Heritage Rises to Top of New Division

February 10, 2016

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half

SAGINAW TOWNSHIP — Conventional wisdom suggests that Saginaw Heritage received an easier path to an MHSAA hockey championship with its drop from Division 2 to Division 3 this season.

While competing against smaller schools might improve a team's championship hopes in other sports, that scenario doesn't apply to hockey.

All three divisions in the MHSAA Tournament are loaded with traditional powerhouses. The big schools in Division 1, headlined by Detroit Catholic Central, obviously have strength in sheer numbers. In Division 2, Trenton and Birmingham Brother Rice hold their own against anybody year in and year out. Down in Division 3, the road to an MHSAA championship features formidable  roadblocks in the form of non-public school heavyweights like Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood and any team strong enough to survive a brutal Upper Peninsula Regional.

So, it's pretty much a case of picking your poison.

"I don't think it matters what division you're in," Heritage coach J.J. Bamberger said. "We saw we were in Division 3, and it doesn't matter. Our first-round game against Flint Powers isn't anything different than us being in our first game against Midland High or Midland Dow the last few years. It's not like it gets any easier in any division you're in. In Division 1, 2 or 3, there are a lot of good teams. Hancock, the Division 3 No. 4 team, just beat the No. 1 team in Division 2. It's not any easier wherever you are."

What seemed like a break for Heritage quickly changed when the opening-round pairings were drawn. Right off the bat, the Hawks will face one of the premier Division 3 programs in the state in Flint Powers Catholic at 6 p.m. Feb. 29 at Saginaw-Bay Ice Arena, the Hawks' home rink.  Powers has been in the Quarterfinals 14 times in 16 years of Division 3 play, winning a record 32 Regional championships since the MHSAA began sponsoring a hockey tournament in 1974-75.

It will be Heritage's first postseason game in Division 3 after being a Division 2 squad ever since the MHSAA went to a divisional format in 2000. Heritage has made the Quarterfinals six times in Division 2, reaching the Semifinals three times.

Having home-ice advantage against Powers will be a boost for the Hawks, though they may not need one. They have already made a statement to the rest of Division 3, going into Powers' home arena on Feb. 2 and skating off with a decisive 5-2 victory over a team that was riding a 12-game unbeaten streak and No. 2 ranking in Division 3 at the time.

"They're pretty deep," Powers coach Travis Perry said. "Their top line has got a lot of speed, and they gave us a lot of problems. We have to find a way to get ready for them."

That victory put Heritage in sole possession of first place in the Saginaw Valley League, the only thing that mattered to the Hawks on that night. Any thoughts of the game being a postseason preview were brushed aside.

"It's a big win," junior goalie Danny Yockey said. "We haven't won the Saginaw Valley League in seven years; it's ours to lose now."

"It's part of our process of trying to win our league," Bamberger said. "We're taking it one game at a time. We're not worried about anything come playoff time. I told the guys, 'Let's not make this about anything other than tonight.'"

Perhaps an even greater statement was made the following weekend when Heritage ended Hancock's 11-game winning streak, beating the currently second-ranked Bulldogs 4-3 on Feb. 5 in Trenton. The next day, the Hawks won 3-0 over Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, which was No. 14 in Division 3 last week.

A four-game winning streak following an 11-1 loss to Toledo St. Francis on Jan. 29 had the Hawks at 17-2 and ranked No. 6 in Division 3 entering this week. The most recent rankings, which came out Wednesday, saw Heritage climb to the top spot.

"It's the chemistry," junior forward Sam Spaedt said. "Most of us juniors and seniors mesh together. We're having fun in the locker room. We're having fun on the ice. The coaches are great, too. The leadership is good. That's what's getting the job done."

Spaedt is far and away Heritage's leading scorer with 42 points, but there's plenty of depth throughout the rest of the lineup. Devan Bayne has 27 points, Gavin Dietrich 26, Chris Cornford 21, Zach Dornseifer 20, Brandon Ashley 17, Hunter Parasiliti 17 and Spencer Vondette 16.

Dietrich's 15 goals and Spaedt's 31 assists are team highs.

"We have a lot of forwards who can really go and really skate," Bamberger said. "We get some different scoring from different lines. I don't consider our fourth line a fourth line, because a fourth line generally doesn't play. Our fourth line not only plays, but they contribute. Each line had a goal (against Powers). From a tenacity standpoint, our guys keep going, keep going; you're going to wear teams down."

Spaedt has been the consummate setup artist for the Hawks, with his point total leaning heavily toward assists. He has 11 goals to go with his 31 assists. Three of those goals have come while shorthanded. His goals have come in bunches, with four two-goal games. He's had at least three assists five times.

"I'm always in a pass-first mentality," Spaedt said. "The guys are great. They bury the puck after I give it to them. If I have a chance to score, I'll take it. I'm happy if the guys give me the puck. The team really meshes well; that's part of the points, too."

For all of his playmaking prowess, Spaedt still ranks third on the team in goals.

"He scores, too," Bamberger said. "To be honest with you, I didn't realize that he's got (11) goals and 30-some assists. I think it's because he's a real smart player. More so than that, we have a lot of finishers on our team. We have a lot of guys who can put it in the net. Whoever he's giving it to, they're putting the puck in the net."

Yockey has played the majority of minutes in goal for Heritage, posting a 12-2 record, a 2.64 goals-against average and an .888 save percentage. In his last three games, all against state-ranked Division 3 teams, he has a 1.67 GAA and a .929 save percentage. Devin Wolfgang is 4-0 with two shutouts, a 0.57 GAA and a .966 save percentage as the backup goalie.

"The forwards are really good at back-checking and we're just smart in our zone," Yockey said.

Before Heritage can focus on the rematch with Powers, the Hawks will look to close out the Saginaw Valley championship with games against Mount Pleasant tonight and Bay City Central on Feb. 17. The pre-tournament tuning-up phase will include a game against Howell, the seventh-ranked team in Division 1, on Feb. 24.

Bill Khan served as a sportswriter at The Flint Journal from 1981-2011 and currently contributes to the State Champs! Sports Network. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Saginaw Heritage’s Mitch Wise, right, prepares for a faceoff during a recent game against Flint Powers Catholic. (Middle) Leading scorer Sam Spaedt rips a shot for the Hawks. (Photos by Bill Khan.)

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.)