Manistique Hockey Co-Op Off to Successful Debut

By John Vrancic
Special for

February 4, 2022

MANISTIQUE — There’s a new kid on the block in Upper Peninsula high school hockey this season.

The Manistique Emeralds, who launched a co-op program for the first time, already have made some noise while posting a 5-4-1 record through their first 10 games.

Manistique is fresh from a 2-1 triumph over Painesdale Jeffers on home ice Saturday.

Also included in the co-op venture are Newberry, Munising and Eben Junction Superior Central.

“It feels great to have a high school program here,” said Manistique junior forward Carter Miller. “This is a big change from house league hockey. The high school game is a lot faster. This has been a pretty big transition. We had to get in shape faster and start a little earlier.”

The victory ended a two-game losing streak for the Emeralds, who dropped a 6-5 overtime decision to Escanaba on Friday and absorbed a 2-1 loss to Kingsford at Iron Mountain Jan. 25.

“It was a very exciting game last night,” coach John Nutkins said after Saturday’s game. “We trailed by three goals twice and took them into overtime. I think that gave us a lot of momentum for the rest of the season. We outplayed Kingsford, but had trouble putting the puck in the net. The guys are pulling together. We have to keep working and improving. We feel we’re in a stretch where we can win some games.”

The Emeralds travel to the Copper Country this weekend to face Negaunee on Friday and Jeffers on Saturday at Michigan Tech.

“They (Negaunee) don’t have a lot of guys, but they take quick shots,” said sophomore goaltender Alex Noble. “We just have to put pressure on the puck.

Manistique hockey“(Defeating Jeffers) is a big W for us. I think this will give us momentum going into next weekend. We’ve been in a lot of close games. We didn’t give up against Esky. That was a real big game for us.”

Dakota Maki, a senior forward from Superior Central, put the Emeralds on the board first in a 6-1 road loss to Escanaba.

“That’s definitely not a game we want to remember,” said Nutkins. “Although, it was exciting to get the early goal. They have a great hockey program, but I don’t think that’s who we are. It’s always kind of a feeling out process. In the first game at Iron Mountain they (Kingsford) were flying. It was kind of a culture shock. I feel we’ve improved a lot from the beginning of the season.”

Manistique dropped a 1-0 decision to the Flivvers on Nov. 18, then tied with Jeffers 1-1 and beat the Hancock jayvees 2-0 at MTU at the start of December.

The Emeralds followed that with a 7-3 triumph over Kingsford in their home debut Dec. 16.

“That was definitely exciting,” said Gavin Nutkins, a sophomore forward from Newberry. “There were more than 300 people here. I’ve never experienced that before. The fans have supported us very well. I think we’ve done very well. We are just getting into game shape, and it’s starting to show.”

Noble stopped 26 shots in Saturday’s victory over Jeffers.

“This is a big step up,” he said. “We just have to work hard for it. This is a bit stronger competition and a faster game.”

Gavin Nutkins said he got interested in hockey at a very young age.

“I played baseball and football, but nothing compares with hockey,” he added. “It’s really hard with school. My dad’s the coach, which makes it a little easier. It’s about an hour’s drive both ways. We usually get home about 9:30 or 10 p.m., then I have to study for 2-3 hours, get about six hours of sleep and go to school. Sometimes you get a little tired.”

John Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

PHOTOS (Top) Manistique attempts to maintain possession against Painesdale Jeffers. (Middle) The Emeralds defend in front of their goal against Escanaba last month. (Photos by Veronica Edwards.)

Hockey Players Transferring Winter Puck Skills to Spring Golf Swings

By Tom Lang
Special for

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

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.)