seat next to me on the plane all the way home," Sertich recalled. "Great memory."
In 1993, the Bulldogs won the MacNaughton Cup again. This time WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod presented the Cup to Sertich and his players who skated it around the Duluth Arena for all its loving fans to see.
There have been 13 different schools that have won the Cup. All appreciated the work and model of consistent play it took to lift the Cup.
Jeff Sauer coached in the WCHA, won 655 games in his 31-year career at his alma mater Colorado College and Wisconsin. He won two national championship and two MacNaughton Cups. He valued the latter as much as the former. Bob Johnson won three national titles in his 15 years as coach at Wisconsin. His team won one MacNaughton Cup.
"Anyone who has won the MacNaughton Cup knows what an accomplishment it is," said Sertich.
Colorado College (1994, 95 and 96) and North Dakota (shared it in 1997 and won outright in 98 and 99) and Minnesota State (the last three seasons) are the only schools to have won the trophy three consecutive times.
Northern Michigan, Ferris State and Bemidji State are the current league members to have won the MacNaughton Cup while members of the WCHA. Each achieved the feat once.