By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
PLYMOUTH – Goaltender John Lethemon was right on all week for the Farmington hockey team.
In net, he was nearly unbeatable. And after the Falcons finished an unpredictable run Saturday with a 2-1 win over Sault Ste. Marie and their first MHSAA title, he said what everyone else was thinking.
“I don’t really think anybody in Michigan besides these 19 guys, our four coaches, the trainers and obviously our parents believed we could do this,” Lethemon said. “We knew all along that if we caught fire at the right time, some bounces would go our way … and we all just busted our butts the whole six games."
It was tough a week ago to see the Division 3 tournament unfolding the way it did over the last five days, with reigning champion Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood considered the best by many in any division and a likely champ if the Cranes somehow were to stumble.
That was before Lethemon made 60 saves in a 3-2 win over Cranbrook-Kingswood in the Quarterfinal, 21 more in a 2-1 win over Grand Rapids Catholic Central on Friday and a final 29 as the Falcons dispatched of the Blue Devils – and then accepted his championship medal to student section chants of “M.V.P.”
But the Falcons felt the impact of a number of contributors this week.
In front of Lethemon were a strong group of defensemen including seniors Austin Meltzer, Grant Newton and Roman Firestone, who all likely played close to 40 minutes during the Final. Keying the offense was sophomore Jason Petras, who scored once in the Semifinal and both goals in the championship game.
And keying Petras, in part, was his guardian angel.
Jason’s mom Kim Petras, also a teacher in the Farmington district, died Feb. 4 after a fight against colon cancer. He played for the Falcons that night, and with his teammates has since rallied to her memory.
Farmington coach Bill Newton – himself currently battling the same form of cancer – called Petras “a warrior and the catalyst of this hockey team from that point.”
“My mom was watching down, definitely helping me,” Petras said. “I knew she was with me through thick and thin. She’s my number one fan, and I knew she had a lot to do with how I played the last couple of games; that’s for sure.”
Farmington had scored first in all of its first five postseason games, and Petras giving the Falcons the lead again just 38 seconds in provided another jolt of confidence to go along with their teammate defending between the pipes.
Petras added his second goal at 13:17 of the first period.
Blue Devils senior Blake Mastaw got his team on the board 18 seconds into the second period. But Lethemon and his crew of blueliners took care of the next 36 minutes and change.
“We thought if we could play with a first-goal lead, that might take them out of their comfort zone and leave their goaltender hanging out on odd-man rushes,” Sault Ste. Marie coach John Ferroni said. “But they got the first goal, and we had to play a different style.
“They always thought, hey, we could steal this game. A 2-1 game is just one good shot on goal and you’re back tied again.”
Sault Ste. Marie finished 25-3-2 and runner-up for the seventh time as it pursued its first MHSAA hockey title since 1989.
Farmington ended 21-10, giving Newton a championship in his first season as head coach after a decade as an assistant. Brother to Michigan State University assistant coach Tom Newton, Bill quoted Tom in describing how a coach never sits too far away on the bus from his goalie – and how he was careful to not let Lethemon too far out of his sight.
Nor did his teammates as they piled onto him moments after finishing their run.
“You can’t call me M.V.P. These guys played great the whole time,” Lethemon said. “I just made the saves I had to make.”
PHOTO: (Top) Farmington goaltender John Lethemon makes one of his 29 saves Saturday in the Division 3 Final. (Middle) Sault Ste. Marie players bump gloves, led by senior Benjamine LaCross. (Middle photo by Andrew Knapik/Southgate.)
If the Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice hockey team ends up winning the Division 2 championship in March, it could be said that the journey to that title started in August with an offer he wasn't ready to accept.
That’s when senior Peter Rosa — who was coming off an all-state season last year as a junior — went to Louisiana to train for a few days with the Shreveport Mudbugs, a team in the North American Hockey League.
Rosa said at that point he was already wanting to come back to Brother Rice for his senior season, but given how he impressed the Mudbugs coaching staff during that camp, it didn’t stop Shreveport coaches from trying to change Rosa’s mind after they informed him he had a roster spot if he wanted it.
“They wanted me there,” Rosa said. “They said, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to come develop here?’"
But Rosa stuck with his original intentions, saying thanks, but no thanks, so he could play one final year of high school hockey.
As a result, Rosa is already going down in the history books as one of the best to ever play for a storied Brother Rice program.
Following Tuesday’s win against Warren De La Salle Collegiate, Rosa has 22 goals and 25 assists in 17 games for the Warriors this winter.
He is No. 2 on the school’s all-time points list with 116, although he likely won’t be able to catch leader Mackenzie MacEachern, who had 154 points during his time at Brother Rice.
However, odds are good that Rosa will be able to overtake MacEachern’s record of 65 goals scored in a career, since Rosa currently is at 59.
Rosa is a versatile 5-foot-10, 175-pound offensive stalwart who can play center and both wing positions.
When Brother Rice lost to Trenton in a Division 2 Semifinal last year, Brother Rice head coach Kenny Chaput said odds were good at the time that it would be the last time he would coach Rosa.
“I was fully planning on that being his final game with us,” he said.
Rosa went to Shreveport following the season to practice and meet the team in what was his first encounter with the Mudbugs before going back in August.
But throughout the summer, Chaput, through conversations with Peter’s dad and Brother Rice assistant coach Todd Rosa, had an inkling that Peter preferred to play at Brother Rice for his senior year.
Once the official word came from Peter at the beginning of the school year that he was coming back, there was a challenge for Chaput.
Given Rosa was good enough to play at junior level, it was tempting for coaches to feel they didn’t have anything left to teach Rosa in high school.
“I had to make sure I went above to push him so he doesn’t get stale with things,” Chaput said. “It’s still a challenge because he gets things done that a lot of other kids don’t. But there’s tweaks in his game that he still needs to do, so we’ll continue to push him the best we can. Obviously, we didn’t want him to have a year where he didn’t get pushed and he didn’t progress.”
With Rosa in the fold, Brother Rice is an obvious contender to win its second Division 2 title in three years.
“I don’t think there’s anything like playing for your school and for your classmates,” said Rosa, who said he’s not sure yet if he’ll play in Shreveport or for another junior team after he finishes high school. “Having the benefit of hanging out with kids in school all day, and then coming to practice with them and playing with them, I’ve built relationships with many kids on the team that I wouldn’t trade anything for. I’ve had a great experience.”
Even worse for opponents is that after the loss to Trenton in that Semifinal, Rosa is motivated for redemption.
“That’ll leave a pretty bad taste in your mouth,” Rosa said. “I just felt like I had some unfinished business.”
If that business ends up being finished, opponents will sure wish those Shreveport coaches could’ve changed Rosa’s mind in August.
Keith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at email@example.com with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Brother Rice's Peter Rosa gains steam on a rush during last season's Division 2 Semifinal against Trenton at USA Hockey Arena. (Middle) Rosa raises his stick in celebration after scoring Rice's first goal in the eventual 4-2 loss.