Macomb Dakota senior center Andrew Brooks, front, skates in a drill during a practice at Mt. Clemens Ice Arena Jan. 26. A team captain, Brooks has helped lead the team to a 12-7 overall record at press time.

Macomb Dakota senior center Andrew Brooks, front, skates in a drill during a practice at Mt. Clemens Ice Arena Jan. 26. A team captain, Brooks has helped lead the team to a 12-7 overall record at press time.

Photo by Erin Sanchez


Dakota building a successful program on the ice

By: Timothy Pontzer | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published January 31, 2018

 Macomb Dakota junior goalie Michael Kwapiz looks to pass during a Jan. 26 practice. Kwapiz shares goalie duties with sophomore Jack Mastronardi.

Macomb Dakota junior goalie Michael Kwapiz looks to pass during a Jan. 26 practice. Kwapiz shares goalie duties with sophomore Jack Mastronardi.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

MACOMB — Coming off the club’s first regional title in nearly a decade, the Macomb Dakota hockey team has high expectations.

Last season saw the Cougars collect 15 victories, place second in the Macomb Area Conference Red Division and make a deep run in the postseason. Dakota won the program’s first regional championship since 2008 and looks to defend it in a little over a month.

“That regional was a big step for us,” Dakota coach Jim Andonoff said after a Jan. 24 practice at Mt. Clemens Ice Arena. “We now have the state championship as the ultimate goal. It should always be that way. We’re about learning, developing, having fun, bonding and becoming great young men, but the ultimate goal is to win a state championship, and we all share that.”

Andonoff is in his second year at the helm of the program, aided by assistant Brian Salliotte. Last year, he saw his inaugural roster comprised of every student-athlete that arrived for tryouts, achieving the minimum needed for a lineup. The regional title caused over 50 kids to compete for a spot this year, including many that chose the Cougars over club options.

“The majority of our kids came from travel programs, and now they’re seeing and believing that the level of quality play is there at the high school level,” Andonoff explained. “They may have had it in their mind that it’s not quite the same. But more and more kids are coming to play high school instead of club. That’s good for us and all the other programs around here, and our big goal is to push that and improve high school hockey.”

With an influx in talent, Andonoff and Salliotte made a point to pick a mix of young and older players for the team, looking to compete now and build a sustainable program.

“In order to grow everything, you can’t go senior heavy and expect the next year to be successful,” Andonoff remarked. “We have five sophomores this year. We’re trying to make sure we take enough young guys that can get playing time, so they’re incorporated into the team next year. But a big thing for us is we don’t just take players for numbers. Once you’re here, you’re going to play.”

Andonoff believes that approach has created one of his group’s biggest strengths.

“We have depth, which is a big thing that can separate you in high school,” Andonoff said. “Some teams will only have one or two lines they rely on. We’re hoping our third and fourth lines can help by rolling everybody and tire other teams out.”

Another strength Andonoff pointed to is the speed of the Cougars.

“Sometimes our guys forget how fast they are and what an asset it is,” Andonoff said. “I think we’re one of the better skating teams in the state, and that can make a big difference.”

Andonoff cited senior center Andrew Brooks and junior center Lucas Czopek as two of the club’s quickest skaters. He also praised his blue line, singling out two defensemen in sophomore Shane Romback and junior Nathan Greene.

“We have some outstanding defensemen,” Andonoff stated. “We’re pretty solid on defense, and if the forwards can capitalize with their speed, it helps everybody.”

In net, Dakota utilizes a two-goalie approach with sophomore Jack Mastronardi and junior Michael Kwapisz starting every other game.

“We told them they’re going every other night until we hit the playoffs, and then we’re going with the hot hand,” Andonoff explained. “It’s a straight up approach they appreciate, and it gives them competition. For us, it’s great because we have two No. 1 goalies.”

Kwapisz is one of the newcomers to the roster that chose Dakota over previously playing for a club team.

“Playing for Dakota is really something special,” Kwapisz said. “This is one of the higher level teams around, and we have a great schedule to play. We can definitely get another regional championship with the team we have here. We know we can go far after that if we just play well together.”

Andonoff echoed the thoughts of his goalie.

“We’d like to see everyone keep getting better, but we’re tough to beat when we use our speed and smarts,” Andonoff said. “If we can put it all together, we’re a very dangerous team.”