Romeo Icers' Goal: Make More History

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

January 15, 2016

ROMEO – It’s often been said that if a school has a successful football season, that excitement generated in the fall will carry over to the other athletic programs.

Although Romeo hockey coach Nick Badder doesn’t have any football players who were a part of the school’s Division 1 championship win in November, he’s hoping that success will breed success on the ice.

Romeo defeated Detroit Cass Tech, 41-27, at Ford Field to capture the school’s first football MHSAA title. And the hockey team is off to the best start in school history, as the Bulldogs are 12-0 and the team to beat in the Macomb Area Conference Red.

When asked if there is indeed a carryover effect, Badder initially discounted it – and then reassessed the significance.

“I wouldn’t say so,” he said at first. “It was cool for the guys to go down there (to Ford Field) and win. 

“That’s our goal. It was a motivator in the beginning. It was good for (our players) to see. The school spirit was lifted, and we want to get there, too. We want the same thing.”

Should Romeo win the Division 2 hockey title this March, it would be the first time a Macomb County program won an MHSAA title in hockey since Fraser won Class A in 1983.

It’s been a steady rise for this program. Romeo lost to Warren DeLaSalle, 3-2, in a Regional Final in 2014, and last season the Bulldogs reached the Quarterfinals for the first time before losing to Grosse Pointe South, 8-2.

Badder, 26, was an assistant in the program in 2014 and took over as head coach last season.

He said the loss to South was an important lesson to learn, for him and his players.

“We didn’t have big-game experience,” he said. “We didn’t handle the situation well. That’s what we’ve been trying to do this year. We don’t want those 9-5 type of games.”

The first order of business was to tighten up the defense. The fact that Badder returned both goaltenders from last season was a good starting point. Junior Nolan Kare has a .883 save percentage and has started every game. Sophomore Grant Williams is his backup.

Kare is not your typical goalie. He’s not afraid to speak his mind whether it’s on the ice or in the locker room.

“He really gets into the game,” Badder said. “He’s a hard worker and a great kid.”

The biggest improvement from last season’s team to this one is depth. Romeo’s first line returns intact, and center Nick Blankenburg is the catalyst. The team captain, Blankenburg doesn’t get outworked. Highly skilled and packing plenty of power despite his smaller size (5-foot-7, 140 pounds), Blankenburg sets the tone and has 19 goals and nine assists.

“Everyone on the team respects him,” Badder said. “And he’s got a bomb for a shot.”

Fellow senior Logan Jenuwine plays left wing and, just like last season, is the team’s top point-getter. He had 90 last season and has 18 goals and 20 assists in 12 games this winter.

At right wing is junior Brett Lanski. He trails only his line mates in points with seven goals and 14 assists.

Romeo’s objective it to jump the other team quickly, grab an early lead and let its depth wear down the opposition.

“That’s what we do,” Badder said. “They’re a high-flying line. We put them together late last January, and they’ve had a lot of success. We tried something different to start (this) season, but we went back to those three and that’s where they’ll stay.”

Badder lost seven seniors to graduation but said the juniors, who bring travel-team experience, have filled the gaps.

“They all can play,” Badder said. “There isn’t a guy out there who doesn’t belong. If we had an injury (last season) it would have been crippling. Not this year. Even the top guys have nights off. Someone has to pick up the slack.”

Shoring up the defense has been seniors Steven Morris and Logan Ganfield. Badder said these defensemen are his most improved players.

Parts of that strong junior class are center Jake Petry and winger Frank Ruffino.

The breakthrough the team experienced last season, capturing a Regional title, set the groundwork for this winter. Winning breeds confidence, and the Bulldogs are riding that wave.

“Our practices have been tight,” Badder said. “There’s no fooling around.

“I learned a lot last year. Everything I’ve done are the things I would want when I played.”

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) Romeo's Zach Peters looks for an opening against Livonia Franklin. (Middle) Romeo coach Nick Badder, center Nick Blankenburg and goaltender Nolan Kare. (Below) Blankenburg (26), Jake Petri (24), Steven Morris (36) and Kare stand strong as part of a solid defense. (Photos courtesy of Donna Peters.)

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.)