PLYMOUTH — Kenny Chaput, hockey coach at Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice, paused when trying to describe his relationship with sophomore forward Roman Villaire.
“Him and I have had about a year and a half of … fun,” Chaput said.
Care to elaborate?
“We’ve had our ups and downs as far as getting on him,” Chaput said. “He’s literally been all over our lineup from the first line to the fourth line and threats of playing JV hockey and everything else around the way. Again, it’s because the talent’s there.”
The talent Chaput believed Villaire possesses blossomed in the playoffs and burst through at precisely the right moment for the Warriors in the MHSAA Division 2 championship game Saturday at USA Hockey Arena.
Villaire scored what proved to be the winning goal in a 4-2 victory over top-ranked Byron Center with a great individual play.
He picked up the puck at the Rice blue line, skated one-on-one against a defender, made a quick move to open up a shooting lane and fired the puck into the upper right corner of the net with 4:42 left in the game to break a 2-2 tie.
“I just saw (the defenseman) go down to one knee, saw I had a shot, took it to the middle and just put it top right,” Villaire said.
Coming into the playoffs, Villaire had enjoyed a decent regular season, but wasn’t one of the Warriors’ impact players. He had three goals and eight assists in 26 regular-season games, but scored four goals with five assists in five postseason contests.
“That’s not a grinder goal right there,” Chaput said. “That’s a skilled kid who can really bring the offense. He’s had to learn the other things around the game — playing harder, playing more defensive, and he’s done it. It’s a great thing to see how the game really ended with that goal, because he came a long way to get there.”
While Villaire became an unlikely hero during the Warriors’ run to their seventh MHSAA championship, star forward Peter Rosa performed like the elite player he is.
Byron Center took a 2-0 lead into the third period on first-period goals by Logan Nickolaus and Cade Pratt before Rosa scored three of the Warriors’ four unanswered goals.
He began the comeback with a shorthanded breakaway goal at 1:37 of the third and tied the game with a shot off a faceoff win by Jack Cassidy at 10:42.
After Villaire gave Rice the lead, Rosa completed his hat trick and secured the championship by scoring into an empty net with 20.7 seconds remaining.
“We won sophomore year,” said Rosa, who turned down an offer to play juniors in the North American Hockey League to finish his career at Rice. “A couple of us like (Andrew) Marone and Cassidy were together for that championship. We lost in the semis last year. Marone was hurt, so that didn’t help us out.
“In the locker room, we have a back wall that’s full of banners. There’s one bottom corner that’s empty. Every day we came to practice, we said, ‘That’s our spot.’ It’s great to finish on top.”
For Byron Center, it was the second gut-wrenching loss to Rice in the championship game over the last three seasons. The Bulldogs lost 2-1 two years ago when Rice’s Alex Hamady scored with 6.7 seconds to play.
In those two seasons, Byron Center took a combined record of 46-1 into the championship games. The Bulldogs were 28-1 going into Saturday’s matchup.
“It’s a lot of heart and hard work,” said senior Byron Center goalie Carson MacKenzie, the starter in both championship games. “Coming to the rink every day, seeing these guys I’ll never forget. I just hope the future years the underclassmen are going to see how hard we work. I’m so proud of everyone, just stuff we’ve done. I’ve never lost a Regional championship. It’s crazy accomplishments I can be so thankful for. I’m happy to be here right now with my teammates.”
First-year Byron Center coach Jordan Steger, an assistant coach the previous three seasons, told his players the bonds they’ve formed are more valuable than the outcome of one hockey game.
“From day one, it’s been a family,” Steger said. “Like I just reiterated to the guys in the locker room, that doesn’t stop because the season’s over. There were 26 of us this year, three coaches and 23 boys, and that family doesn’t stop because the season’s over. We’ll always be there for each other, not just at the rink, but like I told these young men, a lot of them will be in each other’s weddings and get to know each other’s kids. That means so, so, so, so much more than even a state championship.
“Getting to know these young men has been far more of a gift than a state championship.”
PHOTOS (Top) Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice’s Roman Villaire (8) finds the top corner of the net for what became the winning goal in Saturday’s Division 2 Final. (Middle) The Warriors celebrate their second championship in three seasons.
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.)