Dedication Pays Off With Hartland Title

March 10, 2018

Second Half reports

PLYMOUTH — Josh Albring and Jake Behnke didn’t have to keep playing hockey for Hartland High School.

They were certainly good enough to go back to AAA travel programs, but they never bought into the notion that going that route is the only way to move on in the sport.

The reward for their loyalty to Hartland came Saturday when the senior centers led the Eagles to their first MHSAA championship after the program had come close each of the past six seasons.

Behnke scored two goals and Albring one in Hartland’s 4-2 victory over 14-time MHSAA champion Trenton in the Division 2 title game at USA Hockey Arena.

Behnke finished with five goals in Hartland’s two games this weekend at USA Hockey Arena, while Albring had a goal and four assists over the Semifinal and Final.

Albring was the first Hartland player to break free from the pile of players in the championship celebration. He headed for the team bench to exchange hugs with the coaching staff.

“I came here my sophomore year,” Albring said. “I had zero confidence in my game and where I was at. All the coaches on the bench I went and hugged today, they’re the only reason we’re here today and they’re the reason I’ll probably play hockey next year. They changed my love for the game, made it so much more fun, so much more enjoyable and easier to learn, too. Everything goes to them. They’re by far the best coaches I’ve ever had.”

It’s hard to believe a player like Albring lacked confidence, considering he made all-state as a sophomore and junior and likely will make it this season after scoring 10 goals and tallying 42 assists.

“He was the same size as a sophomore,” Hartland coach Rick Gadwa said. “He’s a big boy that’s got some puck skills and can play the hard part of the game. Josh didn’t get worse because he scored less goals this year. That guy decided that, as a player, if I’m going to play at the next level, I’m going to have to change my role. He leads our team in blocked shots; he probably leads the state in blocked shots. He doesn’t lose board battles. He’s going to be a guy who somebody is going to be lucky to have next year.”

Behnke, a second-team all-state pick last season, emerged as one of the top players in Michigan this winter. He finished with 35 goals and 21 assists.

“Jacob Behnke has proved, as well as some other guys, you can play high school hockey and still develop,” Gadwa said. “Jacob Behnke will play junior hockey. He, in my opinion, was the best player in the tournament thus far and will probably finish that way. He’s dominant. To watch where he was his sophomore year, he was always good, to watching him become elite is really a special thing to see. He worked his butt off every offseason and he got better every day from the first day he stepped on the ice.”

Trenton reached its 21st MHSAA championship game by defeating three teams ranked among the top six over five playoff games. The third-ranked Eagles proved to be too much, jumping out to a 4-0 lead after two periods and holding off a late charge by No. 5 Trenton.

“I don’t think anyone gave us much of a shot at the beginning of the year,” Trenton coach Chad Clements said. “To get here, I know all the guys wanted to win, but I was proud of their efforts. They proved a lot of people wrong this year. A couple bad mistakes by us early on, but they never quit battling. I wish it would’ve ended differently.”

Behnke scored the only goal of the first period with 6:58 left when he took a pass from Joey Larson and put a shot up high while falling to the ice.

The biggest period in Hartland hockey history was the second. The Eagles took control of the game by scoring three times in a 7:17 span.

Albring scored with 9:31 left in the period, Behnke scored with Hartland two men short with 3:11 left and Larson made it 4-0 with 2:14 to go.

Nolan Szczepaniak and Brandon Clark had power-play goals to get Trenton within two with 2:05 left in the third period, but the Trojans couldn’t get another puck past Hartland goalie Brett Tome. Tome finished with 27 saves.

“It was hard to battle back,” Clements said. “It just kept getting harder and harder, but they stuck with it. The third period we came out and their goalie played exceptionally well. We just couldn’t get enough past him.”

Trenton allowed only three goals over five playoff games before the Final. Hartland outscored six playoff rivals by a combined 48-4.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Hartland players celebrate their first MHSAA championship Saturday at USA Hockey Arena. (Middle) The Eagles push a goal past Trenton into the back of the net. 

Hockey Players Transferring Winter Puck Skills to Spring Golf Swings

By Tom Lang
Special for

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

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.)