Next Bootland Also Finds Home on Ice, Set to Help Kalamazoo Eagles Soar

By Pam Shebest
Special for

November 16, 2021

PARCHMENT — After being pelted by pucks when he was very young, Breckyn Bootland knew for sure he never wanted to become a hockey goalie.

Southwest CorridorInstead, the Parchment junior focused on puck handling and is making his mark as a forward for the Kalamazoo Eagles cooperative team in the Southwest Michigan High School Hockey League.

If the name Bootland sounds familiar, it is because his dad, Nick Bootland, has been head coach of the ECHL Kalamazoo Wings for the last 13 years.

One could say hockey is in Bootland’s genes. Besides his father, his uncle Darryl Bootland also played professional hockey.

The “puck pelting” happened during youth hockey, where the players had a chance to experience all positions.

His dad also unleashed a few shots at his son, who was wearing goalie pads, in the backyard to give him a taste of the position he was hoping he would not like.

The young Bootland said goalie was never an option. Besides not liking people to shoot pucks at him, “I always liked scoring.”

That practice has paid off.

He was named team Rookie of the Year last year, recording six goals and three assists in 12 regular-season games during the COVID-shortened season.

After playing youth and then travel hockey, Bootland opted for high school hockey – but the transition was not as easy as he expected.

In travel, “I was just playing against guys my age, so when I stepped on the ice and saw guys that were way bigger than me, it was definitely a shock,” he said.

‘I knew guys would be bigger, but just to be out there with those guys was different. Knowing some of the guys out there helps out from a maturity standpoint because you have guys keeping you in line.”

He also had his dad available to do the same.

Kalamazoo Eagles hockeyWith the K-Wings organization opting to sit out the 2020-21 ECHL season because of COVID protocol, Eagles head coach Matt Kruzich asked Nick Bootland if he would be comfortable stepping in as his assistant coach

“He’s a professional hockey coach who has a full-time job,” Kruzich said. “He was invaluable with the amount of knowledge and experience he brings and the professional approach he has plus the depth of knowledge and the ability to convey that to young kids.

“When he speaks, they listen.”

After making sure his son was okay with the arrangement, Bootland agreed, giving father and son a chance to bond as they never had before.

Because of the K-Wings’ schedule, Bootland said he saw maybe one or two tournaments his son played throughout his travel hockey years.

“I literally watched more hockey and was around him and was on the ice with him (last year), than ever before,” Nick Bootland said.

“We practiced for three or four weeks before (the Eagles) were allowed to play any games, and then we practiced and played games. We’d travel in the car together. To do all those things was fantastic.”

Before that, “It always was me and my mom (Christine) going on trips to tournaments, and we’d always carpool with other people, which helped me get closer to my teammates,” Breckyn Bootland said.

This year, with the K-Wings back on the ice, the junior will start the season without his dad in the rink.

The Eagles’ first game is Nov. 24, and the K-Wings play a home game that day.

There are upsides and downsides to playing a sport his dad coaches, the junior said.

“I guess he knows what he’s talking about,” he said, laughing. “When I have a bad game, he doesn’t yell at me about it; he tells me ways to get better.

“It’s always been helpful to me to have his knowledge to bounce off of.”

The downside?

“He’s always right so I can’t really ignore him, even though sometimes I want to, like after a bad game I’ll just say, ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’

“But I know he has the answer.”

Breckyn Bootland went to his first hockey game when he was just months old when his dad played for the K-Wings.

By the time he was 3, he was skating on the ice.

Kalamazoo Eagles hockeyAs he got older, some of the K-Wings would take him under their wings after practices.

“I remember going to games and going into the locker room, only after a win though,” he quickly added.

“I remember some of the guys would play knee hockey with me. On snow days, I was able to come into the rink early and just work and play around before practice. After practice, some of the guys would pass with me, so it was always fun.”

Nick Bootland said the family never pushed their son toward hockey, but he seemed to take to it from the start.

His bedroom had a hockey theme and his carpet was an ice rink.

Looking at his son from a dad’s perspective, “I have a pretty smart, high-hockey IQ son,” Nick said.

“One time he had a coach where he didn’t think what he was saying was right. He asked me how to handle that.”

His son was 8 or 9 at the time.

“I said you respect it and do it the way your coach said to do it. That was the best advice, I think, that I could give him.”

As a coach, Bootland is impressed by his son’s puck handling.

“He’s got super slick hands,” he said. “He can do things with the puck that I can’t and could never do.

“Within that 10 feet of the net, his skill set, his passing and his dangle, his ESPN moments, all those things that make hockey crazy and unique, he’s got a real knack for that.”

Bootland said he tries to give his son two positives and one negative after a game: “I don’t want to be the dad to take the fun away.”

After losing several seniors to graduation, Kruzich said the junior will be one of the seasoned players he will count on this season.

“He has a relentless drive and works his butt off in every situation,” Kruzich said. “He’s a true competitor, just like his dad.

“He has that high energy and good spirit. He’s got really good feet and really good hands and competes at a very high level every shift.”

Breckyn Bootland is one of 20 players on the Eagles, and one of three juniors. The team has eight seniors, along with four sophomores and five freshmen. Richland Gull Lake supplies seven athletes to the team, with five from Vicksburg, four from Plainwell, Bootland from Parchment and one more apiece from Comstock, Kalamazoo Christian and Paw Paw.

Pam ShebestPam 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) Breckyn Bootland enters his junior season as a key contributor for the Kalamazoo Eagles cooperative team. (Middle) From top: Breckyn Bootland, father Nick Bootland and Eagles coach Matt Kruzich. (Below) Bootland, a student at Parchment, gathers the puck. (Action photos courtesy of the Bootland family; head shots by Pam Shebest.)

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.)