Thumb Schools Form Hockey 'Legion'

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

December 12, 2018

Larry Camp is happy to be focusing on hockey. 

The coach of the first-year Eastern Thumb Area Legion hockey program – also known simply as Ubly – had been working since February, navigating the politics of school boards and paperwork to create an opportunity for athletes in the Thumb to play high school hockey. 

“Come about October, all I kept telling my other assistant coaches was, ‘I just can’t wait to get on the ice,’” Camp said. “Everybody was like, ‘How’s your team? What’s it going to be like?’ I kept saying that I won’t know until our first game. When that first game came, it was a huge relief.” 

Student-athletes from seven schools which make a 151-mile circle in Huron and Sanilac counties have come together to form the team, which is competing without a conference but in Division 2 for the MHSAA Tournament.

Sandusky, Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker, Bad Axe, Deckerville, Croswell-Lexington and Marlette join Ubly as schools providing players for the team. The Legion plays its home games out of Colleen J. Howe Arena in Sandusky and also holds practices at the Huron County Expo Center in Bad Axe to try and cut down on the constant travel some of its players would have to endure. 

“I grabbed a map and looked at where we thought we could pull kids from – where would be the seven best school districts that we could fit,” Camp said. “What we looked at was where the two ice arenas are, and we tried to make a straight line up and down. When word got out, we had five or six other schools call us that wanted to get (involved). They really wanted to join, but we already had our seven.” 

Twenty-seven players came to the first tryout, and Camp said he’s carrying a roster of 23. The numbers surprised him, but the desire to play high school hockey was high for kids who had spent time in the Huron and Sanilac county hockey associations. 

“I was going to stop playing hockey this year because of the drive (to Bay City) – it was an hour and a half to practice,” Legion captain and Sandusky senior Jarod Coon said. “Now, it’s where I go to school. I love hockey, so it’s real nice to keep going.” 

Coon, who plays center, has been playing hockey for more than a decade, joining teams in Port Huron, Mount Clemens and Bay City after starting his career in Sanilac County. His story isn’t uncommon on this team. 

Marlette senior goaltender Chad Bower, also a captain, had been playing hockey since he was 5 years old and doing so without ever having the prospect of playing for his high school. 

“I played travel my seventh and eighth grade year, then the next year my team dismantled,” he said. “Some of the boys went to (Saginaw) Heritage, Davison, stuff like that. That next year, I had to come back and play football. I was actually really excited (to play high school hockey), but then at the same time kind of mad, because it was already my senior year.” 

Collecting excited and experienced hockey players wasn’t an issue for Camp. But even after petitioning school boards, attending meetings and getting the approval from the MHSAA in July, he still had to create a schedule for his team – which can be difficult for an independent and a newcomer. Through some more hard work, he was able to get to a full 26 games. 

“I didn’t know any athletic directors, didn’t know their contact information,” he said. “I went to the MHSAA website and looked up names and numbers. The coach from Port Huron Northern (Daryel McCarrel) helped me a lot. The guys from the Imlay City team, the Alliance, those guys gave me a lot of contact info. I must have sent 150 emails, and I could barely get my number of games.” 

The schedule mostly features teams from the region, such as Lapeer, Bay City and Port Huron. But there was a trip to Dearborn already, and Mount Pleasant will make its way to Sandusky later in the season. The Legion also played a pair of games against Tawas, the state’s other new hockey program this season. Tawas won the first meeting, 3-2, and the teams played to a scoreless tie in their second meeting. 

“That was pretty cool with it being our first season and their first season,” Bower said. “We did like a first-year gift exchange, stuff like that. It was really cool to be a part of that.” 

The Legion has started 2-3-1, and players are working not only to get used to coach Camp’s systems and the pace of the high school game, but also to each other.  

“We just try to be friendly to each other, pretty much,” Coon said. “We haven’t done too much outside of practice, but we’re looking at going to the playoffs with the college teams at Little Caesars (Arena), just for some team bonding. I kind of thought it would be (weird playing with kids from rival schools), but it’s not really. Some of the people, I either don’t know them from other sports, or they’re just really good guys, and I like them anyways.” 

When it comes to setting goals for the season, players are keeping things realistic. Bower said that while a deep run in the Division 2 playoffs would be great, he’s first focusing on the team finishing above .500.  

Of course, as the first year of the program, it’s also about much more than this year. 

“I’m interested to see what it turns into if it keeps going, which I really hope it will,” Coon said. “To see what it turns into in 15 years, then I can come back and say, ‘I was the first captain on that team.’ Right now, we’re looking to set up a good name for ourselves, so a lot of kids that didn’t try out this year or maybe didn’t know about the team will know about it and are excited to try out for next year. I guess we’re just trying to get a good reputation. And win some games.”

 

Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at paulcostanzo3@gmail.com with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Legion goalie Chad Bower, left, meets with this counterpart from Tawas during their first of two games against each other this season. (Middle) An Eastern Thumb Area player launches a shot against Port Huron. (Photos courtesy of the Eastern Thumb Area hockey program.)

Brighton Scores 1st, DCC Scores Rest to Run D1 Title Streak to 3

March 12, 2022

PLYMOUTH — Nick Galda would be the unquestioned No. 1 man in net for most high school hockey teams in Michigan.

So would Bobby Masters.

At Detroit Catholic Central, the senior goalies operate on a time share, alternating starts regardless of the importance of the upcoming game.

Last year, it was Masters whose turn came up when the Shamrocks played in the MHSAA Division 1 championship game.

On Saturday, the rotation worked out so Galda would start in the final game against Brighton.

Galda stopped 17 of 18 shots, as Catholic Central won its third straight MHSAA championship with a 5-1 victory over Brighton at USA Hockey Arena.

Of all the things Shamrocks coach Brandon Kaleniecki stresses about, goaltending isn’t one of them.

“From a coaching standpoint, I didn’t have to overthink at all,” he said. “I just had to say, ‘Hey, this is it.’ Both guys started early last year and we just kind of let them play one and one. We learned really quickly, hey, they’re both really good. I don’t need to get crazy, unless something weird happened where one of them got sick or got injured. That’s the only time we’ve changed the rotation for that.

“Outside of that, it was back and forth and let it go. When we talked about the Semifinals and Finals, the great part about it is neither one of them questioned it. They’re just, ‘OK, Coach.’ They knew the routine, and they were all in.”

Detroit Catholic Central hockeyGalda played in 14 games this season, going 11-1. Masters played in 17 games, going 13-2.

The two have a working relationship that is mutually beneficial.

“Me and Bob, all we want to do is win and do what’s best for the team,” Galda said. “At the end of the day, as long as we win, that’s all that matters.

“Bob pushes me every day to get better. So, I wouldn’t be where I am today without him at practice pushing me to keep going.”

It was the 16th MHSAA championship for the Shamrocks, but the feeling of winning remains fresh in the program. There are always players who won for the first time or who are ending their careers on the highest possible note.

“The seniors who win a state title and go out on top, it’s an unbelievable feeling for us as coaches to see them go out that way,” Kaleniecki said. “It means so much.”

Brighton opened the scoring on a goal by Cameron Duffany at 3:11 of the second period, but that only seemed to light a fire under the Shamrocks.

They stormed back, getting a goal from Parker Jamieson less than three minutes later. Brian Apple’s goal at 11:52 of the second put the Shamrocks ahead, 2-1, entering the third period.

Catholic Central broke it open with goals by Jack Swamba at 2:11, Justin Hubenschmidt at 4:44 and Landon West at 12:11.

“Our response to it was huge,” Kaleniecki said. “They were playing really well. You’ve got to give them a lot of credit the first half of the game. We had some chances in the first and couldn’t quite find pucks around the net. They had some chances in the first. Maybe the goal was a bit of a wake-up call.”

Brighton came into the game with a 13-game winning streak since losing 2-1 to Division 2 champion Hartland on Jan. 15. The Bulldogs were playing in their first Final since winning back-to-back championships in 2017 and 2018.

“We left everything out there,” Brighton coach Kurt Kivisto said. “It’s not like we didn’t try. We competed. We blocked shots. We wore a lot of pucks. The effort was there. They were the better team tonight.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Detroit Catholic Central celebrates its third-straight Division 1 championship Saturday night. (Middle) Brian Apple scores what ends up being the game-winning goal during the final minutes of the second period. (Click for more for Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)