Team of the Month: Hartland Ice Hockey

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

February 18, 2022

The Hartland hockey team finished the month of January with an 8-1 record since the turn of the calendar year, still ranked No. 1 statewide in Division 2 and having earned the Kensington Lakes Activities Association West and overall championships.

But those achievements didn’t come easily. Not even close.

The MHSAA/Applebee’s Team of the Month for January has had its share of success over the last decade, with Division 2 championships in 2018 and 2019 and runner-up finishes in 2013 and 2014. But the Eagles’ January run made an impressive statement as the team builds toward another possible title run.

Hartland earned five of those eight January wins over ranked teams, improved a 9-3 record after December to 17-4 by the start of February. The lone loss in January came 2-1 to Division 3 top-ranked Flint Powers Catholic.

“It’s nice when it all comes together, because you can say it was part of the plan. But we knew we were going to have to take a step after the new year, and we discussed that as a group,” Hartland coach Rick Gadwa said. “The big thing is our schedule was ramping up even more. December was hard enough, but then if you look at that track that we had in January, we knew it was going to be tough.

“The guys just took that with a little bit of a drive and wanted to try and run the slate. Obviously, it’s a really hard thing to do, and we did have that loss and we could’ve had a couple of others. But we had some great learning experiences in January … and gained some confidence.”

Hartland’s 2-1 win over Division 1 No. 2 Brighton on Jan. 15 paved the way for the KLAA West title, and the Eagles avenged a November loss to Division 2 No. 2 Livonia Stevenson with a 3-1 win Jan. 26 to earn the overall KLAA championship.

Hartland also won the Westside Invitational by defeating Division 2 No. 5 Byron Center 7-3 and No. 6 Muskegon Mona Shore 3-2 in overtime despite missing Gadwa, who was ill. The Byron Center win avenged last year’s Quarterfinal loss to the Bulldogs, and the Eagles didn’t lead against Mona Shores until scoring the deciding goal.

Earlier in the month, Hartland also came back to win 6-4 over Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, the No. 3-ranked team in Division 3.

“These guys just have this calmness about them, and I appreciate that group,” Gadwa said. “They’re a skilled group, and to see how this group stayed the course when things aren’t going well for them, it’s a trait that’s tough to get high school teams to buy into at times. I’m just appreciative for how they’ve been able to grasp that adversity and overcome it and adjust.”

Hartland is up to 19-5, and has received contributions from throughout the roster. Fourteen of 16 skaters have scored, all 16 have at least three points and 10 Eagles have at least 10 points.

Seniors Ashton Trombley (18 goals, 14 assists) and Jack Paweski (17 goals, 12 assists) lead five players with at least 11 goals, followed on the points list by juniors Lucas Henry (11 goals, 17 assists), Ben Pouliot (11/16) and Braden Pietila (11/15) and assists leader Brendan Pietila (7/19). Senior Kameron Ragon is 15-0 in goal with a 1.19 goals-against average and .946 save percentage.

The Eagles face Division 1 No. 6 Saginaw Heritage tonight before beginning Division 2 Regional play next week at Dort Federal Event Center in Flint.

“Every team has to define themselves,” Gadwa said, “and they’re doing a good job of that.”

Past Teams of the Month, 2021-22 

December: Midland Dow girls basketball - Read
Reese girls volleyball - Read
Birmingham Groves boys tennis - Read

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.)