Just over a year ago, the 2019-20 school sports year ended only hours before the puck was to drop for the first Semifinal of that hockey season’s championship weekend at USA Hockey Arena.
Like in other winter and spring sports, a number of teams that were set to play for championships last season have unfinished business because of COVID-19 – and now an opportunity.
This season’s championship weekend returns to Plymouth, with Division 2 Semifinals on Thursday, Divisions 3 and 1 on Friday and all three championship games Saturday.
DIVISION 1 - Friday, March 26
Mid-Michigan (15-2) vs. Rockford (14-5-1), 4:30 p.m.
Detroit Catholic Central (16-1) vs. Brighton (10-4-3), 8 p.m.
DIVISION 2 - Thursday, March 25
Byron Center (17-0) vs. Marquette (14-4), 4:30 p.m.
Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (13-4) vs. Trenton (13-7), 8 p.m.
DIVISION 3 - Friday, March 26
Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood (13-4) vs. Flint Powers Catholic (14-3), 10 a.m.
Calumet (17-0-1) vs. Chelsea (17-1-1), 1:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 27
Division 1: 7 p.m.
Division 2: 11 a.m.
Division 3: 3 p.m.
Below is a glance at all 12 teams contending this weekend. Click for the full program.
Record/rank: 10-4-3, No. 3
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recent 2018), two runner-up finishes.
Coach: Kurt Kivisto, first season (10-4-3)
League finish: Third in Kensington Lakes Activities Association Gold
Best wins: 3-2 (OT) over No. 10 Plymouth, 6-5 over No. 5 Saginaw Heritage, 5-4 over No. 2 Orchard Lake St. Mary’s.
Players to watch: Chris Wozniak, sr. G (2.63 goals-against average); Nick Baker, jr. F (9 goals, 9 assists); Nick Przysiecki, sr. F (8 goals, 10 assists); Lars Erkkila, sr. F (8 goals, 11 assists).
Outlook: Kivisto, who played at Brighton and most recently served as an assistant coach, has led one of the state’s most annually-successful programs back to the Semifinals for the seventh time in nine seasons. He inherited 11 seniors including Wozniak, who made the all-state second team last season. Defense has been a key in the team’s 6-0-2 run heading into this weekend. Brighton has outscored its three postseason opponents by a combined 16-1.
DETROIT CATHOLIC CENTRAL
Record/rank: 16-1, No. 1
Championship history: Fourteen MHSAA titles (most recent 2019), five runner-up finishes.
Coach: Brandon Kaleniecki, sixth season (138-24-2)
League finish: First in Michigan Interscholastic Hockey League North
Best wins: 3-1 over No. 9 Salem in Quarterfinal, 2-1 over No. 2 Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, 5-0 over No. 4 Rockford, 5-0 over No. 3 Brighton, 3-2 over Division 2 No. 3 Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice, 2-1 over Division 2 No. 4 Livonia Stevenson.
Players to watch: William Shields, sr. F (4 goals, 14 assists); Tommy Shea, sr. F (10 goals, 3 assists); Brenden Cwiek, sr. F (7 goals, 8 assists); Bobby Masters, jr. G (1.14 goals-against average, .940 save %).
Outlook: DCC has advanced to the Semifinals for the ninth straight season, and even got some help from the junior varsity when the varsity had to quarantine during Regional week. The only loss this season was early to Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, which the Shamrocks avenged with a 3-0 win near the end of the regular season. DCC also has defeated Division 3 No. 3 Detroit Country Day (7-1), No. 5 Flint Powers Catholic (4-2), No. 2 Detroit U-D Jesuit (2-1) and had another win in its season opener over the No. 4 Cranes (2-0). Masters has split time in net with junior Nick Galda, who entered this week with a 0.74 goals-against average.
Record/rank: 15-2, unranked
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Coach: Rob Husulak, third season (42-25-1)
League finish: First in South Central Hockey League Central
Best wins: 5-2 over No. 5 Saginaw Heritage in Quarterfinals, 6-1 over Capital City, 5-4 (OT), 7-4 and 5-4 (Regional Final) over Okemos.
Players to watch: Brock Mason, sr. D (24 goals, 12 assists); Jadon Reimer, sr. D (14 goals, 11 assists); Eli Reimer, sr. F (27 goals, 20 assists); Carson Finney, sr. F (14 goals, 40 assists).
Outlook: Mid-Michigan includes players from Holt, Eaton Rapids, Potterville, Grand Ledge and Portland, and qualifies as arguably the surprise of the tournament after its upset of Heritage in the Quarterfinal. But the Marauders have been impressive all season; their only league loss came against a team they also beat, and the other defeat was to Division 2 quarterfinalist Muskegon Mona Shores early. Senior defenseman Danny Abdouch had added another 10 goals and seven assists entering the week.
Record/rank: 14-5-1, No. 4
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Coach: C.J. Pobur, fifth season (75-53-4)
League finish: Tied for second in Ottawa-Kent Conference Rue
Best wins: 4-3 (Quarterfinal) and 4-1 over No. 6 Grandville, 4-3 over No. 8 Traverse City West in Regional Final, 6-4 (Regional Semifinal) and 2-1 over No. 7 Traverse Bay Reps, 6-3 over Division 2 No. 7 Muskegon Mona Shores.
Players to watch: Carson Korte, sr. F (27 goals, 16 assists); Owen Devries, sr. F (13 goals, 22 assists); Braeden Fouchea, sr. F (3 goals, 19 assists); Will Haggerty, jr. F (13 goals, 9 assists).
Outlook: Pobur has led the Rams to three Regional titles over his five seasons, and this will be the program’s first Semifinal appearance after finishing at the Quarterfinal round seven times over the last two decades. Rockford has had one of the toughest playoff roads in any division the last two weeks and was able to avenge one of its losses – the Rams avenged another during the regular season, with the other three coming either to DCC or Division 2 top-ranked Byron Center (twice). Senior Dayton Perroud entered this week with 11 assists from his blueliner spot.
Record/rank: 17-0, No. 1
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Coach: Taylor Keyworth, third season (57-16-2)
League finish: First in O-K Rue
Best wins: 2-1 over No. 2 Hartland in Semifinal, 3-2 over No. 7 Muskegon Mona Shores in Regional Final, 4-2 and 8-3 over Division 1 No. 4 Rockford, 4-0 over Division 1 No. 7 Traverse Bay Reps, 4-3 and 5-4 over Division 1 No. 6 Grandville.
Players to watch: Logan Nickolaus, sr. F (23 goals, 25 assists); Luke Nickolaus, sr. F (10 goals, 18 assists), Trevor Davis, sr. D (7 goals, 24 assists); Josh Froysland, sr. D (1 goal, 11 assists).
Outlook: A roster with 11 seniors has elevated Byron Center to the Semifinals for the second time – and for the first time they’ll get to play as last year’s run was halted by COVID-19 after the Quarterfinals. The Bulldogs are averaging 5.8 goals per game – even more impressive considering seven of 17 games were against teams ranked in Divisions 1 or 2 at the end of the regular season. Davis made the all-state first team last year, while Froysland made the second and Luke Nickolaus earned an honorable mention. Seven players total had scored at least seven goals heading into this week, with senior forward Mason Breit adding 16 more (with nine assists) to those mentioned above.
BLOOMFIELD HILLS BROTHER RICE
Record/rank: 13-4, No. 3
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recent 2017), two runner-up finishes.
Coach: Kenny Chaput, fifth season (89-34-8)
League finish: Second in MIHL North
Best wins: 6-0 (Quarterfinal) and 7-2 over No. 8 Port Huron Northern, 3-2 over No. 2 Hartland, 5-1 over Division 1 No. 6 Grandville, 4-1 and 4-3 over Division 1 No. 2 Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, 3-2 over Division 1 No. 5 Saginaw Heritage, 4-2 over Division 1 No. 3 Brighton, 1-0 over Division 3 No. 2 Detroit U-D Jesuit.
Players to watch: Andrew Marone, soph. F (11 goals, 10 assists); Ryan Marone, sr. F (6 goals, 15 assists); Peter Rosa, soph. F (8 goals, 9 assists); Brett Harris, sr. F (8 goals, 12 assists).
Outlook: Brother Rice has reached the Semifinals all four seasons since its most recent championship in 2017. The Warriors enter this weekend with four shutouts over their last five games, with senior Drake Danou handling most of the time in net this season and posting a 1.77 goals-against average and .923 save percentage entering this week. Senior Alec Hamady (7 goals, 8 assists) adds more scoring punch, and junior Matthew Herb had 13 assists from the blue line coming into Tuesday.
Record/rank: 14-4, No. 6
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recent 2008), four runner-up finishes.
Coach: Doug Garrow, eighth season (139-60-12)
League finish: Third in Great Lakes Hockey Conference
Best wins: 1-0 over No. 9 Traverse City Central in Quarterfinal, 6-3 over Division 3 No. 7 Hancock, 2-0 over Division 3 No. 6 Houghton.
Players to watch: Ansel Frost, sr. F (4 goals, 12 assists); Jackson Potulny, fr. F (15 goals, 12 assists); Dylan Baldwin, sr. F (12 goals, 8 assists); Brennan Hakkola, sr. G (1.50 goals-against average, .915 save %, 5 shutouts).
Outlook: Marquette earned its third-straight Semifinal berth after prepping against all of the best from the Upper Peninsula including twice against Division 3 semifinalist Calumet. Frost earned an all-state honorable mention last season and he’s one of 10 on his team with at least 13 points. Senior Evan Kroll is another with 10 goals and six assists, and sophomore Jacob Garrow had five goals and 14 assists entering the week. Sophomore Joe DeMattia had added two goals and 15 assists from the blue line prior to the Quarterfinal.
Record/rank: 13-7, No. 10
Championship history: 14 MHSAA titles (most recent 2014), eight runner-up finishes.
Coach: Chad Clements, seventh season (126-61-7)
League finish: Second in MIHL South
Best wins: 3-1 over No. 5 Novi in Quarterfinal, 2-1 over No. 9 Port Huron Northern, 9-4 over Ann Arbor Pioneer in Regional Semifinal.
Players to watch: Caleb Kneiding, sr. D (5 goals, 17 assists); Nickolas Fields, jr. F/D (12 goals, 14 assists); Brad Nemeth, sr. F (11 goals, 18 assists); Collin Preston, sr. F (12 goals, 24 assists).
Outlook: Trenton finished Division 2 runner-up in 2018 and 2019 and had reached the Semifinals again last winter before the run was cut short by COVID. Kneiding earned an all-state honorable mention last season and helps pace a lineup that has replaced four others who received some level of all-state recognition. Trenton has won seven straight and outscored its four postseason opponents by a combined 30-6. Senior defenseman/forward Ryan Stanley had added nine goals and 10 assists entering the week, and senior Brendan Shaw was among assists leaders with 15.
BLOOMFIELD HILLS CRANBROOK KINGSWOOD
Record/rank: 13-4, No. 4
Championship history: Seventeen MHSAA titles (most recent 2015), two runner-up finishes
Coach: John LaFontaine, second season (28-13-3)
League finish: Tied for second in MIHL North
Best wins: 1-0 over No. 2 Detroit U-D Jesuit in Quarterfinal, 2-1 over Division 1 No. 2 Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, 4-0 over Division 1 No. 1 Detroit Catholic Central, 6-1 over Division 1 No. 7 Traverse Bay Reps, 2-0 and 5-3 over Division 2 No. 10 Trenton, 4-2 over Division 2 No. 3 Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice.
Players to watch: Leyton Stenman, sr. D (4 goals, 12 assists); Jack Wineman, sr. F (5 goals, 17 assists); Alex Ceritano, sr. F (9 goals, 9 assists); Isaac Cheli, sr. F (10 goals, 12 assists).
Outlook: Cranbrook might have the most impressive list of wins of any team playing this weekend as the best came against larger-division teams including the only defeat handed to DCC. This will be the Cranes’ first Semifinal appearance since 2016. They had two shutouts during the regular season, but haven’t given up a goal over three playoff games outscoring those opponents by a combined 20-0. Stenman made the all-state second team last season, and Wineman earned an honorable mention.
Record/rank: 17-0-1, No. 1
Championship history: Six MHSAA titles (most recent 2008), five runner-up finishes.
Coach: Dan Giachino, sixth season (108-40-8)
League finish: First in Great Lakes Hockey Conference
Best wins: 3-1 (Regional Final) and 3-1 over No. 6 Houghton, 4-1 and 4-2 over No. 7 Hancock, 5-3 and 2-1 over Division 2 No. 6 Marquette.
Players to watch: Dean Loukus, sr. F (25 goals, 43 assists), Nolan Sturos, jr. F (10 goals, 17 assists); Noah Jukuri, sr. F (9 goals, 17 assists); Jackson Rilei, jr. F (20 goals, 23 assists).
Outlook: The Copper Kings also would have played in last season’s Semifinals had they not been canceled, and they last played in a championship game in 2017. Only an early 3-3 tie against Houghton has kept Calumet from a perfect run so far this winter, and it avenged that loss twice. Loukus went over 200 career points this season and became the program’s all-time leader, and he made the all-state first team in 2020. Junior defenseman Tom Erkkila (4 goals, 18 assists) is another contributor to the offense, and sophomore Aksel Loukus (1.70 goals-against average) has stepped in well for a graduated all-state goalie.
Record/rank: 17-1-1, No. 9
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Coach: Nick Vetter, third season (39-32-3)
League finish: First in Southeastern Conference White
Best wins: 4-1 (Quarterfinal) and 2-1 over Riverview Gabriel Richard, 1-0 over Ann Arbor Skyline.
Players to watch: Tyler Valik, sr. F (17 goals, 30 assists); Devin McIntyre, soph. F (25 goals, 13 assists); Jack Capper, sr. F/D (10 goals, 18 assists); Byron Bayer, jr. G (1.33 goals-against average, .940 save %).
Outlook: Chelsea has reached at least the Quarterfinals eight of the last 12 seasons, and this will be its first Semifinal since 2016. The only loss came in the season opener to Jackson Lumen Christi, which finished the regular season No. 8 in Division 3. Valik made the all-state second team last season and is one of only six seniors on a team that should continue to impress next winter. Corbin Steele is another of those six; the defenseman had added nine goals and 11 assists entering the week.
FLINT POWERS CATHOLIC
Record/rank: 14-3, No. 5
Championship history: Seven runner-up finishes (most recent 2010).
Coach: Travis Perry, 15th season (294-93-19)
League finish: First in Saginaw Valley League
Best wins: 3-1 over Grand Rapids Catholic Central in Quarterfinal, 5-1 over Division 2 No. 8 Port Huron Northern, 5-0 over Division 1 No. 5 Saginaw Heritage.
Players to watch: Nick Kurtiak, soph. G (1.17 goals-against average, .939 save %, 5 shutouts); Kyle Barbour, soph. D (1 goal, 12 assists); Tyler Lawrence, sr. F (10 goals, 22 assists), Mason Czarnecki, soph. F (16 goals, 13 assists).
Outlook: With only two seniors, this could be the start of another run for the Chargers, who will play in their first Semifinal since 2017. Barbour earned an all-state honorable mention last season, and he has reliable netminding behind him and lots of scoring in front. In addition to him, Lawrence and Czarnecki, three more players had at least 10 assists heading into this week. Junior forward Jacques Lavrack was the second-leading goal scorer with 12 heading into the Quarterfinal to go with his 10 assists. The team’s only losses came to Division 1 top-ranked Detroit Catholic Central, Division 2 No. 4 Livonia Stevenson and Division 3 No. 3 Detroit Country Day.
PHOTO: Calumet's Jackson Rilei, left, gets past an Alpena player during Wednesday’s 6-0 Division 3 Quarterfinal win. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)
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.”
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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.)