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Hockeyville USA

Walt Kyle cherishing big night at Hockeyville

Longtime Northern Michigan coach shares fond memories of Lakeview Arena

by David Satriano @davidsatriano / Staff Writer

MARQUETTE, Mich. -- Walt Kyle has done it all during his hockey career.

The hockey coach at Northern Michigan University since 2002, Kyle has played and served as an assistant coach for the school, was an assistant in the NHL, and has held various coaching positions in the Western Hockey League, the International Hockey League and American Hockey League.

But he is proud to called Marquette, Michigan home, especially this week, when the small town in Michigan's Upper Peninsula will host Kraft Hockeyville USA 2016.

"I played here in 1978 a couple of years after the start of the program, was an assistant coach here for 11 years, I was here when we won the national championship," Kyle said. "Then I went into pro hockey for a number of years. In that time I was gone, I got exposed to different places, but when I came back, the one thing I can tell you is hockey is one of those things that is kind of inbred in the fiber of the community here."

Kyle, a center, had 31 goals and 90 points in 85 games with Northern Michigan. He captained the Wildcats, who played their home games at Lakeview Arena, to two straight Frozen Four appearances in 1980 and 1981.

As a result of Marquette being named Kraft Hockeyville USA 2016 winner, Lakeview Arena will receive $150,000 in upgrades and host a preseason game between the Carolina Hurricanes and Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN).

"Everybody in the community got behind it," Kyle said, referring to when Marquette was named one of the top 10 finalists for Kraft Hockeyville, with the results being determined by fan voting. "You were getting five, six, seven emails a day to remind us to vote. We reached out to the students on campus, the guys on our hockey team. Everyone was voting and that's the way this town is. It's a culture of people here that care about each other and care about their community, and it's a really unique place like that."

Kyle was an assistant with Northern Michigan when it went undefeated at Lakeview Arena and won the NCAA national championship in 1991.

"We were really good for about four years leading up to that national title team; we won two or three of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association League titles and then went on and won the national title," Kyle said. "When I first played there, I think the building held 2,000 people. Down at one end of the arena there was a balcony that kind of hangs over the Zamboni room and people would be lined up 3-4 people deep, and they would bring pails to stand on so they could see since there weren't chairs there.

"You were playing in packed buildings. Then the building expanded to 3,000 and then 4,400 and we were selling out on a pretty regular basis and it was a loud, loud intimidating building where we won far more than we lost. They did an article once about the most intimidating places to play and Lakeview was No. 1 or No. 2. The games were a real social event in town."

Kyle is 252-241-64 in 14 seasons as coach at Northern Michigan, including six 20-win seasons. He described hockey as being a part of everyone's life in the Upper Peninsula. 

"The community here is very much like a small town Canadian community," Kyle said. "A lot of hockey places in America aren't like that. The culture of hockey goes deep into some of these people's families. Friday and Saturday nights, people used to go to the Palestra (before Lakeview Arena). We had hard, long winters here and hockey was a part of what the community did."

Northern Michigan played at Lakeview Arena from 1976-98, and Kyle is excited to return to the rink where he played and coached, and had more than a handful of memories, for the game Tuesday.

"I wouldn't miss it for the world," he said.

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