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.
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.
Twenty years ago, Kwin Morris and Jeff Guy were teammates on an MHSAA Quarterfinal-qualifying hockey team.
Guy even scored the winning goal in the Regional Final for Bay Area Reps, which topped Traverse City West 2-1.
This summer’s accomplishment, though, will go deeper in the history books.
Guy and Morris teamed up with Joe Lorenz to complete a dream that started a decade ago. They crossed all five of the Great Lakes on paddle boards while raising awareness and funds for water quality.
They put their balance, endurance and stick-handling skills together for the cause.
‘After 10 years and over one hundred grand raised for the lakes, it feels amazing,” Morris said. “I think the best part is knowing my kids will grow up knowing their old man did something cool for the environment in a unique way.”
It all started at a December social event in Traverse City. Guy, a financial adviser, and Morris, a middle school science teacher, had just gotten into paddle boarding when they began to wonder if they could cross Lake Michigan.
Lorenz, a personal trainer, promptly gave assurances they could — and joined them — even though he had never been on a paddle board prior to the holiday gathering.
Morris, Guy and Lorenz successfully crossed Lake Michigan in 2015, pausing in the cold of the night to look at the Northern Lights. They finished the nearly 100-kilometer journey in just under 25 hours. That accomplishment convinced them to launch Stand Up for Great Lakes, a non-profit organization to raise money and awareness for the protection of the lakes.
The trio also is supporting the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research, a non-profit housed at the University of Michigan.
“It feels amazing to have finished crossing all five lakes and complete a lifelong goal,” Guy acknowledged. “The dollars and awareness we have raised is incredible, and hopefully it continues to grow.”
Lake Huron was the toughest to cross by far, the former Reps noted. The 90-mile, 29-hour paddle brought seven hours of rain and high waves.
“Plus Joe knocked me in and Jeff fell in after catching a fish,” Morris observed.
Ontario was the team’s second-hardest challenge and the shortest paddle. Huge waves from the side all day took quite a toll on the paddlers, who were accompanied by safety boats on each crossing.
Lake Superior featured glassy water, a spectacular sunset and the paddlers pausing to conduct a ceremony over the Edmund Fitzgerald shipwreck. The northernmost Great Lake ranks as the group’s favorite.
Guy graduated from Kalkaska High School in 2003 and went on to play hockey at Hope College. He also played football, baseball and golf for the Blazers. He and his wife, Melissa, have a daughter, Emma.
Morris graduated in 2005 from Elk Rapids High School, where he also played baseball. He went on to get a teaching degree from Western Michigan University. He and his wife, Megan, have two children, Fitz and Knox. He now works for his former school district, teaching science.
The pair played for the Reps through a co-op hosted by Traverse City St. Francis that included athletes from Charlevoix, Elk Rapids, Kalkaska, Kingsley, Lake Leelanau St Mary, Mancelona and Suttons Bay. The Reps’ first coach was Michigan High School Hockey Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee Rex Luxton. He coached through 2008.
Morris and Guy look back at their high school playing days and coach with fondness.
“We had some great teams, and I think I still have the career goal record there,” Guy recalled. “Also, our coach on the Reps Rex Luxton was highly motivational to me while playing for him and later in life.”
Morris echoed Guy.
“I loved the whole experience,” Morris said. “Playing for my high school … Friday night games … school rivalries … playing for Rex Luxton … amazing friends and teammates — almost surreal that it will have been 20 years.”
The former coaching staff of the Reps are not at all surprised Morris and Guy challenged themselves to make a difference for the Great Lakes.
The coaching staff remembers Guy as a natural scorer coming through with big goals, and Morris as a strong two-way player who scored five goals in one period in Sault Ste. Marie. The past coaches also remember all the traveling the two did for practice and games because of the geographic nature of the squad.
“I had no idea they had any interest in the water kind of stuff,” Luxton said of his former players’ feat. “When I started following their bid to raise awareness, it didn’t surprise me they would attempt something like this.
“I think it illustrates how much determination they have and how much hard work they were willing to put in,” he continued. “It is just outstanding, particularly with the cold weather in the Great Lakes.”
Cody Inglis, a senior assistant director for the MHSAA, was an assistant coach for the Reps during all of Morris and Guy’s time with the co-op. He finds himself beaming with pride and happiness knowing these former players are giving back and making it a better world.
“What Jeff and Kwin have done physically and mentally to cross all of the Great Lakes on stand-up paddle boards is remarkable in itself,” Inglis pointed out. “When you add in the fact that they have put in charitable causes and the preservation of the Great Lakes as a reason for doing it – it makes it even more special.
“It’s not surprising given my recollection and remembrances of Jeff and Kwin, as they were really good hockey players and better people.”
High school hockey is where Morris and Guy’ friendship blossomed. Spending 24 or more hours together — and with Lorenz — has forged a greater lifetime bond that already had included being a part of each other’s weddings.
But they admit they had no inkling of this type of accomplishment back in high school.
“Sports were the most important thing in my life in high school,” Guy revealed. “Working really hard to win as many games as possible was the main goal – along with getting good grades and trying to get into a good college.”
But teamwork, learned on the ice and through other high school sports, can make anything possible.
“Any sport where you have to work as a team helps push yourself out of your comfort zone,” Morris concluded. “That's where the best things in life happen.”
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PHOTOS (Top) Clockwise from top left: Jeff Guy celebrates a goal while playing for Traverse Bay Reps with Kwin Morris to his left, Guy (left) and Morris (right) take a photo after one of their paddle board trips, and Morris bringing the puck up the ice for the Reps. (Middle) Guy, Morris and Joe Lorenz take a photo together on the lake shore. (Below) Morris accepts a medal during the 2004-05 season. (Photos courtesy of Jeff Guy, Kwin and Jo Morris.)