GAYLORD - The Northern Michigan United 18UAA hockey team is composed of high school hockey players with an interesting dynamic. Within eight months they have become teammates, rivals and then teammates again.
This split season team is affiliated with the Michigan Amateur Hockey Association (MAHA) and consists of players from the Northern Michigan area. These hockey players often competed against each other through different travel programs or their respective high schools.
“Usually these guys are who I play against,” said Alpena senior defenseman Ian Lightfoot. “I don’t like seeing their face too often, so it was a nice change of pace to get to know them.”
“There was normally bad blood with high school rivalry hockey,” said Northern Michigan United head hockey coach Matt Buresh. “All the sudden there was no Alpena and Petoskey and Gaylord...It was Northern Michigan United.”
The first half of the split season is in the fall, with teams throughout Michigan competing for a state title. In just the third season of Northern Michigan United being established, the team became state champions in a 3-2 overtime victory.
“That was thrilling,” said Cheboygan senior forward Luke Karsten. “I personally never have been to a state tournament.”
The victory leads to the second half of the split season, a spring season with Northern Michigan United representing Michigan at the national level.
Before Northern Michigan United took off for Minnesota to compete against the top teams across the USA, they had to put the season at a halt. The Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) hockey season started less than a month after the state championship game.
Northern Michigan United divided and the former teammates competed against one other whether it was in the MHSAA season opener or the playoffs.
“We actually got to play against each other,” said Cadillac junior defenseman Mitchell House to Elk Rapids (Bay Reps) senior John Hawkins.
“Yeah the regional final...[I] got to play against Mitch,” Hawkins.
“It’s nice to be able to see them on the ice,” said Lightfoot. “They’re still your enemy out there, but when it comes back to the season it’s just another memory that you share together.”
The spring season is finally here for Northern Michigan United and the team has now gone from teammates to rivals to teammates. The bond hasn’t changes one bit.
“We are all a family,” said Hawkins. “We all keep in touch throughout the whole year. Obviously when we play each other it’s all business, but right after the game we’re cracking jokes. It’s always a blast with the boys.”
Northern Michigan United’s first game at the national tournament is Thursday, March 30 against Minnesota.
If you would like to make a donation for the players’ transportation, lodging, meals and tournament fees click here to be sent to their GoFundMe page.
A thank you from Northern Michigan United:
“We have Ten Associations in District 7 and would like to thank all of them for their support
Huron Hockey & Skating Association
Alpena Hockey Association
Cheboygan Hockey Association
Gaylord Area Hockey Association
Petoskey Area Hockey Association
Kalkaska Area Hockey Association
Soo Michigan Hockey Association
Grand Traverse Hockey Association
St. Ignace Hockey Association
Cadillac Area Hockey Association
We would like to say a special thanks to Cadillac Area Hockey Association for their support and rostering the Northern Michigan United split season teams. Our goal is to continue the split season teams for high school players and potentially add district select teams again now that the pandemic is behind us and max player game counts have been removed. District select teams allow the players who play house/recreational hockey the opportunity to participate in a couple travel level tournaments without having to commit an entire season to a travel team.”