Alpena Goalie Surges to Statewide Stardom
January 4, 2019
By Chris Dobrowolski
Special for Second Half
ALPENA — Cooper Black has saved his best for last.
It’s just among the many saves Alpena’s goalie has made so far during his senior season with the Wildcats’ ice hockey team.
Not only has Black emerged as Alpena’s top goaltender this year, after sharing the role a year ago, but he has put his name alongside the top goalies in the state. He’s No. 1 in the state in save percentage (.963), fourth in goals against average (0.90) and tied for fifth in wins (8) according to MI Hockey Hub as Alpena has surged to a 9-2-1 record.
“He’s been playing great, and that’s been a key to our success,” said Alpena head coach Chris Limback. “I always knew he had the talent. It was just a matter of putting it together and for him to realize it. He started to make some big saves, and his confidence grew. Then he became the goalie I always thought he could be.”
Black asserted himself as the Wildcats’ top netminder from the opening game this season and became irreplaceable as the starter as he built a scoreless streak of 258 minutes, 25 seconds to begin the year, including shutouts in five straight games.
“Coach gave me the first start, and I had a good game,” said Black. “That was just a confidence builder, and from there it just took off. It was really something special. I don’t think that (five straight shutouts) has happened here for quite a while. I definitely had some help from my teammates, obviously. They’re getting it done and playing good defense for me.”
Black admits not having confidence was an issue for him last year. That began to change in the offseason when he received some extra work with a goalie coach, then tried out and earned a roster spot in the Michigan Development Hockey League — a collection of six teams that play from August until October and feature some of the top players from around the state.
“He played in that, and he gained a lot of confidence there,” said Limback. “He realized, ‘Hey, I can play with the best kids in the state.’ He looks so in control of the game. I think it’s all confidence. He finally believes in himself. He’s using his size to his advantage. He’s playing like a confident goalie instead of playing afraid.”
Black didn’t know if he would be selected to play in the MDHL out of the dozens of goalies who tried out, but he showcased his ability at the right time to get picked for a team and ultimately helped the squad he was playing for reach the semifinals of the league’s postseason playoffs.
“It was definitely something that helped me develop as a player,” said Black. “If anyone got a chance to go play in it, I would suggest they do it. It’s something where you get a lot of exposure and you get to play against the best players in the state. It’s a really good league. I was just stoked to be there.”
A dominant goalie can go a long way in hockey, and Alpena has certainly reaped the benefits of having the 6-foot-2, 163-pound Black standing between the pipes.
“You know you have a chance to win every game,” said Limback. “Even if your (defense) or your forwards aren’t having a great game, you know he’s always back there in case you make an error. It’s a great feeling for our team to have.”
Black is one of nine seniors on a veteran Alpena team. Owen Limback and Anthony Berg anchor the defense, while Colby Plowman and Kyle VanDusen are the top producers on offense for the Wildcats, who were 15-7-3 last season.
“We have seniors in all the key positions,” said Chris Limback. “It’s an older team. It’s a group of kids I’ve had for many years, through minor hockey and all the way through.”
That experienced group won its first seven contests of the season and has not been shy about facing some of the elite teams in the state. In fact, the Wildcats snapped reigning Division 3 champion Detroit Country Day’s 27-game winning streak with a 1-1 draw at the Division 3 Showcase in Gaylord last month. That game created quite the pregame buzz as it matched Black against the state’s reigning Mr. Hockey in Country Day goalie Sam Evola.
Country Day appeared to be on its way to a 28th straight win until VanDusen netted a goal in the final second.
“It was really good game,” said Black. “I think Sam made a really good save 20 seconds in. He was aggressive and made a really good save to keep the score 0-0. They squeezed one by me from the point. It took a couple of bounces, and I got too impatient and it just slipped by me. Our whole line at the end made a great play — Kyle just got a one-timer and put it perfectly. Sam, there wasn’t much he could do. I thought he played pretty well in that game. I was definitely a little more motivated. I wanted to win that game so bad. That was definitely the highlight of the season so far.”
Black is hoping there are more highlights to come. He believes the Wildcats have what it takes to win the Big North Conference and make a deep run in the postseason. And, if he continues playing like he has this season, there is likely to be some junior-level teams seeking a player of his caliber to play in goal.
“He’s a great kid,” said Chris Limback. “Smart academically and a fun kid to coach. It’s nice to see that doors are opening up for him. Now he’ll have some options to go for juniors and keep pursuing his dream of playing college hockey.”
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 [email protected] 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) Alpena goalie Cooper Black guards the net during the Wildcats’ game against Macomb Dakota earlier this season. (Middle) Black ranks among the top goalies in the state in his first season as the team’s fulltime starter. (Photos courtesy of Black family.)
Hockey Players Transferring Winter Puck Skills to Spring Golf Swings
By Tom Lang
Special for MHSAA.com
May 26, 2023
When the Michigan seasons shift from winter to spring, some high school golf teams are a little more eager than others for the hockey season to officially end.
This is especially true for the school golf programs in Brighton, Hartland and Muskegon Mona Shores – examples of boys teams that love having hockey players transition from the indoor frozen ice to play golf outdoors on the lush green grass.
“I would take a golf team full of hockey players any day,” said Hartland golf coach Nathan Oake. “I love them.”
We can tell, because his program is full of them.
Hartland and Brighton each have eight hockey players on their 16-golfer varsity and JV rosters.
Mona Shores has three hockey players this year, but usually has more. In 2023 it’s Oliver MacDonald (all-state honorable mention in hockey), Nathan McNarland and Nicholas Taylor, who was voted Division 1 all-state golf last spring, then leading his team to fifth place at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final.
Brighton golfer Winston Lerch was also Division 1 all-state last year in golf and an assistant captain on the hockey team this winter that finished Division 1 runner-up to Detroit Catholic Central. Here in 2023, he shot a 65 to open the season at Oakland University for medalist and has committed to Grand Valley State for golf with his 72-stroke average.
Joining Lerch in the Bulldogs boys golf program are hockey players like Levi Pennala, winner of hockey’s Wall Award sponsored by State Champs as the top high school goalie. Pennala – who recently shot 72 at the Kensington Lakes Activities Association championship tournament, his career low for high school golf – finished in the top 30 last year at the LPD1 Final. Then early this spring when he was away at a high-level junior hockey tournament, freshman hockey player Adam Forcier stepped in and shot a school record 18-hole round for a freshman at 73. Jacob Daavetilla also works into the starting lineup at times.
Forcier tied the record of Davis Codd – who, as a pro hockey player on leave from the Saginaw Spirit OHL hockey team when COVID-19 shut down the league, won the LPD1 Final in 2021 for Brighton.
Brighton golf coach Jimmy Dewling said Codd was one of the earliest to prove to others you can play both hockey and golf and excel. In fact, that June in 2021, Codd went to an NHL scouting camp in Pennsylvania before the Golf Finals, drove overnight back to Forest Akers to play the two championship rounds, won the title, then immediately returned to Pennsylvania to resume the hockey camp.
“On our team, we believe, and TBone (Codd) was a perfect example of it, if there’s any time you have the opportunity to be competitive, it is going to make you a more well-rounded competitor and therefore better at your particular sport,” Dewling said.
“We like hockey players. In the winter, they have to think to where the puck is going, be smart enough to react, and understand how that emotion is going to carry over from one play to the next. When it’s your shift you have to forget about the last shift, or take something from the last shift and put it into the next shift, to have consistent play.
“It’s the same on the golf course,” Dewling continued. “It’s one hole to the next, one shot at a time, being tough, and that’s only going to come from competition reps. We love the athletic ability more so than anything; the toughness and competitiveness all year.”
In addition to Lerch and Pennala starting on varsity golf, they are joined by traditional golfers Matt Doyle, Riley Morton and Andrew Daily, who is committed to Wayne State and finished LPD1 runner-up last spring.
Going into the 2023 golf postseason, Brighton is ranked No. 2 in Division 1. The Bulldogs have won the Next Tee Invite at Oakland Hills, the North Star Invite at Plum Hollow and the KLAA Conference Championship – earning Brighton’s first conference title since 2007. The Bulldogs also were runners-up at The Meadows Invite at Grand Valley State University. The team is averaging 297 for 18 holes.
Oake admitted this is a rebuilding year for Hartland’s golf program. The varsity lineup has only two returning players with varsity golf experience – Keller King and Brady Betteley.
“So, we opted to keep a group of tough competitors with a solid combination of speed and strength – and who are not concerned about the cold conditions that we play in,” Oake quipped.
Five others rotate into the Eagles’ golf starting lineup with King and Betteley: Isaac Frantti is an all-state hockey defensemen playing his first season of golf but shot a career-low 79 at American Dunes recently. He just signed a United State Premier Hockey League tender to play in Connecticut next year. Ian Kastamo scored the winning goal in Hartland’s Division 2 hockey championship victory in 2022, and LJ Sabala is a varsity hockey player as well.
Then there are two non-hockey freshmen getting shots to start occasionally – Dallas Korponic, who finished third at his weight at the Individual Wrestling Finals, and Michael Maurin. Five more sophomores and juniors are hockey players on the JV golf team.
“We hope to be competitive with (Brighton) again soon, but they have the talent to make a big splash this year,” Oake said. “I also play golf at the same club as many Brighton players, so I see them quite a bit and we are friendly. When the Brighton team walked by our team on a recent Monday and all said hello to me and our guys, one of my players looked at me and said that this was the biggest difference between hockey and golf. In hockey, the small talk would be (traded) for the ice, and it would not be very nice out there.
“Either way, I believe both sports are filled with fierce competitors and respect, but when the game is over a handshake and a golf hat tip are offered to the victor.”
This story was updated and reposted with permission of MIGolfJournal.com.
PHOTOS (Top) Brighton takes a team photo after finishing third at last season’s LPD1 Final, and all five golfers are back this season including hockey players Levi Pennala (second from left) and Winston Lerch (second from right.) (Middle) Hartland’s Ian Kastamo (16) takes a faceoff against Brighton this winter. (Below) Mona Shores’ Nicholas Taylor fires an iron shot. (Photos courtesy of High School Sports Scene, Sapshots Photography and Mona Shores’ athletic department, respectively.)