Cranbrook Kingswood Caps Comeback

March 14, 2015

By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half 

PLYMOUTH — No one is immune from the disappointments of playoff hockey, not even those who play for a perennial powerhouse like Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood.

Three years ago, Cooper Stahl and Austin Alger were freshmen on a Cranes team that outshot Marysville 55-19, only to lose a 2-1 overtime shocker in the Regional Finals.

Last season, they were juniors on a Cranbrook Kingswood squad that fell 3-2 in the MHSAA Division 3 Quarterfinals to an upstart Farmington squad, which was outshot 62-15, but used that upset as a springboard to an unlikely championship.

The common theme for the 2013 and 2015 Cranbrook Kingswood teams is how they responded to adversity, bouncing back from rare early exits in the postseason to add to the school's record total of MHSAA championships.

The count is now at 17 after the Cranes' dominating performance in a 4-0 victory over Houghton in the Division 3 Final on Saturday at Compuware Arena. Trenton ranks No. 2 on the list with 14 championships.

"They're the top team in Division 3, and have been," Houghton coach Corey Markham said. "They're the measuring stick. ... They're as good as anyone in the state. They're not just a good Division 3 team, they're as good as anyone in the state, and they've proven that."

Cranbrook Kingswood has a 17-2 record in MHSAA Finals, winning in its last nine appearances, but — despite impressions to the contrary — the Cranes don't always make it to the final day of the tournament.

"It really helps motivate us," Stahl said of the two playoff losses during his four-year career. "We've seen both spectrums, the highs and lows. Throughout my four years here, every day in practice and off ice, everything we do, we had both of those feelings in our mind. We wanted the good one we experienced today."

Like his brother Alex two years earlier, forward Austin Alger spent his senior year working to go out on top after a crushing end to his junior year.

"After getting knocked out against Farmington last year, the guys were on a mission this year," Alger said. "It was easy with the seniors. There were 13 leaders on the team."

The Cranes outshot Houghton 50-13, but they know that shots alone don't win hockey games when the opposing goalie morphs into a brick wall.

Cranbrook Kingswood (25-2-4) didn't allow Houghton senior Marcus Gloss to establish control of the game, peppering him early and coming away with a 3-0 lead after one period.

Mason Schultz buried a backhanded rebound just 42 seconds into the game to open the scoring. By the middle of the first period, the Cranes had a three-goal cushion, with Cole Adaskaveg knocking home a rebound at 6:38 and Blake Rogow scoring from the blue line at 8:09.

"Getting one early just really calms the nerves for someone who hasn't played at Compuware before, like a freshman who doesn't have that much playoff experience," Stahl said. "It helps settle everyone down to get one goal early and play the rest of the game the way we usually do."

It was a shocking start for Houghton, which allowed only four goals in its five postseason games, and never more than one.

"They jumped on us quick," Gloss said. "I'm not quite sure I was as ready as I should have been. I didn't expect such a quick start. It's tough when they're on you so fast."

Houghton's big chance to get back into the game came at 15:12 of the first period when C.J. Regula of the Cranes received a five-minute major for boarding. The game was a stalemate during that extended power play, with both teams getting one shot on goal.

The Gremlins (24-5-2) wouldn't get another power play until the game was virtually out of reach at 4-0 midway through the third period.

"That was demoralizing, it really was," Markham said. "You think being down three that this is our chance, you get one, maybe two in those five minutes. When we didn't score in those five minutes, it was a little blow. We never just quite got that spark. We didn't have that spark to give us a little pep, a little jump in our step."

After allowing three goals on the first 12 shots, Gloss stopped the next 25 he faced to give Houghton a glimmer of hope for a comeback.

The Gremlins' best scoring chance of the game came early in the third period, when Reid Pietila pounced on a loose puck on a rush and nearly slipped it through the pads of goalie Spencer Applebaum, who looked behind him to see if the puck was in the net.

It was the toughest save in a 13-save shutout for Applebaum, who was also the goaltender when Cranbrook Kingswood beat Sault Ste. Marie to win the 2013 title.

"It was a two-on-two," Applebaum said. "The first guy kind of threw it toward the net. It got deflected in front. The second guy, I saw him out of the corner of my eye. I slid over and he shot it five-hole. I didn't know if I had it, but it was stuck under my pad, probably less than a foot away from the goal line, so I barely got there."

"I tried to slide it under him, but he made a good save," Pietila said. "I try not to be too hard on myself, but it's kind of hard in this situation."

Not long after Applebaum's save, the Cranes essentially put the game away on a power-play goal by Regula with 13:05 left in the game.

"We got a couple of good bounces in today's game," Cranes coach Andy Weidenbach said. "The goalie gave up a couple rebounds and the bounces ended up on our stick. Sometimes they go your way, sometimes they don't. Today the bounces seemed to go our way, and we were able to capitalize on at least three rebounds."

Houghton is 1-4 in MHSAA Finals, its victory coming in 1982 against Flint Powers Catholic. The Cranes are 3-0 in the postseason against the Gremlins, winning 6-5 in the 1979 Class B Final and 3-2 in double overtime in the 1997 Class B Semifinals.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Cranbrook Kingswood players celebrate during Saturday's Division 3 Final win. (Middle) The Cranes' Sean O'Leary works to move the puck ahead. (Photos by Andrew Knapik/Southgate.)

Gaylord's Looker Shows 'Different Type of Tough' in Return from Knee Tear

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

February 3, 2023

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.

Looker, right, watches his football teammates from the sideline this fall. “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.

Looker tries to stuff the puck past Tawas’ goaltender.“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 tomspencer@chartermi.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) 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.)