Hancock Finishes Long Trip as Champion

April 14, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

As the Hancock hockey team bus rolled into town to end last month’s Division 3 championship run, coach Dan Rouleau warned his players that the celebration was just getting started.

“I told these kids on the bus coming home, they were going to be rock stars over the next month,” he recalled Thursday. “And they certainly are.”

That’ll happen when a hockey-crazed community earns its first MHSAA title since 1999, along the way beating 17-time champion Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood 2-1 in overtime in the Semifinal and four-time finalist Grand Rapids Catholic Central 4-2 in the championship game.

And despite the Bulldogs’ No. 2 ranking heading into the postseason, the run was made all the more incredible considering Hancock, with 262 students, had the lowest enrollment of among hockey schools in Michigan this winter and was paced by two underclassmen leading scorers and a sophomore goaltender.

“I told the guys before the season started that we’ve got a chance to do something special. I really felt like we had the chance to do this,” said Rouleau, who was an assistant for the 1999 team that won the Class B-C-D title. “When we were looking at who was coming back for the other teams, when we got to the Quarterfinals we told (our team) there are seven teams that could beat you guys, and seven that you could beat. It was that close.”

The Bulldogs are the Applebee’s Team of the Month for March after finishing the run as the best of that final eight, but also with a school-record 24 wins to go with only six losses – four decided in overtime and the other two by only one goal apiece.

Seniors Jack Fenton and Dylan Paavola made the Division 3 all-state first and seconds teams, respectively, bringing a veteran presence to the group of blueliners. But behind them, all-state goalie Dawson Kero was only a sophomore. Sophomore right wing Teddy Rendell was the team’s leading scorer with 24 goals and 36 assists, making the all-state first team, and freshman left wing Alex Nordstrom made the second team with 33 goals and 26 assists. (They were centered by senior Danny Hill, who joined Fenton and Paavola as captains.)

But on-ice dominance was only part of what made Hancock’s run so memorable. Here’s some of the rest:  

Hancock, just over the Portage Lake Bridge on the Upper Peninsula’s Keweenaw Peninsula, is one of Michigan’s northernmost towns – and located 540 miles from USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, home of the MHSAA Finals. Hancock also is 100 miles from Marquette, where it faced Sault Ste. Marie in a Quarterfinal on March 9, two days before it would take on the Cranes in their Semifinal.

First-year athletic director Steve Aho knew if his team won Tuesday in Marquette, it wouldn’t return home but would keep going all the way to Plymouth – so he was charged with planning for a potential five days of hotels, transportation, meals and more. He also started on plans for a fan bus that would bring students to the championship game if Hancock won the Semifinal that Thursday.

Neither trip would come cheap, of course. But that’s where Hancock’s wide-reaching web of supporters stepped in.

Teams making the long trip downstate frequently fund-raise to offset costs, Aho said. In this case the Bulldogs decided to try a GoFundMe crowd-funding web page, asking for $6,000 to combine with what the MHSAA gives teams for travel. 

Aho had the team’s seniors write their story before the Quarterfinal, so the request would be in their voice and from their perspective. He published it immediately after the Bulldogs beat Sault Ste. Marie – and by Wednesday, $3,000 had been raised with funds coming in from alumni spread all over the Midwest and beyond. Within two days, the $6,000 was raised, which when combined with funds from the MHSAA paid for the trip.

Rouleau said as the bus traveled south, his players watched the donations come in on their phones – and also the inspirational messages left by alums, including the Chicago Blackhawks’ Tanner Kero. “These guys knew they were involved in something special at that point,” Rouleau said.

Meanwhile, the school’s athletic boosters paid for most of a fan bus that was filled with 51 (for 53 seats) who made the trip to root on the Bulldogs – then got right back on the bus for the long trip home.

But what a trip back it was for the team. A Marquette County Sheriff’s deputy escorted the bus through that county, then passing the Bulldogs off to a Baraga County deputy. From Munising homeward (about 150 miles) the parade continued to grow until it swelled to roughly 40 rescue vehicles followed by fan vehicles for another mile (see the long line arriving in town on the video below).

It was a trip none of the players or coaches will forget. Rouleau had enjoyed the 1999 championship with his son and nephew on the team, but this run certainly rivals if not surpasses the first – not only is Rouleau now the head coach, but he also was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease six years ago and was hoping he’d have another opportunity to take a team downstate before his health would make him step down.

With the players Hancock should bring back next season, his team's next trip to Plymouth might come after a much shorter wait.

Past Teams of the Month, 2015-16:
February: Petoskey boys skiing – Report
January: Spring Lake boys swimming & diving – Report
Saginaw Heritage girls basketball – Report
November: Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard volleyball – Report
October: Benton Harbor football – Report

September: Mason and Okemos boys soccer – Report

PHOTOS: (Top) Hancock players celebrate after their Division 3 Final win over Grand Rapids Catholic Central last month. (Middle) The Bulldogs turn to salute fans who also made the 500-mile trip to USA Hockey Arena.

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.)