HARTLAND, MI - Andrew Brownlee, Jake Henrikson, Thomas Kerr and Cam Miglia are teammates this season with the Hartland Hounds and will be teammates once again next year as the quartet has committed to play NCAA Division III college hockey at Finlandia University.
Located in Hancock, Mich., Finlandia plays in the Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association and is coached by John McCabe, a former assistant coach at Division I Alabama-Huntsville.
All four players said this season with the Hounds in the inaugural season of the Midwest Junior Hockey League has done wonders for their development to the point where they feel they will be able to make an impact as freshmen next season for the Lions.
"(Hartland coach) Randy Montrose has played a huge role in my career ever since I become a player on his teams three years ago because he expects nothing short of 100 percent, whether it be a practice or a game," said Brownlee, a 19-year-old Fowlerville native. "Playing for the Hounds just comes to show that no matter where you play hockey, if you're good enough, other teams such as FU will find you."
Brownlee leads the MWJHL in all goaltending categories, including wins (29), goals-against average (1.87), save percentage (.932), shutouts (five) and minutes played (1734:58). He is also a three-time Goaltender of the Week and a two-time Goaltender of the Month.
Henrikson, Hartland's captain, has been at or near the top of league scoring much of the season. Like Brownlee, he gave credit to Montrose for pushing him this season to reach his goal of college hockey.
"Randy told me about Finlandia and then they came and watched us play and talked to me after," the 20-year-old Commerce native said. "Randy has always helped me out with my hockey and finding the right place for me to go. I know playing at Finlandia will be really fast hockey and a lot of hitting and my goal is to get good grades and still play hockey. I think it will be great going in and already knowing a couple guys playing there.
"That being said, yeah, we've committed, but we all know that now is when the hard work begins to be able to get to campus in the fall and contribute. We also still have our season here to finish up and get ready for nationals in April. The commitment is great for all of us, but we're not content with sitting back and talking about that. We want to bring a national championship to Hartland. That's our immediate goal."
For Miglia, a 19-year-old Brighton forward, he had always looked at Finlandia and took it upon himself to take initiative at the start of the 2012-13 season.
"I emailed Finlandia University at the beginning of the season because I was interested in playing there," said Miglia. "They came out to watch me play and were interested. Randy has pushed me a lot to be my best everyday and helped me get better at the parts of my game that needed it most. It's always been a dream since I was little watching college games at Yost Ice Arena (in Ann Arbor) and it finally came true. I would like to thank my mom and dad for paying for hockey this long and putting up with me all these years. I also want to thank all the Hounds coaches this year - Randy, Scott (Gardiner) and Marty (Passino) are all great coaches."
"The Hounds and Randy have played the biggest role in getting here," said Kerr, an 18-year-old Howell native. "After my high school career, I didn't have much faith that I would be playing NCAA hockey. When the opportunity presented itself to play for Randy again, I had to jump on it and it definitely has paid off. I think his coaching style this year and the last five years of my life have developed me into the player I am today."
The foursome went on a visit to Finlandia several weeks back to survey the campus and hockey facilities and to also meet with McCabe. Each player came away impressed.
"I learned it's a very small school, which I like," Miglia said. "You will know pretty much everyone there. John McCabe seems like a great coach and I know he's moved guys on to the pro level. I like that he takes his hockey very serious."
"When we went on our visit, I learned the guys do everything together, making you that much closer as a team and those are the kinds of things I like to see because you can count on anyone to do the little things at any point throughout the year and season," said Brownlee. "When I met and talked with Coach McCabe, I noticed that he's a young coach that is looking to form a solid program up at FU and is looking forward to forming a winning program.
"Ever since I was a little kid, it was a dream of mine to play pro or college hockey and when it comes to things like getting this opportunity, I want to thank my family, especially my parents for helping me all the way through my career and putting up with all the junk I've put them through to get me to where I am now. I would also like to thank Randy for all the help he's given to me and guidance he's given not only me, but to all his players throughout his coaching career."
"It's been a dream of mine to make it to college hockey ever since I stepped on the ice competitively in Squirts," said Kerr. "It seems like a very long time since then and playing collegiate hockey has never stopped running through my mind. Just like every hockey player, it is a huge dream to play hockey in college. My parents have been the most supportive people throughout my hockey career. From going to every game, driving me to trips, all the time spent at the rink, I wouldn't be the player I am today without them. I would also like to thank Randy, Scotty and Marty. I've been skating with them for the last six years of my life and every season with them has been successful in developing me into a better player.
"Randy is a coach that takes pride giving 100 percent to make you the most successful hockey player you can be and if you give 100 percent of your efforts, you will receive 100 percent of his."
At the end of the day, the praise is a nice pat on the back, but Montrose said it's all about the players.
"As a coach, I have always believed that it is about teaching and advancing players," said Montrose. "That is our primary responsibility as a coach. I am beyond proud of these gentlemen that have taken pride in advancing themselves."