Resurgent GP South Off to Stunning Start
By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half
January 23, 2020
It’s been eight years since Grosse Pointe South played for an MHSAA Finals championship in ice hockey.
But even though we’re just past the halfway point of this season, the Blue Devils have shown they have what it takes to make a trip back to Plymouth for another title shot.
South is 13-2 and ranked No. 2 in Division 3 in the latest state coaches association poll. To say things have been clicking would be an understatement. Not only have the Blue Devils surprised most in the Metro Detroit area, they’re the surprise team, statewide, in their division.
Take one game recently as a prime example. Detroit Catholic Central is the reigning Division 1 champion and currently ranked No. 1. On Jan. 8, South traveled to Catholic Central’s home arena (USA Hockey Arena, also the home of the MHSAA Finals) and defeated the Shamrocks 4-3.
The result stunned many. Catholic Central entered the game having won its last six by shutout. Less than four minutes into the game South’s David Rivard scored off a pass from Keegan Spitz to end that scoreless streak.
In addition to this incredible win, the Blue Devils received an immeasurable amount of self-confidence.
One contributor who’s playing with supreme confidence is senior goaltender Will Strickler. A two-year starter, he also played as a sophomore – and in fact his first game was against Catholic Central.
“We got shelled, 9-0,” Strickler said. “In the last three years only two teams from Michigan have beaten CC – (Bloomfield Hills) Brother Rice and us. That (victory) made a statement. We’re for real. We also stopped their shutout streak, which was nice.”
Before the start of this season, there likely were few who thought this was possible. Last season South finished 7-18-2, losing to Warren De La Salle Collegiate 3-1 in a Division 3 Pre-Regional. The season before, South finished 9-16 and ended with a loss to Brother Rice 3-1 in a Division 2 Regional Final.
Even though the Blue Devils returned most of their starters this winter, there were concerns. The most obvious question was how this experienced team would play with a new coach.
Paul Moretz took over the program after last season, and this is his 22nd coaching hockey. A graduate of Port Huron High, Moretz started coaching when he was 21, almost immediately after graduating from Western Michigan University. He began with youth hockey in Port Huron before moving on to the Honey Baked Hockey Club and Littles Caesars Amateur Hockey League. He spent the last 10 seasons with Little Caesars, and though this is his first stint coaching high school hockey, he said the timing was right.
“The AAA team I coached was with me all the way up,” Moretz said. “We knew last year would be our last together, so that was going to be it.
“I applied for the South job and, to be honest, I had no clue (how good this team would be). I knew there was potential. I knew it was a good group of young men. I knew there was a group who wanted to work. I didn’t know if that would transform into wins.”
Of the 23 players Moretz has on varsity, 10 are seniors, most playing important roles. It’s common for a team with such success to be senior-dominated – although Moretz added that 13 potential returnees bode well for the team's future.
Spitz, a forward, leads the team in scoring with 18 goals and 16 assists. Adam Strehlke, who centers the top line, is next with 12 goals and 12 assists. Both are seniors. Next are two juniors, Aaron Vyletel (14 goals, seven assists) and Dean Therriault (eight goals, 13 assists).
South sports four captains, with Strehlke and Therriault joined by Xander Mills and Tommy Daudlin. All are seniors. “Our leaders are our captains,” Moretz said. “Quite frankly, we have a lot of leaders.”
Lacking in size, South plays fast. The Blue Devils chase the puck and attempt to create scoring chances with their forechecking.
South’s lack of physical play may have hurt in its two losses, both to state powerhouse Trenton. Trenton won the first game 3-2 in overtime and the second 2-0, with the second goal coming after South pulled its goalie. But South did send 35 shots on goal the first time, and 34 the next.
“We’re a puck-first team,” Strickler said. “Coach told us that against Trenton to let them make their runs. Just go for the puck. Playing physical hasn’t been a key for us.”
That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a concerted effort to play more consistently on the defensive end. Last season Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood downed South 10-2. This season, in the game immediately following the victory over DCC, South defeated Cranbrook Kingswood, 6-2.
Strehlke points to four reasons for his team’s turnaround. One is Moretz – and, partly because of the new coach, there’s a new attitude.
Strehlke also said players are more committed. And you can’t overlook the experience.
“(Moretz) is part of it,” he said. “But everyone has bought in. We’re playing better defensively. We’re allowing fewer shots. And Will has played well all year.
“You know winning, it’s more fun coming to the rink. Last year it wasn’t fun.”
To Moretz, coaching at this level is no different than it was for him coaching for Little Caesars or elsewhere. For one, he has his longtime assistant Nathan Reilly with him. Moretz allows Reilly the freedom to coach without micromanaging. Another key element, according to Moretz, is having his players pay attention to detail.
“They’re willing to do the little things,” he said. “They trust the game plan, and they execute it very well.”
Tom Markowski is a correspondent for the State Champs! Sports Network and previously directed its web coverage. He also 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) Grosse Pointe South players celebrate during a 5-1 win over Riverview Gabriel Richard on Jan. 4. (Middle) Blue Devils senior Adam Strehlke (9) wins a faceoff during a 4-3 victory over Detroit Catholic Central on Jan. 8. (Photos courtesy of Brian McKenna and the Grosse Pointe South hockey program.)
Hockey Players Transferring Winter Puck Skills to Spring Golf Swings
By Tom Lang
Special for MHSAA.com
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.
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.
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 MIGolfJournal.com.
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.)