Hancock Finishes Long Trip on Top of D3

March 12, 2016

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half

PLYMOUTH — The stage was big, the lights were bright, but no bigger or brighter for Hancock freshman Alex Nordstrom than for his older teammates.

Many of Hancock's players weren't born the last time the Bulldogs skated in an MHSAA championship hockey game back in 2000.

So, competing for the Division 3 title on Saturday was a foreign experience for all of the Bulldogs, from the oldest to the youngest.

Nordstrom certainly didn't perform like a nervous freshman, following up his Semifinal overtime heroics by scoring two goals in Hancock's 4-2 victory over Grand Rapids Catholic Central before 1,154 fans at USA Hockey Arena.

Pressure? What pressure? 

In Hancock's biggest games, Nordstrom produced with the poise of a veteran. He had two goals and one assist in a 5-2 Quarterfinal victory over Sault Ste. Marie, scored the overtime winner in the Semifinal against Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, then had another two-goal, one-assist performance in the title game. 

"I kind of just focused and told my brain it's another game," Nordstrom said. "Just go out there and do what I do; just play."

In 30 games, he tallied 33 goals and 26 assists to finish second in team scoring to sophomore linemate Teddy Rendell.

"He was a key part of this puzzle," Hancock coach Dan Rouleau said of Nordstrom. "The kid was our second-leading scorer this year. He had great chemistry with a sophomore on his line. The kids were our top two scorers this year. It bodes well for the future of this team."

So, maybe Hancock won't have to wait 17 years for its next MHSAA championship. Although the Bulldogs have had a strong program for decades, their only title came in 1999 when they beat Big Rapids, 7-3, in the Class B Final. They lost to Cranbrook in the 2000 title game.

The team's goaltender, Dawson Kero, is only a sophomore. Kero made 20 saves.

The Bulldogs (24-6) won the championship not only for their own school, but for the Upper Peninsula as a whole. U.P. teams had gone 0-5 in MHSAA Finals since Marquette (Division 1) and Calumet (Division 3) won titles in 2008.

"Usually when a team from the U.P. comes down, you have the whole Upper Peninsula-backing mentality up there," Rouleau said. "It's really cool. We're a little isolated up there, but we've got some good hockey players up there, I'll tell you that."

Even bitter rivals become supporters when U.P. pride is at stake downstate.

"There might be a couple kids or parents who do not, but I think we got about 95 percent who are backing us," Rouleau said.

It looked like Hancock would run the Cougars out of the rink after one period, as the Bulldogs jumped out to a 3-0 lead and had a 17-8 advantage in shots on goal.

Jack Fenton scored at 7:17 of the first period to open the scoring, then Nordstrom made it 2-0 at 10:05.

A potential back-breaker came with 18.2 seconds left in the period when Danny Hill buried a two-on-one pass from Nordstrom for a shorthanded goal to make it 3-0.

"Obviously, in any hockey game you want to get out to the quick start," Rouleau said. "That was our game plan for here today. To get a three-goal lead was huge, because it turned out to be the difference."

But the Cougars weren't at or near the top of the rankings all season because they're pushovers. They got on the board at 8:41 of the second period when a shot by Ethan Tellier made it under the crossbar. Catholic Central cut the lead to 3-2 on Chase Madden's power-play goal at 12:24 of the second.

Despite being outshot 30-16 through two periods, the Cougars were back in the game.

"Obviously, a disappointing start for us," Catholic Central coach Mike Slobodnik said. "We got overwhelmed. A lot of credit goes to them. They just really came out and pressed. We didn't have the start we wanted, being down 3-0. We came in between the first and second period and talked about how we've got to be better than that. We didn't change anything. We didn't feel it was a system thing. We had to work harder. We had to be better in certain areas of the ice. In the second period, we did that. We lost to a great hockey team, too, that's for sure."

The Cougars stayed in the game throughout the third period, thanks to some stellar netminding from junior Jacob McClelland.

With Hancock trying to get a two-goal cushion, McClelland made three saves in a row while playing without a stick with just under five minutes remaining. McClelland finished with 37 saves. 

"He was great," Slobodnik said. "Jacob's a great goaltender. He's a great kid. He has over a four-point GPA. He's one of those guys on our team who understands the core values of what it means to be a Catholic Central hockey player."

Hancock's biggest scare came with 7:58 left in the game when Kero made a save and ended up on his back, not appearing to know the location of the puck. After the Cougars got a whack or two trying to get the puck loose, the whistle stopped play. 

The Bulldogs could breathe a little easier after Nordstrom took a pass from Rendell and scored into an empty net with 57.4 seconds remaining. Even then, some of the Hancock players weren't taking anything for granted.

"Me and Jack (Fenton) and Danny (Hill) try to pound into the younger kids' heads that we have to keep going hard, not ever giving up," Hancock senior captain Dylan Paavola said. "That's when comebacks happen. We don't want any of that, because we haven't won a state championship. We didn't want to screw this one up, I guess you could say. I could say I felt comfortable with 3.6 seconds left." 

Hancock players praised their fans, many of whom got on a bus in the middle of the night to make the nine-hour trek to Plymouth for the championship game.

"It's nice to bring back a state championship for all these fans," Nordstrom said. "They drove down today at 3 in the morning to come watch us. It's nice to bring back a state championship for them." 

A Go Fund Me page to help pay for Hancock's trip to Plymouth raised $6,620 from 99 donors in two days.

"It's awesome to see the support of the whole community," Fenton said. "Not just the school, but you see people from all over the country supporting us, alumni coming together and supporting us in our run to achieve this goal, the one goal everyone has to get this state championship." 

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Hancock players begin to celebrate during Saturday’s Division 3 championship victory. (Middle) Grand Rapids Catholic Central’s Andrew Holland (5) works to keep control of the puck in front of a Hancock pursuer. (Click for more from Andrew Knapik.)

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.)