DCC Repeats as 'Family' Meets in D1 Final

March 14, 2015

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half 

PLYMOUTH — There was a championship to be won. That was the focus. That's how Ryan Fischer would have wanted it.

So, it's understandable that following player introductions before the MHSAA Division 1 Hockey Final on Saturday night at Compuware Arena, many on the Grandville team didn't notice the tribute that came their way from the Detroit Catholic Central student section.

Chants of "Ryan Fischer ... Ryan Fischer" came from the young men in the Shamrocks' student section, a reference to the Grandville captain who died in his sleep the morning of the teams' Semifinal game on March 7, 2014.

"Honestly, (pregame) was a blur to me, but it also doesn't surprise me," Grandville coach Joel Breazeale said. "It's an amazing community of young people."

The teams put emotional bonds aside when the puck dropped, as Catholic Central jumped out to a 3-0 lead, had its advantage cut to one goal in the second period, then pulled away to repeat as Division 1 champion with a 5-2 victory.

The two teams formed a bond following the death of Fischer. Catholic Central traveled to Grand Rapids on Feb. 7 to play Grandville before 3,000 fans at Van Andel Arena in a game that didn't have the feel of the high-stakes rematch for the Division 1 championship.

"It was a really unusual game there," Catholic Central coach Danny Veri said. "It felt like you were playing a pickup game against a bunch of your family members. The intensity wasn't there. There was only one penalty. Everyone went through the motions. The event was really the focus and the game was almost secondary."

That wasn't the case Saturday night. The victory gave Catholic Central its 11th MHSAA title in the last 19 years and 12th overall, which ranks third behind Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood's 17 and Trenton's 14.

"It was really ironic that they were there," Veri said of the Bulldogs. "You almost feel bad winning against them. The team is nice people, the parents are all nice people. When we went there, they opened up their arms to us like we were family. We made it clear in the locker room we have a game to win and let's move forward."

Breazeale appreciates the support shown to the Grandville community by those at Catholic Central, but also respects the commitment to put that aside temporarily to play a physical sport the way it should be played.

"I don't know if you could ever ask for a better example of competitive sportsmanship that goes right to the level of passion, but somehow manages to keep the respect of the game in there," Breazeale said. "It's a remarkable example between both sports communities and certainly the young men who compete. It's very impressive, especially given what's at stake."

Honoring Fischer's memory was a catalyst for Grandville as it reached an MHSAA Final for the first time after making the Semifinals on two other occasions.

"It's been 53 weeks since March 7 of last year," said sophomore forward Connor Fischer, Ryan's brother. "It's been a journey on the ice and off the ice. We couldn't have made it this far without the support of the community and the support of the 20 kids in that room. It's been a good journey, a trying journey."

Catholic Central (24-5-1) jumped out to a 3-0 lead on first-period goals by JoJo Mancinelli and Andrew Spiegel and a rebound goal by Luc Krasicky at 6:30 of the second.

Grandville goalie Myles Madden stopped two breakaways in the first six minutes of the second period before Krasicky jammed one by him.

The Bulldogs (25-4-2), who were generating some good scoring chances early in the period, got back in the game in a hurry with two goals 14 seconds apart late in the second.

Jacob Baum caught a high rebound, put the puck down and scored with 3:10 left in the second period to put Grandville on the board. As that goal was being announced, Gianni Vitali cut the deficit to 3-2 when he banged in a rebound with 2:56 to go in the period.

The Bulldogs' momentum was short-lived, as Evan Rochowiak blasted a shot from the blue line past Madden on the power play with 1:50 remaining in the period.

"First of all, it was a great play on the power play by Blake (Veri)," Rochowiak said. "When they put two goals in and were one goal behind us, we were getting a little bit nervous. The goal took a little pressure off of us and let us start playing the way we did in the first period."

Rochowiak put the game away by burying a shot under the crossbar with 3:10 left in the third period.

"It's been unbelievably stressful," senior defenseman Andrew Lane said of Catholic Central's bid to repeat. "There's a lot of pressure from the school, parents, family, friends. Everyone's relying on you, especially this year. Last year, we had (injured teammate Matt) Sorisho to play for. This year we were kind of on our own without anyone to help us. Luckily, we had a team that all bought in to one program. It was unbelievable winning again. It was probably the best feeling in the world."

Grandville had only six more shots on goal after cutting Catholic Central's lead to 3-2 late in the second period.

Madden finished with 42 saves for Grandville, while Spencer Wright had 22 for Catholic Central.

"Today was the first day I saw him smile," Veri said of his goalie. "He's so even keel. Today literally was the first day I saw him smile. It was after the game when we were singing our song."

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Catholic Central players hoist an MHSAA championship trophy for the second straight season. (Middle) Grandville’s Noah Weigle works to win a face off Saturday. (Photos by Andrew Knapik/Southgate).

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.

Hartland’s Ian Kastamo (16) takes a faceoff against Brighton this winter. 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.

Mona Shores’ Nicholas Taylor fires an iron shot. 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.)