KALAMAZOO — When Mitch Kihm was a freshman, his Kalamazoo United hockey team posted a 1-9 record in league play.
A year later, the team went 0-10, and his junior season, 5-5.
The goaltender said he was confident things would get better – and his patience has paid off.
“In my dreams freshman year, I was thinking of my senior year but never expected us to be this good,” Kihm said.
United is currently 5-1-0 in the Southwest Michigan High School Hockey League, losing for the first time last week, 4-3, to the Kalamazoo Eagles. United is 14-1-1 overall.
“This is cool this year,” league commissioner Frank Noonan said. “In the 18 years I’ve been doing this. they’ve never been a powerhouse team.
“I think a lot of it is their coaching. They’ve got a young guy (Tyler Kindle) in there who’s a former professional player and now he’s taking that energy as a player and turning it into coaching.”
Kihm added that experience is also a key.
“I knew from my freshman year that we might not have been that good but we all bonded, and now our entire team has really come together and has nice chemistry,” the Hackett Catholic Prep senior said.
“Everything’s a lot different in the locker room, attitude-wise, now from our first two years.”
Hackett senior Hunter Taplin agrees.
“My sophomore year, the attitudes weren’t that good,” he added. “We were expecting to lose. That’s slowly going away. This year it’s all positive.”
United is a co-op team with players from K-Central, Loy Norrix and Hackett. Norrix’s Andrew Laboe is the team’s athletic director.
Next month, the team will host an MHSAA Division 1 Pre-Regional at Wings West which includes East Kentwood, the team that knocked United out of the postseason last year. Lowell is the other opponent.
Not having all his teammates as classmates has its good side, Taplin said.
“It can be for the better because if you’re having problems with someone at school, that can transfer over,” he said. “Here, it’s just hockey.”
Loy Norrix senior Jake Remelius blends two of the schools.
Although he and senior Noel Cavey are the only two from Norrix, Remelius attended K-Central the previous three years.
In addition, “Most of the Hackett guys, the seniors, I’ve been playing with them since I was 10. So we’ve grown up together, and we’ve gotten a lot closer over the years.”
The seniors have stepped into leadership roles and are the team’s top point-getters.
Cavey leads United with 44 points on 21 goals and 23 assists.
Hackett’s James Amat (5 goals-21 assists) and Taplin (10-16) are next with 26 points each. Hackett’s Quentin Cerutti has 25 points (14-11), and Remelius rounds out the top five with 24 (8-16).
Remelius is team captain.
“He does everything for us,” Kindle said. “He plays nearly half the game. He contributes offensively for us and is really stout defensively.
“He’s one of our biggest hitters. He takes the body well and is strong on his feet. He makes smart plays.”
Cavey and Kihm are the only four-year players on the team.
“Noel Cavey’s been through it all,” Kindle said. “He’s seen all the ups and downs and it’s fun to see him have a good season. He’s leading the team in goals right now.
“James Amat has been playing really well, especially lately, and Q’s (Cerutti) a really big kid and he’s a force out on the ice. He can shoot the puck. When he’s playing well, we’re tough to stop.”
Kindle said he has confidence in his netminders.
“Both Mitch and Jake Gerhard (Kalamazoo Central sophomore) have done a real good job back there when they’ve been in.
“They’ve really stepped up and are stalwarts back there.”
Kihm has eight wins and Gerhard has five. K-Central senior Jenna Stanley, playing her first year of high school hockey, was in goal for one win.
Taplin is a two-play player.
“He’s having a really good year,” Kindle said. “He’s a forward but he also drops back on D.
“He’s been kind of our utility guy. He plays wherever we need him.”
Cerutti’s first year with the team was the 0-10 season.
“Just the fact that we knew we had a great, great core and all of our ‘stars’ were sophomores at the time while all these other schools had juniors and seniors leading them,” he said.
“We were thinking just another year, another two years and we’re gonna be that team that everyone looks up to. This year we came in with sky-high confidence, and we just keep going.”
Kihm said being the team’s last line of defense is not easy.
“The mental part before the games is tough,” he said. “It does seem like a lot is riding on you. It feels like if you let a goal in, it’s all your fault.
“But you can’t think that way or it’s gonna make the whole game, for you at least, pretty bad.
“The fun part is definitely making the big save that helps the team, gets them motivated and then go score a goal. Winning games is the most fun part.”
Remelius said the worst part of the six-team SWMHSHL is “Our team is actually the only team in the league without a rivalry, without a Cup. All the other teams have one and then there’s us.
“There’s Mattawan and Portage Central, Central and Portage Northern. Eagles and Blades have a rivalry cup so we’re left out. The only trophy we’re playing for is the league championship trophy.”
Kindle took over as coach three years ago and his first year was the winless one. From there, he started building a winner.
“We have a saying, “Nine years in the pros,” Taplin said of the coach. “He actually does bring experience.”
“He’s a fun guy, too. He’s the right coach for our team.”
One of Kindle’s pro seasons included a stint with the minor league Kalamazoo Wings.
He took over United when he retired.
“I got old and started to slow down a bit,” said the 38-year-old who is a civil engineer at Kingscott Associates. “The minors aren’t always glamorous.
“It was a lot of fun, but it got to a point where it’s time to let the younger kids play. I would never trade anything. I have no regrets.”
When he took over the team the biggest problem was motivation, Kindle said.
“When I first got here, there was a lot of just standing around on the ice,” he said. “I would see the puck and I would be like ‘Go get it, just go get the puck. That’s all you have to do. It’s easier to score if you have the puck.’”
Forwards include K-Central sophomores Topher Strunk and Tony Schirripa and freshman Jack Kirschensteiner, plus Hackett juniors Dominic Monendo, Brenden Warner and Matthew Romano and freshman Garrett Warner.
Defensemen are K-Central junior Michael Schirripa and freshman Brandon Murray and Hackett juniors Eric Smith, Nathan Carr and Andrew Burke.
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Kalamazoo United players (from left) Noel Cavey, Quentin Cerutti and Hunter Taplin celebrate a goal. (Middle) Clockwise, from top left, coach Tyler Kindle, Mitch Kihm, Jake Remelius and Hunter Taplin. (Below) Cerutti scores one of his 14 goals this season. (Action photos by Rob Carr/Action Shots Photography.)
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.”
2023 Made In Michigan
August 1: Vast Experience Shapes Retired MLB-er Gates Into 3-Time Finals-Winning Coach - Read
July 25: After All-American Career, Rockford's Bennett Making Impact as Mat Mentor - Read
July 20: Oakridge 3-Sport Star Potts Applying Lessons to 'Second Chapter' in Sales - Read
July 18: Frankfort Hoops Staff Bolstered by Past Stars Giving Back in Banktson, Kreski - Read
July 12: Championship Memories, High School Tennis' Impact Stick with Hackett Pair - Read
July 6: Brother Rice Finals Hero Aiming to Ace Family Life, Financial World - Read
July 5: Lapeer West 4-Time Finals Winner Set to Build Champions at Oklahoma - Read
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.)