Rivals Find Success in Cooperation

March 8, 2019

By Chris Dobrowolski
Special for Second Half

In the place where rivalries turn into partnerships and adversaries become teammates stands the Great North Alpine ski team and the Bay Reps hockey squad.

The two programs — cooperatives that both include neighboring foes Traverse City St. Francis and Elk Rapids — have used that unique alliance to have great success in their respective sports this winter.

At last week’s Division 2 Skiing Finals, Great North Alpine’s boys team captured its first title, unseating Petoskey and ending the Northmen’s state record-tying streak of eight straight championships.

The Bay Reps, which also includes athletes from Kalkaska, Kingsley, Bear Lake and Mancelona, have also reached uncharted territory this season. The Reps advanced to the Division 1 Semifinals for the first time after beating Byron Center 4-3 in overtime in Wednesday’s Quarterfinal matchup.

It might be an unlikely union, given that Elk Rapids, St. Francis and Kalkaska compete against one another in the Lake Michigan Conference for most sports, while Kingsley is a rival in the Northern Michigan Football League. However, it would be difficult for either team to exist if not for the joining of forces between multiple schools.

“That’s the main reason we look for partnerships with other schools,” said St. Francis athletic director Aaron Biggar. “A smaller school like ourselves, or even our other partners, can offer a larger array of extracurricular activities. All the athletic directors that you talk to, they understand and know that athletics and extracurricular activities are good for students and you want to provide as many opportunities for those students.”

What they’ve done with those opportunities has been special. Even before the Great North Alpine boys team captured the Finals championship this season, it had been one of the elite teams in the state in Division 2. Beating Petoskey proved to be the big challenge and resulted in three consecutive runner-up finishes to the Northmen.

This year was different, though, and the Great North Alpine boys were able to interrupt the Northmen’s stranglehold on the crown and match the Finals championship the Great North Alpine girls won in 2016.

“It was a great feeling,” said Doug White, who co-coaches the Great North Alpine teams with Ben Ferris. “You felt like that monkey was finally off our back. We were able to overcome Petoskey, which was a great feat. They are a powerhouse.”

The Bay Reps have won four consecutive Northern Michigan Hockey League titles, but a postseason run this deep has eluded them in the nearly two decades since the program was formed. The Reps won Regional titles in 2002, 2003 and 2010, but were turned away in the Quarterfinals each time. This year they were able to string together four wins and break through that barrier, even though they opted to stay in Division 1 when they could have dropped to Division 2 due to fewer schools being part of the co-op (which resulted in a smaller combined enrollment).

“This year the kids are playing great, and we’re able to compete with those teams,” said first-year Bay Reps head coach Mike Matteucci. “We’ve come a long way this year. It’s been a lot of fun. A lot of growing and a lot of learning.”

Chemistry is the biggest obstacle for a co-op team, both coaches say, but they’ve found ways for team building and then meshing into a cohesive group.

“That’s something we focus on, getting the kids to work with each other,” said Matteucci. “Obviously when they get on the ice, that’s the best thing about hockey in my experience. You might go into a locker room not knowing who anyone is and you’re not going to talk much, but once you get on the ice it’s different. Everybody kind of comes together. Communicating on the ice and getting to know each other. That’s the bond that all these kids have.”

White also has seen similar results, but in his case it’s on the ski slopes.

“Traverse City St. Francis and Elk Rapids are rivals. It is something to overcome,” said White. “As a coach you don’t look at it that way. You just look at it as another athlete on the team. The big thing is you work on it. As the team gets together when you first start out with dry land training, that’s the most challenging then. But after you get out on the hill and start training on the hill, they come together. Everybody starts to jell together and become one.”

Along the way new friendships are established between teammates who are not always classmates or live in the same town.

“You’re usually competing against these other schools, but when you’re on the same team as them you really have the opportunity to expand your friendships across schools, and you kind of start thinking about those schools differently,” said Elk Rapids senior Finn Husband, who won the Division 2 individual slalom and giant slalom this season. “I know coming into high school I was more like, ‘Oh, these schools are my enemies. We play them in basketball. We play them (in other sports). You really root against them.’ But when you compete on the same team and you have the opportunity to understand how kids in those schools are basically doing the same thing you’re doing, you come together, you make friends and it’s an awesome time for everyone.

“I feel like I have a connection (with St. Francis), knowing the guys on the team and knowing how awesome and competitive they are.”

Chris Dobrowolski has covered northern Lower Peninsula sports since 1999 at the Ogemaw County Herald, Alpena News, Traverse City Record-Eagle and currently as sports editor at the Antrim Kalkaska Review since 2016. He can be reached at sports@antrimreview.net with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Great North Alpine’s Cooper Kerkhof – a student from Elk Rapids – helps the co-op program’s boys team to its first MHSAA Finals title last month. (Middle) The Traverse City Bay Reps hockey team celebrates its Regional title last week. (Below) Members of Great Alpine’s boys and girls teams pose with the championship trophy. (Ski photos by Sports in Motion; hockey photo courtesy of the Bay Reps program.)

Brother Rice's Rosa Relishing Final Run with High School Hockey

By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com

January 26, 2023

If the Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice hockey team ends up winning the Division 2 championship in March, it could be said that the journey to that title started in August with an offer he wasn't ready to accept.

Greater DetroitThat’s when senior Peter Rosa who was coming off an all-state season last year as a junior — went to Louisiana to train for a few days with the Shreveport Mudbugs, a team in the North American Hockey League. 

Rosa said at that point he was already wanting to come back to Brother Rice for his senior season, but given how he impressed the Mudbugs coaching staff during that camp, it didn’t stop Shreveport coaches from trying to change Rosa’s mind after they informed him he had a roster spot if he wanted it. 

“They wanted me there,” Rosa said. “They said, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to come develop here?’"

But Rosa stuck with his original intentions, saying thanks, but no thanks, so he could play one final year of high school hockey. 

As a result, Rosa is already going down in the history books as one of the best to ever play for a storied Brother Rice program.

Following Tuesday’s win against Warren De La Salle Collegiate, Rosa has 22 goals and 25 assists in 17 games for the Warriors this winter.

He is No. 2 on the school’s all-time points list with 116, although he likely won’t be able to catch leader Mackenzie MacEachern, who had 154 points during his time at Brother Rice.

However, odds are good that Rosa will be able to overtake MacEachern’s record of 65 goals scored in a career, since Rosa currently is at 59. 

Rosa is a versatile 5-foot-10, 175-pound offensive stalwart who can play center and both wing positions. 

Rosa raises his stick in celebration after scoring Rice's first goal in the eventual 4-2 loss. When Brother Rice lost to Trenton in a Division 2 Semifinal last year, Brother Rice head coach Kenny Chaput said odds were good at the time that it would be the last time he would coach Rosa.

“I was fully planning on that being his final game with us,” he said.

Rosa went to Shreveport following the season to practice and meet the team in what was his first encounter with the Mudbugs before going back in August.

But throughout the summer, Chaput, through conversations with Peter’s dad and Brother Rice assistant coach Todd Rosa, had an inkling that Peter preferred to play at Brother Rice for his senior year.

Once the official word came from Peter at the beginning of the school year that he was coming back, there was a challenge for Chaput. 

Given Rosa was good enough to play at junior level, it was tempting for coaches to feel they didn’t have anything left to teach Rosa in high school. 

“I had to make sure I went above to push him so he doesn’t get stale with things,” Chaput said. “It’s still a challenge because he gets things done that a lot of other kids don’t. But there’s tweaks in his game that he still needs to do, so we’ll continue to push him the best we can. Obviously, we didn’t want him to have a year where he didn’t get pushed and he didn’t progress.” 

With Rosa in the fold, Brother Rice is an obvious contender to win its second Division 2 title in three years. 

“I don’t think there’s anything like playing for your school and for your classmates,” said Rosa, who said he’s not sure yet if he’ll play in Shreveport or for another junior team after he finishes high school. “Having the benefit of hanging out with kids in school all day, and then coming to practice with them and playing with them, I’ve built relationships with many kids on the team that I wouldn’t trade anything for. I’ve had a great experience.”

Even worse for opponents is that after the loss to Trenton in that Semifinal, Rosa is motivated for redemption. 

“That’ll leave a pretty bad taste in your mouth,” Rosa said. “I just felt like I had some unfinished business.”

If that business ends up being finished, opponents will sure wish those Shreveport coaches could’ve changed Rosa’s mind in August. 

Keith DunlapKeith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at keithdunlap78@gmail.com with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Brother Rice's Peter Rosa gains steam on a rush during last season's Division 2 Semifinal against Trenton at USA Hockey Arena. (Middle) Rosa raises his stick in celebration after scoring Rice's first goal in the eventual 4-2 loss.