DCC's Championship Dream Comes True

March 9, 2019

Second Half reports

PLYMOUTH — Brendan Hill was hooked on high school hockey long before he played his first shift at Detroit Catholic Central.

“When I was like 8 years old, I would come to these games and watch and see how rowdy the student section is,” said Hill, a senior defenseman. “I had a dream to play at C.C. It just happened. There’s no words for it.”

The dream came with a dream ending for Hill and the Shamrocks’ 12 seniors, as their final act in a Catholic Central uniform was celebrating an MHSAA Division 1 championship after a 3-1 victory over Saginaw Heritage on Saturday at USA Hockey Arena.

The game was played before an enthusiastic crowd of about 3,000 fans, including two large and vocal student sections.

“You have all your closest buddies up there going bananas,” senior forward Carter Korpi said. “It’s awesome. It makes it that much better.”

The atmosphere in which the game was played is the biggest selling point for coaches like Catholic Central’s Brandon Kaleniecki when they try to persuade students in their own hallways to choose the high school game over the travel ranks.

Another selling point is the caliber of play in Michigan. There was a time when Catholic Central would steamroll through the MHSAA Tournament, facing little opposition. Those days are gone.

The Shamrocks, heavy favorites to win it all this winter, had to survive a 1-0 Quarterfinal with Salem and a 4-2 Semifinal with Rochester United and needed an empty-net goal in the final minute before they could exhale against Heritage.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of big programs out there,” Kaleniecki said. “That’s what makes winning so difficult, because you never know. The last three games were all close, tight games that required everything we had to get through it. There is a lot of talent in the state of Michigan. There is a lot of talent in high school hockey.

“If you watched all the games today, the environment speaks for itself and why more and more kids are going to want to play high school hockey. Guys from this team are going on to play juniors. That option is there. People are starting to realize that; hopefully more do, because you get to experience something like this. As a coach, I love it. I’m so excited to be a part of it.”

This senior class was at risk of being one of the few at Catholic Central to not win an MHSAA championship during its time in the program.

It was the 14th MHSAA title for the Shamrocks, tying them with Trenton for second most all-time. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood leads the way with 17 titles. Only three times in the last 22 seasons has Catholic Central gone more than one year without a championship.

The Shamrocks fell short against Brighton each of the last two seasons, losing 5-2 in the 2017 championship game and 2-1 in the 2018 Semifinals.

“When you have that good of players on the ice and off the ice, when they’d lose it’s tragic,” Catholic Central senior forward Mitch Morris said. “I’m really happy we all got to celebrate. It’s bittersweet. You feel bad for (the last two senior classes). You wish you could have done more. I hope all the underclassmen realize that’s why you play.”

Catholic Central took a 1-0 lead when senior forward Rylan Clemons skated in from the left circle and put a shot from close quarters under the crossbar over the right shoulder of Heritage goalie Jack Jesko at 9:22 of the first period.

Jesko kept it a one-goal game when he made perhaps the save of the year in high school hockey. Down on his side during a scramble around the net, Jesko made a glove save on a shot by Zach Borchardt, who appeared to have almost the entire net available with 7:29 left in the second period.

“I was just trying to throw my glove out and give myself a chance,” said Jesko, whose 44 saves on 46 shots ranked fifth for an MHSAA Final. “Happy to hit it. I just kept my focus and acted like it was just a normal save; don’t get too high and don’t get too low.”

The Shamrocks finally got some breathing room when Ryan Marra deflected a shot from the point by Luke Collins past Jesko with 10:41 left in the game.

The Hawks pulled Jesko for an extra attacker with 2:12 remaining and quickly cashed in, cutting the deficit to 2-1 on a goal by Edison Symons with 1:56 to go.

Marra scored into an empty net with 54.4 seconds left to seal the Shamrocks’ victory.

For Heritage, it was the second straight loss in the MHSAA championship game against an established power. The Hawks lost to Brighton, 5-2, in last year’s title game. Before last year, the only team from Saginaw to reach a championship game was Saginaw Nouvel, which lost in the 1990 Class B Final.

“We’re really trying to make strides in getting our team noticed throughout the state, and not just in our area,” Heritage coach J.J. Bamberger said. “This is our fifth final four appearance and second state championship game, coming up short both times. For a school like ours in our area, that’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Catholic Central players celebrate their Division 1 championship with their fans Saturday night at USA Hockey Arena. (Middle) Heritage goalie Jack Jesko stretches to block the net as DCC’s Zach Borchardt winds up for a shot.

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.)