By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half
BURTON — Flint Powers Catholic was on upset alert, locked in a 3-3 tie with unheralded Mount Pleasant after squandering a 3-0 lead.
It was time for a hero to emerge for the Chargers.
The team's leading goal scorer left the game with an injury, as did another of the team's top point producers.
So, of course, it was a player who had only one goal all season (sophomore Josh Warda) who broke the tie with 6:09 remaining, propelling the second-ranked hockey team in Division 3 to a 6-3 victory at Crystal Fieldhouse.
For Powers, there is no such thing as an unexpected hero.
The Chargers' seemingly endless quest to produce the Flint area's first MHSAA hockey championship isn't being spearheaded by one superstar player or one explosive line.
Rather, Powers has built a 14-1-1 record with a lineup that is remarkable in terms of sheer balance and depth.
The Chargers' top eight scorers are all within nine points of each other, led by Brendan Smith and Conor Witherspoon with 24 points each. Smith has 11 goals and 13 assists, while Witherspoon has 10 goals and 14 assists.
Following closely behind are Jon Thomas (6 goals, 17 assists), Chase Knoblock (12 goals, 7 assists), Mason Weiss (6 goals, 13 assists), Cam Lieffers (6 goals, 10 assists), Brendan Walker (3 goals, 13 assists) and Jake Polakowski (2 goals, 13 assists).
"We've had teams in the past that are pretty top-heavy," 10th-year Powers coach Travis Perry said. "Right now, you can't focus on one line. We have three lines that can score, and we've got a fourth line that can play, too. This is the first year since I've been here that we can roll four lines consistently."
One of those top-heavy teams was last year's squad. Powers got all the way to the MHSAA Division 3 Semifinals before losing 4-1 to Houghton. That team was led by all-stater Mike Forman, who had 61 points. Jeff Polakowski was second with 52 points. The drop-off was steep after that, with Witherspoon ranking third on the team at 23 points. The next two scorers tied for fourth with 18.
"Mike Forman was our leading scorer last year," Smith said. "He could put up points. He always had a target on his back every game. It was tough for him sometimes to get open and score goals. On this team, we have a group of guys who are all pretty close in stats. It's hard for teams to target one of our guys. They get one of our guys, and another one of our guys is going to be open all game long."
Powers hopes this balanced approach will finally pay off with an MHSAA championship March 12 at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth.
The Chargers have the most successful hockey program in Michigan that hasn't won it all. They own a record 32 Regional championships, one more than Trenton. Trenton, of course, has 14 MHSAA Finals championships, second only to Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood's 17.
Powers has been to 19 MHSAA Semifinals and seven title games. The Chargers' best shot at the championship came in 2008 when they controlled play for most of the game, only to lose 1-0 in overtime to Calumet in the Division 3 Final. It's a loss that still haunts Perry, whose team lost 3-1 to Cranbrook Kingswood in the championship game two years later.
Although Genesee County at one time had more than 20 schools playing hockey, it still has not won an MHSAA championship. Teams from Genesee County are 0-12 in the Finals, with five schools reaching the title game at least once. After coming two victories short of ending that streak last season, the returning Chargers immediately focused on this season.
"It was a heartbreaker, but I know everybody was determined at the end of the season to come back out and have a better result this year," senior forward Charlie Start said. "It'd be amazing having that reputation of being the first team in Genesee County to win a state championship."
Powers typically plays a tough regular-season schedule, expecting to take some lumps that will pay off come playoff time. Last year's team, for instance, went 17-8 in the regular season before reaching the Semifinals. The schedule remains tough, but the lumps have been few.
The only loss for the Chargers was a 3-1 decision to ninth-ranked Sault Ste. Marie on Dec. 11 in the Division 3 Showcase in Gaylord. Powers played a 3-3 tie on Jan. 9 against Detroit U-D Jesuit, the third-ranked team in Division 1.
The only team ranked ahead of Powers in Division 3 is Grand Rapids Catholic Central (13-1), which eliminated the Chargers in the 2011, 2012 and 2014 MHSAA Quarterfinals. If they meet this season, it will be in the Quarterfinals on March 9 at Munn Arena in East Lansing.
"Really, it's just a number," Smith said of Powers' ranking. "We don't come in thinking, 'Hey, we're No. 2 in the state.' We're coming in trying to be consistent every game, playing how we know. We're not letting that No. 2 get to our heads and get our egos up."
Before Powers can entertain thoughts of a matchup with Grand Rapids Catholic Central or hoisting the championship hardware in Plymouth, the Chargers must first get past one of their toughest opening-round assignments ever. Powers will travel to Saginaw-Bay Ice Arena on Feb. 29 to play a Pre-Regional game against No. 5 Saginaw Heritage on the Hawks' home ice.
"It's one of those things where one of the top five teams in the state goes home the first night," Perry said.
Asked if this was his best team yet at Powers, Perry hesitated.
"Uh," he said. "I don't want to say that yet. We'll see what happens when we get to March. It's definitely been the most enjoyable season so far, just because of the lack of seniors. Seniors usually run your team, and they're the core. We have three great seniors and they've done a great job, but we're bottom-heavy right now.
"This is one of those weird years where this is the least amount of seniors we've had in my 10 years. We have almost every guy coming back. I'd think we'd be just as strong next year, if not stronger."
Bill Khan served as a sportswriter at The Flint Journal from 1981-2011 and currently contributes to the State Champs! Sports Network. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Flint Powers Catholic hockey players huddle up in front of the net this season. (Middle) Forward Conor Owen prepares to unload a shot during pregame warmups. (Below) The Chargers are paced by a large group of contributors, and this group catches a quick break. (Photos courtesy of Flint Powers Catholic.)
Twenty years ago, Kwin Morris and Jeff Guy were teammates on an MHSAA Quarterfinal-qualifying hockey team.
Guy even scored the winning goal in the Regional Final for Bay Area Reps, which topped Traverse City West 2-1.
This summer’s accomplishment, though, will go deeper in the history books.
Guy and Morris teamed up with Joe Lorenz to complete a dream that started a decade ago. They crossed all five of the Great Lakes on paddle boards while raising awareness and funds for water quality.
They put their balance, endurance and stick-handling skills together for the cause.
‘After 10 years and over one hundred grand raised for the lakes, it feels amazing,” Morris said. “I think the best part is knowing my kids will grow up knowing their old man did something cool for the environment in a unique way.”
It all started at a December social event in Traverse City. Guy, a financial adviser, and Morris, a middle school science teacher, had just gotten into paddle boarding when they began to wonder if they could cross Lake Michigan.
Lorenz, a personal trainer, promptly gave assurances they could — and joined them — even though he had never been on a paddle board prior to the holiday gathering.
Morris, Guy and Lorenz successfully crossed Lake Michigan in 2015, pausing in the cold of the night to look at the Northern Lights. They finished the nearly 100-kilometer journey in just under 25 hours. That accomplishment convinced them to launch Stand Up for Great Lakes, a non-profit organization to raise money and awareness for the protection of the lakes.
The trio also is supporting the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research, a non-profit housed at the University of Michigan.
“It feels amazing to have finished crossing all five lakes and complete a lifelong goal,” Guy acknowledged. “The dollars and awareness we have raised is incredible, and hopefully it continues to grow.”
Lake Huron was the toughest to cross by far, the former Reps noted. The 90-mile, 29-hour paddle brought seven hours of rain and high waves.
“Plus Joe knocked me in and Jeff fell in after catching a fish,” Morris observed.
Ontario was the team’s second-hardest challenge and the shortest paddle. Huge waves from the side all day took quite a toll on the paddlers, who were accompanied by safety boats on each crossing.
Lake Superior featured glassy water, a spectacular sunset and the paddlers pausing to conduct a ceremony over the Edmund Fitzgerald shipwreck. The northernmost Great Lake ranks as the group’s favorite.
Guy graduated from Kalkaska High School in 2003 and went on to play hockey at Hope College. He also played football, baseball and golf for the Blazers. He and his wife, Melissa, have a daughter, Emma.
Morris graduated in 2005 from Elk Rapids High School, where he also played baseball. He went on to get a teaching degree from Western Michigan University. He and his wife, Megan, have two children, Fitz and Knox. He now works for his former school district, teaching science.
The pair played for the Reps through a co-op hosted by Traverse City St. Francis that included athletes from Charlevoix, Elk Rapids, Kalkaska, Kingsley, Lake Leelanau St Mary, Mancelona and Suttons Bay. The Reps’ first coach was Michigan High School Hockey Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee Rex Luxton. He coached through 2008.
Morris and Guy look back at their high school playing days and coach with fondness.
“We had some great teams, and I think I still have the career goal record there,” Guy recalled. “Also, our coach on the Reps Rex Luxton was highly motivational to me while playing for him and later in life.”
Morris echoed Guy.
“I loved the whole experience,” Morris said. “Playing for my high school … Friday night games … school rivalries … playing for Rex Luxton … amazing friends and teammates — almost surreal that it will have been 20 years.”
The former coaching staff of the Reps are not at all surprised Morris and Guy challenged themselves to make a difference for the Great Lakes.
The coaching staff remembers Guy as a natural scorer coming through with big goals, and Morris as a strong two-way player who scored five goals in one period in Sault Ste. Marie. The past coaches also remember all the traveling the two did for practice and games because of the geographic nature of the squad.
“I had no idea they had any interest in the water kind of stuff,” Luxton said of his former players’ feat. “When I started following their bid to raise awareness, it didn’t surprise me they would attempt something like this.
“I think it illustrates how much determination they have and how much hard work they were willing to put in,” he continued. “It is just outstanding, particularly with the cold weather in the Great Lakes.”
Cody Inglis, a senior assistant director for the MHSAA, was an assistant coach for the Reps during all of Morris and Guy’s time with the co-op. He finds himself beaming with pride and happiness knowing these former players are giving back and making it a better world.
“What Jeff and Kwin have done physically and mentally to cross all of the Great Lakes on stand-up paddle boards is remarkable in itself,” Inglis pointed out. “When you add in the fact that they have put in charitable causes and the preservation of the Great Lakes as a reason for doing it – it makes it even more special.
“It’s not surprising given my recollection and remembrances of Jeff and Kwin, as they were really good hockey players and better people.”
High school hockey is where Morris and Guy’ friendship blossomed. Spending 24 or more hours together — and with Lorenz — has forged a greater lifetime bond that already had included being a part of each other’s weddings.
But they admit they had no inkling of this type of accomplishment back in high school.
“Sports were the most important thing in my life in high school,” Guy revealed. “Working really hard to win as many games as possible was the main goal – along with getting good grades and trying to get into a good college.”
But teamwork, learned on the ice and through other high school sports, can make anything possible.
“Any sport where you have to work as a team helps push yourself out of your comfort zone,” Morris concluded. “That's where the best things in life happen.”
2023 Made In Michigan
August 1: Vast Experience Shapes Retired MLB-er Gates Into 3-Time Finals-Winning Coach - Read
July 25: After All-American Career, Rockford's Bennett Making Impact as Mat Mentor - Read
July 20: Oakridge 3-Sport Star Potts Applying Lessons to 'Second Chapter' in Sales - Read
July 18: Frankfort Hoops Staff Bolstered by Past Stars Giving Back in Banktson, Kreski - Read
July 12: Championship Memories, High School Tennis' Impact Stick with Hackett Pair - Read
July 6: Brother Rice Finals Hero Aiming to Ace Family Life, Financial World - Read
July 5: Lapeer West 4-Time Finals Winner Set to Build Champions at Oklahoma - Read
PHOTOS (Top) Clockwise from top left: Jeff Guy celebrates a goal while playing for Traverse Bay Reps with Kwin Morris to his left, Guy (left) and Morris (right) take a photo after one of their paddle board trips, and Morris bringing the puck up the ice for the Reps. (Middle) Guy, Morris and Joe Lorenz take a photo together on the lake shore. (Below) Morris accepts a medal during the 2004-05 season. (Photos courtesy of Jeff Guy, Kwin and Jo Morris.)