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.)
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.)