'Miracle' Comeback, Memorable Finish

February 27, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

At some point, Jay Jones is sure, he and his friends from Traverse City West will reminisce about playing in the second-longest hockey game in MHSAA history.  

Erik Anton always will remember sending the shot into the top corner of the net that made the score 2-1 in favor of his team and ended the seven-overtime marathon against Jones and the Traverse City Bay Reps – but there’s no way Anton will be the one bringing it up.

No need. His goal as midnight approached Monday immediately became legendary in the Traverse City area – complete with a captivating back story as well.   

Anton’s shot ended the game after 103 minutes and 33 seconds – or 4:33 into the seventh overtime.

A little more than year ago, Anton couldn’t skate, or for that matter walk – he was hospitalized in Grand Rapids, paralyzed from the rib cage down because of a viral infection.

And among his visitors was Jones, a friend since childhood and the Bay Reps goalie Monday who stopped 48 shots before Anton potted the game winner.

“I don’t think it’s something where I’ll be like, ‘Remember that?’ But obviously it will be in our memories,” Anton said. “We were trying for such a long time. (For them) it was such a heart-breaking experience.

“(But) I might tease him about it a little bit.”

Anton and Traverse City West live on, having also beaten Manistee on Wednesday to advance to Saturday’s Division 1 Regional Final against Grand Rapids West Catholic. A trophy-earning win that night surely would add to an incredibly memorable week.

But it already has been an unforgettable year for the Titans junior wing, even as his most “miraculous” feat came against a friend who has been among those rooting him on these last many months.

Suddenly sidelined

Anton has played hockey since he was 3, and he has six goals and eight assists this winter. It’s his number one sport – although he also plays tennis and lacrosse.

Needless to say, he’s always been an active guy.

Until December 2012. Anton contracted transverse myelitis, an infection affecting the spiral cord caused in this case by a virus. His immune system, mistaking that part of his nervous system for the virus, attacked – causing the paralysis that sent him on a trip to Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids.

“How I describe it, I was lying down and somebody just put 1,000 pounds on top of my legs,” Anton said. “You try to move your legs and you can’t.

“(The doctor) would take a pen and touch the bottom of my foot, and it felt like they were taking a lighter to the bottom of my foot.”

His doctor gave him a 33 percent chance of recovering fully. Anton was expected to stay in Grand Rapids at the Mary Free Bed rehabilitation hospital for three months.

That first weekend away from home, Anton was visited by teammates and friends, including Jones. Their travel teams growing up had included about half of the current West team, a few who now play at Traverse City Central and a handful more now on the Bay Reps.  

“I was shocked to see him like that,” Jones said, “not being able to move a whole lot.”

Friendly support

Jones, a sophomore, attends St. Francis High School. The Bay Reps are a hockey co-op team comprised of students from seven schools. He and Anton never went to the same one, but their families are friends and they became hockey teammates on the travel circuit when they were 8 or 9.

They also started lacrosse together, played tennis together, golfed and more recently snowboarded together.

Jones first heard of what had befallen his friend in the lockerroom after a practice. Stunned to say the least, Jones didn’t say much for the first day or two before he and their friends made the trip to Grand Rapids.

By Jones’ description, Anton is a funny guy, definitely an extrovert. They together were the talkers on their travel teams growing up. Jones found his friend wasn’t much different in this unusual setting, just a little quieter. “He actually got up and we wheeled him around the hospital area,” Jones said. “We were laughing and making jokes like normal.”

“I just remember being in high spirits,” Anton added. “I always love seeing my friends, and having my friends come down and visit me, just being able to be with them again, especially when I was just laying in the hospital ...”

Anton said he knew from the start that he wouldn’t settle for a three-month hospital stay and surely not for paralysis for life if he could help it. He showed enough improvement to go home after just two weeks. And by the end of the spring lacrosse season, he felt back at full strength.

“It is pretty amazing. Once he got back, everyone pretty much treated him like normal,” Jones said. “He was back to his old self.”

Memorable moment

Anton could feel Jones’ stick jabbing at his skates whenever he came close to the net Monday. Anton laughed to himself at the little unspoken competition between the two.

He felt strong going into the third overtime, but by the fourth his legs were feeling heavy. By the seventh overtime his shifts had shortened substantially as players dug for any energy they could muster.

Meanwhile, Jones would smack his stick at the goal posts between periods, swing it at the net – “pretty much trying to stay awake at that point,” he said.

As the overtimes piled up, Jones also began to consider the significance of being part of such a game. It would be talked about for a long time. Everyone would know it was hard-fought. Win or lose, both teams would feel a sense of accomplishment. But if his team lost, he’d be absolutely crushed.

Both he and Anton saw a similar build-up to Anton’s deciding shot. Anton had been on the ice for about 15 seconds. His team was regrouping in the neutral zone when teammate Caleb Breithaupt ended up with a loose puck and pushed it ahead to forward Nick Schultz at the blue line.

Anton took a pass at the top of a circle in front of the Bay Reps’ net. Jones saw him line up the shot. A defenseman skated between them, but remained just off to a side. Anton fired at the high left corner of the net. Jones never saw the puck go by.

It was the Bay Reps’ fifth overtime loss this season. Jones took a knee staring at the ice in front of him. His teammates skated over and provided some support, but the moment was “surreal” – for a moment, Jones said, the ice was completely silent. And then he looked into the corner and saw number 19, Anton, celebrating. He smiled, just a little.   

Traverse City West had lost to the Reps in overtime, 5-4, in a 2013 Pre-Regional opener, and then again earlier this season. Those details provide additional layers to an extraordinary experience players on both sides will tell about in the years to come.

It’s what Anton has learned to relish while recovering from his unfortunate circumstance, even if he’ll let others start this conversation the next time he’s hanging with Jones and his other Bay Reps pals.  

“I definitely don’t take anything for granted anymore. I always put all my effort into sports, but after going through that, I really try to enjoy it, make the most of it when I can,” Anton said. “I always had a competitive edge, and I still do. Now I definitely try to enjoy it while I’m out there, enjoy the experience.”

Click to read more about Anton’s initial recovery from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

PHOTOS: (Top) Traverse City West’s Erik Anton (19) unloads a shot at Bay Reps goalie Jay Jones that Jones stops Monday. (Middle top) Anton, seated, is visited by friends including Jones (gray jacket) during his hospital stay. (Middle below) Anton, left, and Jones take a brief moment from lacrosse during their younger days. (Below) Members of the West and Bay Reps hockey teams hold up Anton’s jersey after a game he could not play in last season. (Photos courtesy of Madelaine Jones.) 

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.)