Tradition, Community Drive Talented Trenton

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

December 14, 2017

TRENTON – There’s something special about the sport of ice hockey in Trenton. There are those who would contend, at the high school level, that Trenton is Hockeytown.

Trenton has won 14 MHSAA titles, second only to Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood’s 17. But the importance of hockey in this downriver community goes beyond winning on the ice. The sport transcends the ice to the lives of people who have never laced up skates.

Chad Clements has experienced this firsthand, first as a fan, then as a player and now as a coach.

Clements was a junior on the 1996 Class A championship team. He also played on two other teams (1995, 1997) that reached the Finals.

Clements played for legendary coach Mike Turner, and it was Clements who replaced Turner in 2014 when Turner retired.

Replacing someone who gave so much to the sport and the Trenton community would be a no-win situation for some. It’s often been said that you don’t want to replace a legend. You want to be that coach who replaced the guy who replaced the legend.

Not Clements. He spent 12 seasons as Turner’s assistant and had no doubts he was the right person for the job.

And Clements was not alone. Turner backed Clements, and so did the administration.

Dr. Michael Doyle is in his 13th year as principal at Trenton High and he had no second thoughts about whom his school district should hire to replace Turner.

“Chad is an educator, a true educator, on the ice and in the classroom,” Doyle said. “That was critical (in the hiring process). He knows his stuff. He’s a great teacher. He’s passionate. You keep it in the family, yes, but when the job opened up, he was the perfect fit.

“(And) as a principal, it’s so helpful to have coaches in the building.”

This is Clements’ 16th season coaching at Trenton, and it’s his 16th year teaching social studies at the high school. A graduate of Michigan State University, Clements, 38, has been groomed for his place in the community.

“As a player, I always had great respect for (Turner),” Clements said. “His son was a year older than me, and he played with my brother who was two years older than me. So I knew (Turner) at an early age. It was always ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir’ when I was around him. He was a quiet guy, at that time, around me. Then my senior year he opened up to me, as a person. He asked me what I was I going to do. What plans did I have for college and after? So when I came back (to teach and coach), I remembered that.

“For me, as a coach, (our relationship) was completely different. Behind closed doors he’d talk and talk and talk about hockey and his family, and I never expected that.

“We’ve been close ever since.”

Turner holds the state record for career hockey coaching victories at 629. He began coaching in 1974, took some time away from the game following the 1981 season and returned to coaching in 1995, Clements’ first season on varsity. Of the program’s 14 MHSAA titles, Turner was on the bench for 11.

Clements said he and Turner talk at least once a week, about hockey and life in general. Turner travels extensively now, to Europe and throughout the U.S., and much of their conversations include capsules of the many sites Turner has seen. But when he’s back in the area, Turner is often seen at Trenton hockey games.

In many ways Clements is the right person at the right time for the program. He knows the expectations are high, yet at the same time he doesn’t place added pressure on himself to win. He was taught that if you do your best, by putting in the time and the work, then you can go home at night, look at yourself in the mirror and be satisfied with the results.

The results have been quite positive so far this season. The Trojans are 5-2 with losses to Detroit Catholic Central and Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, two of the top teams in Division 1. Trenton, which will compete in Division 2, has defeated reigning Division 2 champion Birmingham Brother Rice (4-1).

“I’m surprisingly happy with our start,” Clements said. “I knew we would be young. I didn’t know what the expectations would be. I wouldn’t expect to be 5-2 after seven games, I’ll tell you that. The kids just keep working and working and working. We lost a tough one against Cranbrook in overtime, but the kids bounced back.”

Trenton has received a big boost from sophomore goaltender Joey Cormier. The Trojans would be lost without him – if for no other reason than Cormier is the lone goaltender of the roster. Another goalie will back up Cormier, but he won’t be eligible until the second semester.

“I told (Cormier), you’re my guy,” Clements said. “He’s given us a chance to win in every game.”

Last season was a disappointment for Clements and his team. The Trojans were defeated in a Pre-Regional by Livonia Churchill, 4-3 in overtime, and senior center Drew Welsch said some of the problems were internal. His team also is welcoming back the support from classmates.

“We lost our fan base,” he said. “We’re getting more support this season. We got our band back. … I’m good friends with the guys who get the student section going at games, and me and the other seniors are trying to get more to come out. So far it’s been fun. There’s nothing better than playing before a big crowd.”

The Trenton community’s passion for its hockey program certainly is a difference-maker. Some of the state’s top hockey players choose to play travel hockey rather than for their schools. On the travel circuit, players get more games, and against stronger competition.

But fewer fans, mostly family members, attend travel hockey games. School spirit doesn’t exist. And for Welsch, Trenton’s leading scorer last season and so far this winter, the trade-off isn’t worth it.

“This is my favorite team I’ve been a part of,” he said. “It’s the tradition. There’s not a team I’d rather play for.”

It’s a two-way street. The players receive the acclaim from the student body and the community, and they give back, too.

For the past month the players have been collecting cans to raise money to give to a needy family in Trenton for Christmas. The holiday came early this past Sunday for a single parent and her two children when the players presented her with $1,000 worth of gifts including clothes, food, a Lego set, a tablet, and gift cards.

“The support we get is awesome,” Welsch said. “I like doing it. They support us. We have to help them out in any way we can.”

That’s the way it is in Trenton. You grow up there, you go to school there and many, like Clements, return home to work there.

“Community, that’s what we try to sell,” he said. “Whether it’s your classmates in the crowd and when you get a teacher or a staff member there, it means a lot to these guys. To see your teacher in the stands, taking two or three hours out of their lives to watch you play, it means so much. Heck, we’ve had the mayor come out and firemen and police officers. I’ve been able to establish relationships. It’s nice to have that.”

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) Trenton’s Drew Welsch (12) moves the puck up ice with a teammate trailing. (Middle) Goalie Joey Cormier has been an anchor in net for the Trojans. (Below) Trenton’s players also took time this winter to bring an early Christmas to a local family. (Photos by Christine Stawowczyk.)

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.)