Numbers Add Up Nicely for Eisenhower

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

February 15, 2018

SHELBY TOWNSHIP – The game within the game continues to play out in boys ice hockey as coaches and communities strive to maintain competitive programs in an increasingly competitive world of high school athletics.

Utica Eisenhower is ranked No. 6 in Division 1 this season and seeking its first MHSAA championship game appearance – which would be another fine accomplishment for a program that continues to measure up with the state's best.

Bob Hall is in his 11th season as Eisenhower’s head coach, and his program has maintained a high level of competitiveness and stability throughout his time. The Eagles reached Division 1 Quarterfinals in 2013 and 2016, and last season Eisenhower lost to eventual Division 1 runner-up Detroit Catholic Central, 5-2, in a Regional Final. In 2006, Eisenhower reached the MHSAA Semifinals.

Hall, 48, spent a number of years coaching Bantam-A and Junior-A travel teams before he took over at Eisenhower. He’s seen both sides of the coin as it relates to ice hockey in Michigan. Unlike a sport such as football, high school hockey coaches must compete with travel teams for talent. Some programs succeed; some don’t.

Eisenhower is one of stronger programs in the Metro Detroit area. Despite losing a dozen seniors to graduation last spring, Hall has 25 players on varsity this season, including 12 more seniors.

“High school hockey is the best-kept secret out there,” Hall said. “There’s nothing better than to have 1,000 people yelling for you in a rink and another 500 or so rooting against you.

“Our program, it’s not that we’re developing so much. We see ourselves as the top program in Macomb County. There’s other good programs, too, like (Warren) DeLaSalle and (Macomb) Dakota. We’ve done three showcases this season. Our kids are being recruited. Unless you’re playing in the top three of four elite travel teams, high school hockey is just as competitive.”

Some Metro Detroit high school programs have not been as fortunate. Fraser and Warren Mott high schools eliminated ice hockey after last season. Fraser won the Class A title in 1983, but times change. 

Harrison Township L’Anse Creuse and Macomb L’Anse Creuse North used to sponsor their own programs. Now they compete as a unified team. The same can be said of St. Clair Shores Lake Shore and St. Clair Shores Lakeview. Large Class A schools like Sterling Heights Stevenson and Utica Ford no longer sponsor the sport.

The county has been impacted by these changes, and Hall is a bit taken aback by it.

Eisenhower is one of four members of the Macomb Area Conference Red, with Dakota, Romeo and St. Clair Shores Unified. The Eagles (15-3-2 overall, 5-0 MAC Red) will host Dakota (13-8, 4-1) on Saturday in what amounts to a game for the division title.

“Back In the day we had six or seven in the Red,” Hall said. “The more schools we get involved, the better. We want good hockey. There are good hockey players in this area.”

And Eisenhower is fortunate to have a number of fine players. Among the top seniors are centers Luke Geiger, Salvo Cipriano and Michael Acorn, and winger Matt Haist. All played on the team last season and have embraced their roles as leaders and role models for the younger players.

In goal Eisenhower has two sophomores, Salvatore Carabelli and Alex Guzdziol. Carabelli has logged the majority of playing time and sports a 13-3-2 record.

This is Haist’s second season with Eisenhower. Previously, he played for the Oakland Junior Grizzlies. He said that the time was right for him to make the switch after his sophomore year.

Statistically, Haist is the team leader in points (53) and goals (37). Next is Jacob Latorella and Geiger each with 24 points.  

“Coach Hall is a great coach,” Haist said. “(Playing at Eisenhower) has lived up to all my expectations. Generally, players don’t think high school hockey is that competitive. I don’t agree. There are a lot of good players. High school hockey has more of a demanding schedule. Yeah, we do play less games, but we practice so much more. In travel you might practice two or three times a week. Here we practice five days a week. The more time on the ice makes you better. It also makes you better conditioned.”

Haist said this team is good enough to make a long run in the tournament. He even said a Division 1 championship is not out of the question.

Hall won’t go that far. It’s not that he doesn’t think his team can win it all. It’s just that he won’t allow himself to look past the Regionals. 

Eisenhower begins Pre-Regional play against Rochester Adams on Feb. 26 at Detroit Skating Club.

“We have talent,” he said. “Are we the most talented? No. This team gets along well. They bring their lunch box every day. They want to get better. They want to learn. And when they apply what we’re teaching, they’re a pretty good team.”

Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Utica Eisenhower players gather during a break in their 5-1 win over Traverse City West on Jan. 12. (Middle) Goaltender Salvatore Carabelli makes a save against Romeo. (Below) Senior Matt Haist starts a rush at Romeo’s net. (Photos by Lena Carabelli.)

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.)