Balanced, Talented Chargers All Playing Roles in Pursuit of Ultimate Goal

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

February 23, 2022

Nolan Salayko is confident heading into the MHSAA ice hockey postseason because he’s confident in his Flint Powers Catholic teammates.

All of them.

“I think with this team, we just have so much depth with all of our lines,” the senior defenseman said. “In years past, we had maybe a superstar, and then it would drop off a little bit. This year, everybody plays their role perfectly and it’s helping us win.”

Salayko and the Chargers have done plenty of winning, going 20-4-1 this regular season. They enter Regionals ranked No. 1 in Division 3 and No. 2 in the Michigan High School Hockey Coaches Association Super 10.

They’ve done it with an incredibly balanced attack, as five players have scored 10 or more goals, and eight have more than 20 points.

“Ever since the summer, Coach has said how we’re going to be built on depth this year, and we can all see it,” Powers senior forward Luke Cramer said. “We don’t look to just one guy if it’s the end of a game and we’re down a goal. We really rely on each other. Everyone can make a great play, and we all know it.”

By relying on everyone, the Chargers are hoping to take the next championship step after coming up just short over the years. Despite having won 34 Regional titles, qualifying for 21 Final Fours and seven Finals, Powers has never won a Finals championship.

“That’s a big one with the program,” Powers coach Travis Perry said. “We’ve had a lot of success over the years, and there were three guys before me, and those guys all had a lot of success, as well. But we still haven’t won that last game. Hopefully, one of these years it’s going to happen and we get that bounce to go our way.”

Flint Powers Catholic hockeyPerry added that he didn’t like talking about the program’s lack of a title, but he admitted to feeling a sense of urgency with this year’s team, as it features most of the 2020-21 roster, which advanced to the Division 3 Semifinals.

“From my end, you never know when you’ll have a team this good again,” he said.

The players are very aware of the program’s history, but they also would rather not talk about it.

“Each year is a different year,” Cramer said. “You hear about it from time to time from outsiders. But inside our team, we don’t think about it too much.”

In order to try to end it, though, Perry continued to schedule up this season, adding some of the state’s top teams to the Chargers’ slate.

They’ve played the No. 1 teams in both Division 1 and 2, losing 2-0 against Detroit Catholic Central and defeating Hartland 2-1. In total, they’ve played 10 ranked teams, going 7-2-1 in those games.

“We knew we had a good team coming back, so we wanted to put those guys in over their heads,” Perry said. “We tried to make the schedule as hard as we could. That was one of the things we said as a coaching staff this year, we thought that we could go into the playoffs at 15-10, and if we did, we’d be battle tested.”

The schedule didn’t just test the Chargers, it gave them a new level of confidence.

“Playing those teams again this year, we have the confidence in knowing that we can play with them,” Cramer said.

Flint Powers Catholic hockeyAnd that confidence runs through the roster, as they’ve all contributed to building it. All 18 skaters have scored at least one goal this season, led by Mason Czarnecki with 17.

Czarnecki is also tied for the team lead in assists with 21. Jacques Lavrack (14 goals, 19 assists), Cooper Gerhardt (11 goals, 21 assists), Trey Carlock (seven goals, 19 assists), Weston Reinig (seven goals, 18 assists), Brenden Tarpening (11 goals, 14 assists), Nolan Berner (10 goals, 14 assists) and Kyle Barbour (eight goals, 15 assists) are all averaging nearly a point a game or more.

Behind a strong Powers defense, goaltender Nick Kurtiak is having a solid season as well with a 1.49 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.

It all adds up to a confident group heading into Thursday night’s postseason opener against Big Rapids. But it’s also one that’s very aware anything can happen in a single-elimination tournament.

“You just take it, honestly, one game at a time and one practice at a time,” Salayko said. “We just keep trying to get better and better every game.”

If they allow themselves to dream a bit, however, and think of winning that final game and bringing a first hockey title to an already prestigious program, the tenor changes – if only for a moment.

“That would be, honestly, great,” Cramer said. “Not only for our school, but for our team and this program and what we’ve tried to build all these years. It would be a great way to leave our mark here.”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Mason Czarnecki (25) and his teammates skate toward their bench during Saturday’s game against Livonia Stevenson. (Middle) Chargers Jacques Lavrack (3) and Kyle Barbour (16) are among those working to push the puck into Stevenson’s goal during the 4-2 win. (Below) Powers players huddle up. (Photos courtesy of the Flint Powers Catholic hockey program.)