Performance: Hartland's Brenden Tulpa

February 1, 2018

Brenden Tulpa
Hartland junior – Hockey

Tied for third in points for one of the top-ranked teams in Michigan, Tulpa considers himself a playmaker setting up Hartland’s potent offense. But he’s driven the Eagles’ three-game winning streak as a scorer, putting in two goals versus Northville in a 3-0 win, another against top-ranked Livonia Stevenson in a 6-5 victory and Tuesday the game-winner to down Brighton 2-1 and earn the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.”

The junior left wing has nine goals and 11 assists this winter for Hartland, which sits 12-4-1 and ranked No. 4 in Division 2. This recent run has been one of the most impressive by any team in the state this season; in addition to Stevenson holding down the top spot, Northville now is ranked No. 8 in Division 1 and Brighton is No. 3. The win over the Bulldogs clinched the Kensington Lakes Activities Association Gold title.

Tulpa has nearly equaled his nine goals and 12 assists from last season, when he helped the Eagles reach the Division 2 Semifinals in his first season of high school hockey after making the switch from AAA travel. He hopes to play junior hockey after high school and then eventually at the college level. Tulpa is interested in studying radiology and working in the medical field – he carries a 3.8 grade-point average with math and science among his favorite subjects.

Coach Rick Gadwa said: “What's great about Brendan is that the more success he has individually, the more he compliments his teammates. There's a culture we've built at Hartland, and Brendan has done an exceptional job putting his team before himself. When you look at his individual ability, the way Brendan scores big goals in big games is something every coach prays for in their lineup. He can be straight up lethal. When you combine that with his attitude and work ethic, you have yourself a really good hockey player. Brendan came to our program last season as a sophomore and like most, there was some maturing to do. Watching him take that big step this year not only as a hockey player. but as a human being, is what excites me most. As a coach, I like to focus on the game within the game and attributes like respect, humility, discipline, etc., are all things we look for in our players. Seeing a player like Brendan mature the way he has and continue to follow the process to become the best player, student, and person possible is really what it's all about.”

Performance Point: “Those are all KLAA games, and they’re rivalry games, and we needed them to make it to the (league) championship. We went on a little cold spurt there and didn’t win in three games, and these last three we’ve been on a winning streak against top, top teams in the state, and it’s awesome finally coming together as a team.”

Surrounded by standouts: “I’ve just been trying to keep my pregame rituals the same, keep my mindset the same, and I just think I’ve been getting lucky putting the puck in the net. I guess it’s not luck; playing with Josh Albring (6 goals/23 assists), who was (all-state) Dream Team last year; he’s a Mr. Hockey contender. And Jack Behnke (17 goals/9 assists), he’s just been killing it since last year with points and goals. And Joey Larson (8 goals/12 assists) too; playing with those three guys, it’s kinda hard, honestly, not to perform well. Because they’re so good. Playing with them makes everyone else play better. When they bring energy and make good plays, it starts building up throughout the team. I love playing with them.”

Ready for another run: “Our coach Rick Gadwa pretty much built this program from the ground up, with the help of our athletic office. We really didn’t have a very high-ranked team at all. Before (the goal) was just kinda winning a Regional championship, but the past couple of years, when we don’t win the state championship, it’s a letdown because we feel like we can do it. … We’ve just learned that we can’t be comfortable. Like last year, we only lost two games all regular season. Most of us thought we’d just waltz right in and win it. This year we know we can’t get comfortable. We’ve beaten these last three teams; there’s still work to be done.”

Looking up to Luke: “(2016 graduate) Luke Cowan … he put Hartland on the map his senior year. He was unbelievable to watch, one of the best players I’ve ever seen. He was a skill guy, he got a ton of points, but he also worked his butt off all the time in corners, he was a grinder, he rarely made mistakes and he was just a great role model to play after.”

Proud to wear blue & gold: “(Playing high school hockey) was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. I have enjoyed hockey so much more in these last two years than I ever have. We get to skate every day. I’ve built great relationships with kids just seeing them every day after school. And then playing in front of students at your school, the big crowd, it’s awesome.”

- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Every week during the 2017-18 school year, Second Half and the Michigan Army National Guard will recognize a “Performance of the Week" from among the MHSAA's 750 member high schools.

The Michigan Army National Guard provides trained and ready forces in support of the National Military Strategy, and responds as needed to state, local, and regional emergencies to ensure peace, order, and public safety. The Guard adds value to our communities through continuous interaction. National Guard soldiers are part of the local community. Guardsmen typically train one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. This training maintains readiness when needed, be it either to defend our nation's freedom or protect lives and property of Michigan citizens during a local natural disaster. 

Previous 2017-18 honorees:
January 25: Brandon Whitman, Dundee wrestling - Read
January 18: Derek Maas, Holland West Ottawa swimming - Read
January 11: Lexi Niepoth, Bellaire basketball - Read
November 30: La'Darius Jefferson, Muskegon football - Read
November 23: Ashley Turak, Farmington Hills Harrison swimming - Read
November 16: Bryce Veasley, West Bloomfield football - Read 
November 9: Jose Penaloza, Holland soccer - Read
November 2: Karenna Duffey, Macomb L'Anse Creuse North cross country - Read
October 26: Anika Dy, Traverse City Central golf - Read
October 19: Andrew Zhang, Bloomfield Hills tennis - Read
October 12: Nolan Fugate, Grand Rapids Catholic Central football - Read
October 5: Marissa Ackerman, Munising tennis - Read
September 28: Minh Le, Portage Central soccer - Read
September 21: Olivia Theis, Lansing Catholic cross country - Read
September 14: Maddy Chinn, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep volleyball - Read

PHOTOS: (Top) Hartland's Brenden Tulpa starts a rush during last season's Division 2 Semifinal against Birmingham Brother Rice. (Middle) Tulpa looks to line up a shot on goal. 

Gaylord's Looker Shows 'Different Type of Tough' in Return from Knee Tear

By Tom Spencer
Special for

February 3, 2023

When Gage Looker went down with an ACL injury in Gaylord’s first football game this fall, Liz Harding – president of the Blue Devils’ hockey boosters – was absolutely devastated.

Looker, an all-conference hockey defenseman last winter, was playing, as a senior, in his first-ever varsity football game. Harding, also Looker’s mom, was there.

“I caught the one and only picture of him playing football just before he injured himself,” Harding recalled. “I was devastated!”

Doctors indicated surgery was necessary and recovery would prevent Looker from getting back on the ice, the football field and the track where Looker had dreams of great success this year.

“Knowing hockey is his passion — and thoughts of him not playing did not set well with me — Gage started what I would call standard physical therapy a couple days after surgery and then added an additional blood flow therapy with our local trainer to his weekly routine,” Harding said. “Through his hard work and determination, he is back on the ice.”

The Blue Devils, after graduating their other four all-conference players from last winter, were 2-11 this year when Looker returned to the ice against Big North Conference rival Petoskey. Gaylord has won three of seven since.

Gaylord coach Jamie Voss believes Looker’s return was pretty much a miracle. And he thinks Looker is playing at about 80 percent despite being only a few months removed from the injury.

“Gage tore his ACL and was told by doctors his sports life was over,” Voss said. “Gage would not accept this, and he trained harder than any kid I have ever witnessed to prove the doctors wrong.”

Sans injury, Voss notes Looker was certain to graduate on several all-time Gaylord hockey record lists.

“The reports on his progress and rehab were literally off the charts for this type of injury,” Voss said.  “His doctors reported early that they have never seen this occur before regarding the strength developments in the afflicted areas that support his ACL tear.”

Voss admitted he had to hold his breath a little – as many Gaylord supporters did – when Looker joined the starting lineup against Petoskey. That moment came after just a week on the ice, including full contact practices.

Looker, right, watches his football teammates from the sideline this fall. “More important than records to Gage was his commitment and obligation to be our team leader as our compete level was predictably down this season,” Voss said. “Gage is one of the best athletes and citizens that I have ever been allowed to coach. 

“He is not only a leader to the players on and off the ice, but Gage also is the kind of kid that coaches learn from,” Voss went on. “He is mature beyond his years.”

Looker, who started playing hockey at 4 years old, dabbled with football as a freshman although an eighth-grade hip injury kept him away from the field until this fall. Looker’s size – 6-foot-3, 245 pounds – led to many encouragements to give football another try.

“I went the rest of my high school career being told that I needed to play football,” Looker said. “So I said ‘why not’ my senior year because I could use the extra strength for hockey.”

Looker knew the morning after his one-and-only career football game that he needed medical attention promptly. A quick MRI showed extensive damage.

Looker was told he literally “blew apart” his ACL.

“My stomach dropped,” Looker said. “I was not ready for that at all.

“I was shown what my PCL looked like and then went to where my ACL should be, and it was gone — some say it was deleted,” Looker continued. “I was told I will not be able to play sports for about seven to nine months, and I was speechless.”

Two months after surgery and extensive physical therapy, Looker tried to skate. It went so well he began to entertain thoughts of playing hockey again. He may aspire to compete in track & field this spring. 

“He runs a 56-second quarter mile and throws the shot put 48 feet, 10 inches,” Voss said of his dominating defender. “And although he is restricted from running, something tells me this kid will run track this spring.”

While it is not the senior hockey season it could have been without the injury, many are glad to just have Looker on the ice. His mom is among them.

Looker tries to stuff the puck past Tawas’ goaltender.“I am overjoyed to have him back on the ice,” Harding said. “At least he is getting in a few games and is out there making a difference.

“The smile on his face is priceless,” she continued. “Perhaps he'll continue with track as he is set to break records there too.”

Rehab fresh out of surgery was “very boring,” so Looker started intensifying his recovery with therapy four days a week for a few months.

“It was a lot of commitment, but I needed my senior year of hockey,” Looker said. “I was doing the basic things, and then I had a machine that could stimulate my muscles and pump blood to my knee.

“It is called ARPneuro,” he continued. “I was skating with that on my leg as well as doing mini workouts at home.”

ARP — accelerated, recovery and performance — reportedly accelerates recovery time by decreasing chronic pain and increasing range of motion without the use of medications.  

“I was always putting as much work in as I could,” Looker said. “It definitely paid off in the end.”

Looker’s coach agrees.

“I have never heard of this, nor witnessed it,” Voss said. “Gage Looker is an anomaly, and in my opinion a different type of tough.

“Gage returned to practice full contact three months after he tore his ACL,” Voss continued. “And he played his first hockey game logging 30 of 51 minutes a week later.”

Looker credits the support and effort of his medical team and his teammates for helping him get back on track. However, no one gets more credit that the booster president.

“My mom and teammates helped me through it,” he said. “My mom was always on me about doing my workouts and keeping me disciplined.”

Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Gaylord’s Gage Looker has returned to the ice this season only a few months after a serious knee injury. (Middle) Looker, right, watches his football teammates from the sideline this fall. (Below) Looker tries to stuff the puck past Tawas’ goaltender. (Photos by Rob DeForge/RD Sports Photo.)