PLYMOUTH — Nick Galda would be the unquestioned No. 1 man in net for most high school hockey teams in Michigan.
So would Bobby Masters.
At Detroit Catholic Central, the senior goalies operate on a time share, alternating starts regardless of the importance of the upcoming game.
Last year, it was Masters whose turn came up when the Shamrocks played in the MHSAA Division 1 championship game.
On Saturday, the rotation worked out so Galda would start in the final game against Brighton.
Galda stopped 17 of 18 shots, as Catholic Central won its third straight MHSAA championship with a 5-1 victory over Brighton at USA Hockey Arena.
Of all the things Shamrocks coach Brandon Kaleniecki stresses about, goaltending isn’t one of them.
“From a coaching standpoint, I didn’t have to overthink at all,” he said. “I just had to say, ‘Hey, this is it.’ Both guys started early last year and we just kind of let them play one and one. We learned really quickly, hey, they’re both really good. I don’t need to get crazy, unless something weird happened where one of them got sick or got injured. That’s the only time we’ve changed the rotation for that.
“Outside of that, it was back and forth and let it go. When we talked about the Semifinals and Finals, the great part about it is neither one of them questioned it. They’re just, ‘OK, Coach.’ They knew the routine, and they were all in.”
Galda played in 14 games this season, going 11-1. Masters played in 17 games, going 13-2.
The two have a working relationship that is mutually beneficial.
“Me and Bob, all we want to do is win and do what’s best for the team,” Galda said. “At the end of the day, as long as we win, that’s all that matters.
“Bob pushes me every day to get better. So, I wouldn’t be where I am today without him at practice pushing me to keep going.”
It was the 16th MHSAA championship for the Shamrocks, but the feeling of winning remains fresh in the program. There are always players who won for the first time or who are ending their careers on the highest possible note.
“The seniors who win a state title and go out on top, it’s an unbelievable feeling for us as coaches to see them go out that way,” Kaleniecki said. “It means so much.”
Brighton opened the scoring on a goal by Cameron Duffany at 3:11 of the second period, but that only seemed to light a fire under the Shamrocks.
They stormed back, getting a goal from Parker Jamieson less than three minutes later. Brian Apple’s goal at 11:52 of the second put the Shamrocks ahead, 2-1, entering the third period.
Catholic Central broke it open with goals by Jack Swamba at 2:11, Justin Hubenschmidt at 4:44 and Landon West at 12:11.
“Our response to it was huge,” Kaleniecki said. “They were playing really well. You’ve got to give them a lot of credit the first half of the game. We had some chances in the first and couldn’t quite find pucks around the net. They had some chances in the first. Maybe the goal was a bit of a wake-up call.”
Brighton came into the game with a 13-game winning streak since losing 2-1 to Division 2 champion Hartland on Jan. 15. The Bulldogs were playing in their first Final since winning back-to-back championships in 2017 and 2018.
“We left everything out there,” Brighton coach Kurt Kivisto said. “It’s not like we didn’t try. We competed. We blocked shots. We wore a lot of pucks. The effort was there. They were the better team tonight.”
PHOTOS (Top) Detroit Catholic Central celebrates its third-straight Division 1 championship Saturday night. (Middle) Brian Apple scores what ends up being the game-winning goal during the final minutes of the second period. (Click for more for Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
When Gage Looker went down with an ACL injury in Gaylord’s first football game this fall, Liz Harding – president of the Blue Devils’ hockey boosters – was absolutely devastated.
Looker, an all-conference hockey defenseman last winter, was playing, as a senior, in his first-ever varsity football game. Harding, also Looker’s mom, was there.
“I caught the one and only picture of him playing football just before he injured himself,” Harding recalled. “I was devastated!”
Doctors indicated surgery was necessary and recovery would prevent Looker from getting back on the ice, the football field and the track where Looker had dreams of great success this year.
“Knowing hockey is his passion — and thoughts of him not playing did not set well with me — Gage started what I would call standard physical therapy a couple days after surgery and then added an additional blood flow therapy with our local trainer to his weekly routine,” Harding said. “Through his hard work and determination, he is back on the ice.”
The Blue Devils, after graduating their other four all-conference players from last winter, were 2-11 this year when Looker returned to the ice against Big North Conference rival Petoskey. Gaylord has won three of seven since.
Gaylord coach Jamie Voss believes Looker’s return was pretty much a miracle. And he thinks Looker is playing at about 80 percent despite being only a few months removed from the injury.
“Gage tore his ACL and was told by doctors his sports life was over,” Voss said. “Gage would not accept this, and he trained harder than any kid I have ever witnessed to prove the doctors wrong.”
Sans injury, Voss notes Looker was certain to graduate on several all-time Gaylord hockey record lists.
“The reports on his progress and rehab were literally off the charts for this type of injury,” Voss said. “His doctors reported early that they have never seen this occur before regarding the strength developments in the afflicted areas that support his ACL tear.”
Voss admitted he had to hold his breath a little – as many Gaylord supporters did – when Looker joined the starting lineup against Petoskey. That moment came after just a week on the ice, including full contact practices.
“More important than records to Gage was his commitment and obligation to be our team leader as our compete level was predictably down this season,” Voss said. “Gage is one of the best athletes and citizens that I have ever been allowed to coach.
“He is not only a leader to the players on and off the ice, but Gage also is the kind of kid that coaches learn from,” Voss went on. “He is mature beyond his years.”
Looker, who started playing hockey at 4 years old, dabbled with football as a freshman although an eighth-grade hip injury kept him away from the field until this fall. Looker’s size – 6-foot-3, 245 pounds – led to many encouragements to give football another try.
“I went the rest of my high school career being told that I needed to play football,” Looker said. “So I said ‘why not’ my senior year because I could use the extra strength for hockey.”
Looker knew the morning after his one-and-only career football game that he needed medical attention promptly. A quick MRI showed extensive damage.
Looker was told he literally “blew apart” his ACL.
“My stomach dropped,” Looker said. “I was not ready for that at all.
“I was shown what my PCL looked like and then went to where my ACL should be, and it was gone — some say it was deleted,” Looker continued. “I was told I will not be able to play sports for about seven to nine months, and I was speechless.”
Two months after surgery and extensive physical therapy, Looker tried to skate. It went so well he began to entertain thoughts of playing hockey again. He may aspire to compete in track & field this spring.
“He runs a 56-second quarter mile and throws the shot put 48 feet, 10 inches,” Voss said of his dominating defender. “And although he is restricted from running, something tells me this kid will run track this spring.”
While it is not the senior hockey season it could have been without the injury, many are glad to just have Looker on the ice. His mom is among them.
“I am overjoyed to have him back on the ice,” Harding said. “At least he is getting in a few games and is out there making a difference.
“The smile on his face is priceless,” she continued. “Perhaps he'll continue with track as he is set to break records there too.”
Rehab fresh out of surgery was “very boring,” so Looker started intensifying his recovery with therapy four days a week for a few months.
“It was a lot of commitment, but I needed my senior year of hockey,” Looker said. “I was doing the basic things, and then I had a machine that could stimulate my muscles and pump blood to my knee.
“It is called ARPneuro,” he continued. “I was skating with that on my leg as well as doing mini workouts at home.”
ARP — accelerated, recovery and performance — reportedly accelerates recovery time by decreasing chronic pain and increasing range of motion without the use of medications.
“I was always putting as much work in as I could,” Looker said. “It definitely paid off in the end.”
Looker’s coach agrees.
“I have never heard of this, nor witnessed it,” Voss said. “Gage Looker is an anomaly, and in my opinion a different type of tough.
“Gage returned to practice full contact three months after he tore his ACL,” Voss continued. “And he played his first hockey game logging 30 of 51 minutes a week later.”
Looker credits the support and effort of his medical team and his teammates for helping him get back on track. However, no one gets more credit that the booster president.
“My mom and teammates helped me through it,” he said. “My mom was always on me about doing my workouts and keeping me disciplined.”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 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) Gaylord’s Gage Looker has returned to the ice this season only a few months after a serious knee injury. (Middle) Looker, right, watches his football teammates from the sideline this fall. (Below) Looker tries to stuff the puck past Tawas’ goaltender. (Photos by Rob DeForge/RD Sports Photo.)