Veteran Coach, Huskies Eye Comeback

By Pam Shebest
Special for

December 21, 2015

PORTAGE — Although his hockey team skidded to the worst start during his 30-year coaching career, JD Kalleward and his Portage Northern Huskies still have that positive vibe going.

“We don’t want to keep losing,” senior co-captain Jack Budnick said last week after the team opened 0-7. “We want to turn it around as soon as we can.

“We’ve had a lot of close games where it’s just come down to a couple mistakes, and we’re working on them in practice.”

Portage Northern closed the 2015 portion of this season's schedule with its first win, 4-2 over Manistee on Friday, to move to 1-8 heading into the new year. And Kalleward is one reason the players are staying positive and focused, said senior co-captain Austin Killman.

“He’s been very vehement about hockey,” Killman said. “If he sees anybody slacking in practice, he’ll get them going.

“He’s been around the game for so long that he knows a lot about hockey and what systems will work in different situations. I have a lot of faith in his style.”

Kalleward said he honed his coaching style while working as an assistant to Art Missias, who passed away from cancer in 2010.

A netminder, Kalleward graduated from Northern in 1980. During his high school years, he helped coach goalies for his uncle, John Kalleward, Sr., and Missias with their squirt and peewee house teams.

It didn’t take long for JD to catch the coaching bug.

When Missias took over the head coaching job at Portage Northern 30 years ago, he tapped JD Kalleward to be his assistant. Thirteen years ago when Missias retired, Kalleward took his mentor’s place.

One of the lessons learned from Missias is helping Kalleward deal with his team’s record so far this year: “You may have a down game, but it’s just one game.

“You’ve got to move on, learn from your mistakes and take the positives from it. Try and hope in the next game you do better.”

After losing nine seniors to graduation from a team that went 18-9-0 overall, 8-2 in the Southwest Michigan High School Hockey League last season, Kalleward knew this would be a rebuilding season. But he didn’t expect such a challenging start, including 0-2 in the league.

“Six of our (first) seven games have been on the road against very good programs including Traverse City, Forest Hills, East Kentwood, so we’ve had some pretty stiff competition,” Kalleward said.

Besides Budnick and Killman, the Huskies have just two other seniors: forward Scott Verduzco and goalie Tim Fitzgerald.

Scoring other successes


Although the Huskies have struggled early on the ice, Kalleward is most proud of their academic performance.

In his 13 years as head coach, his team has earned academic all-state every season.

“The last two years we were the top academic team out of 160 hockey teams in Michigan,” he said. “Two years ago, our team’s (grade-point average) was 3.94. Last year, it was 3.96

‘We have a number of kids who are academically gifted. Of the nine who graduated last year, we had just one beneath a 3.0; the other eight were above 3.5.”

Last season, Joe Mancina, with a 4.65 GPA, became the Huskies’ third top state scholar athlete in the last six years, as measured by grade-point average.

One main reason Kalleward stresses academics is, “quite frankly, there aren’t too many who are going to sign NHL contracts,” he said. “We know that life after high school means doing well.

“Every Thursday we meet with the players after practice to talk about where they are at school, their grades. We offer tutoring with those who are struggling.”

Over the last 30 years, Kalleward has seen several changes to both the game and the players.

“Relative to talent, you used to have a lot more kids going the route of playing high school,” he said. “Now they have so many options for players depending on what they want to do with their hockey careers.”

He also said players don’t seem as independent as they were in past years.

“What we find is sometimes it’s hard for kids to make their own decisions or make good decisions on their own,” he said. “As a coach, besides the X’s and O’s, we try to help them with that.”

As an assistant coach, Kalleward took note of what worked especially well and wrote a manual of expectations for coaches, parents and players that he distributes every season.

“We have an agreement signed by both parents and players saying they’ve read and understood the 16 points of emphasis, everything in the agreement: ice time, player behavior on the ice, behavior off the ice, academics, and so on,” he said.

Among team requirements are wearing khakis, a shirt and tie when going to games, “The same apparel they’d wear for a job interview,” he said.

“We eat together quite a bit and have rules on behavior. There’s probably a good three pages of rules.”

Turnaround time 


Killman said it’s up to the captains to help turn the team around.

“You have to get your guys motivated for games, and if they’re getting down on themselves, try to get them back up,” he said. “If they’re coming to practice slacking, you’ve got to push them.

“(Being captain) gives me more responsibility and I love responsibility.”

Budnick said Killman is one spark on the team.

“Out on the ice before we go to opening faceoff, we gather around the net and we talk about the key aspects that we want to work on in the game,” Budnick said. “Austin is always taking the responsibility and says exactly what we need to do.

“Austin is definitely the hardest worker on the team, and that’s a great leadership quality from my perspective. It pushes everybody else.”

Kalleward’s three assistants include two Portage Northern alums. Steve Stanley, who works with the forwards, graduated in 1983, and Ken Rogers, who works with the defense, in 1975.

Tom Askey, who played pro hockey, including with the NHL Anaheim Mighty Ducks in 1997-98 and the then-United Hockey League Kalamazoo Wings in 2006-07, works with the goalies.

In 1975, the Huskies made it to the Tier II MHSAA Final before losing to Lansing Catholic Central. They made at least the Semifinals four times under Missias.

In spite of this year’s start, the future looks promising for the Huskies with four juniors, 10 sophomores and two freshmen mixing with the senior leaders.

Juniors are forwards Spencer Brown, Andrew Fitzgerald, Jesse Liebert and defenseman Calvin Voss.

Sophomores are forwards Grant Ernst, Mason Seiferlein, Tyler Simon; blueliners Griffin McLoed, Roarke Ross, Leon Fieber, Dakota Meadmore; two-way players Will Todd, Caleb Martin and goalie Zach Bossch.

The freshmen are forwards Zonjic Singleton-Julian and Connor Sorge.

Northern picks back up this season’s schedule Jan. 2 against Okemos.

Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She continues to freelance for covering mainly Kalamazoo Wings hockey and can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Coach JD Kalleward has spent 30 seasons behind the Portage Northern bench. (Middle) Joe Mancina, center, was last season's top state academic athlete with a 4.65 GPA. He is joined by, from left, all-state team selection Mitchell Kalleward, former NHL player Mike Knuble, Northern all-stater Matty Seiferlien and Coach JD Kalleward. (Below) The Huskies' locker room door. (Head shots) From left: JD Kalleward, Jack Budnick and Austin Killman. (Top two photos courtesy of JD Kalleward; bottom photo and head shots by Pam Shebest.)

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.)