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.”
Perry 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.
And 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 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.)
Twenty years ago, Kwin Morris and Jeff Guy were teammates on an MHSAA Quarterfinal-qualifying hockey team.
Guy even scored the winning goal in the Regional Final for Bay Area Reps, which topped Traverse City West 2-1.
This summer’s accomplishment, though, will go deeper in the history books.
Guy and Morris teamed up with Joe Lorenz to complete a dream that started a decade ago. They crossed all five of the Great Lakes on paddle boards while raising awareness and funds for water quality.
They put their balance, endurance and stick-handling skills together for the cause.
‘After 10 years and over one hundred grand raised for the lakes, it feels amazing,” Morris said. “I think the best part is knowing my kids will grow up knowing their old man did something cool for the environment in a unique way.”
It all started at a December social event in Traverse City. Guy, a financial adviser, and Morris, a middle school science teacher, had just gotten into paddle boarding when they began to wonder if they could cross Lake Michigan.
Lorenz, a personal trainer, promptly gave assurances they could — and joined them — even though he had never been on a paddle board prior to the holiday gathering.
Morris, Guy and Lorenz successfully crossed Lake Michigan in 2015, pausing in the cold of the night to look at the Northern Lights. They finished the nearly 100-kilometer journey in just under 25 hours. That accomplishment convinced them to launch Stand Up for Great Lakes, a non-profit organization to raise money and awareness for the protection of the lakes.
The trio also is supporting the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research, a non-profit housed at the University of Michigan.
“It feels amazing to have finished crossing all five lakes and complete a lifelong goal,” Guy acknowledged. “The dollars and awareness we have raised is incredible, and hopefully it continues to grow.”
Lake Huron was the toughest to cross by far, the former Reps noted. The 90-mile, 29-hour paddle brought seven hours of rain and high waves.
“Plus Joe knocked me in and Jeff fell in after catching a fish,” Morris observed.
Ontario was the team’s second-hardest challenge and the shortest paddle. Huge waves from the side all day took quite a toll on the paddlers, who were accompanied by safety boats on each crossing.
Lake Superior featured glassy water, a spectacular sunset and the paddlers pausing to conduct a ceremony over the Edmund Fitzgerald shipwreck. The northernmost Great Lake ranks as the group’s favorite.
Guy graduated from Kalkaska High School in 2003 and went on to play hockey at Hope College. He also played football, baseball and golf for the Blazers. He and his wife, Melissa, have a daughter, Emma.
Morris graduated in 2005 from Elk Rapids High School, where he also played baseball. He went on to get a teaching degree from Western Michigan University. He and his wife, Megan, have two children, Fitz and Knox. He now works for his former school district, teaching science.
The pair played for the Reps through a co-op hosted by Traverse City St. Francis that included athletes from Charlevoix, Elk Rapids, Kalkaska, Kingsley, Lake Leelanau St Mary, Mancelona and Suttons Bay. The Reps’ first coach was Michigan High School Hockey Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee Rex Luxton. He coached through 2008.
Morris and Guy look back at their high school playing days and coach with fondness.
“We had some great teams, and I think I still have the career goal record there,” Guy recalled. “Also, our coach on the Reps Rex Luxton was highly motivational to me while playing for him and later in life.”
Morris echoed Guy.
“I loved the whole experience,” Morris said. “Playing for my high school … Friday night games … school rivalries … playing for Rex Luxton … amazing friends and teammates — almost surreal that it will have been 20 years.”
The former coaching staff of the Reps are not at all surprised Morris and Guy challenged themselves to make a difference for the Great Lakes.
The coaching staff remembers Guy as a natural scorer coming through with big goals, and Morris as a strong two-way player who scored five goals in one period in Sault Ste. Marie. The past coaches also remember all the traveling the two did for practice and games because of the geographic nature of the squad.
“I had no idea they had any interest in the water kind of stuff,” Luxton said of his former players’ feat. “When I started following their bid to raise awareness, it didn’t surprise me they would attempt something like this.
“I think it illustrates how much determination they have and how much hard work they were willing to put in,” he continued. “It is just outstanding, particularly with the cold weather in the Great Lakes.”
Cody Inglis, a senior assistant director for the MHSAA, was an assistant coach for the Reps during all of Morris and Guy’s time with the co-op. He finds himself beaming with pride and happiness knowing these former players are giving back and making it a better world.
“What Jeff and Kwin have done physically and mentally to cross all of the Great Lakes on stand-up paddle boards is remarkable in itself,” Inglis pointed out. “When you add in the fact that they have put in charitable causes and the preservation of the Great Lakes as a reason for doing it – it makes it even more special.
“It’s not surprising given my recollection and remembrances of Jeff and Kwin, as they were really good hockey players and better people.”
High school hockey is where Morris and Guy’ friendship blossomed. Spending 24 or more hours together — and with Lorenz — has forged a greater lifetime bond that already had included being a part of each other’s weddings.
But they admit they had no inkling of this type of accomplishment back in high school.
“Sports were the most important thing in my life in high school,” Guy revealed. “Working really hard to win as many games as possible was the main goal – along with getting good grades and trying to get into a good college.”
But teamwork, learned on the ice and through other high school sports, can make anything possible.
“Any sport where you have to work as a team helps push yourself out of your comfort zone,” Morris concluded. “That's where the best things in life happen.”
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PHOTOS (Top) Clockwise from top left: Jeff Guy celebrates a goal while playing for Traverse Bay Reps with Kwin Morris to his left, Guy (left) and Morris (right) take a photo after one of their paddle board trips, and Morris bringing the puck up the ice for the Reps. (Middle) Guy, Morris and Joe Lorenz take a photo together on the lake shore. (Below) Morris accepts a medal during the 2004-05 season. (Photos courtesy of Jeff Guy, Kwin and Jo Morris.)