Although the two cities are separated by more than 500 miles, a little piece of Toledo was in Marquette, Mich., last winter.
Three Toledo residents - Brent Bain, Lukas Hafner, and Andrew Kolb - finished their first season playing for the Marquette Rangers in the North American Hockey League, one of the top junior hockey leagues in the United States.
Kolb, a 5-10 forward and Central Catholic graduate, led Marquette in assists (41), points (65), and plus-minus (plus-20), while Bain, a 5-8 center and Northview graduate, was third on the team in assists (33), points (52), and plus-minus (plus-12).
Hafner, a 6-1 goaltender and Central Catholic senior, took over the starting duties toward the end of the season and playoffs. He finished the season with a 2.07 goals-against average and a 0.938 save percentage.
"Going up there to play in a better league with better players, I didn't know what to expect," said Kolb, who along with Bain and Hafner returned to Toledo last week. "But I ended up doing pretty well. Away from hockey, it was pretty nice up there. The snow wasn't really that bad."
All three lived with a host family set up through the team, a procedure most junior hockey clubs follow with players ranging in age from 16-21.
"Living away from home and living with people you don't know at first, it was different," Bain said. "And the guys in the league are a lot faster, bigger, and smarter. It was a big jump."
But having two other familiar faces on the team helped ease the transition.
"That was one of the best parts, getting to live with Bain and Kolb," Hafner said. "Obviously, we became like brothers throughout the year and we'll continue to be best friends for a lifetime. It was great."
Kolb and Bain have been playing together on various teams since they were 4 years old. And not only that, but they've played on the same line since then too.
Last season the pair played for the Toledo Cherokees in the Central States Hockey League.
"It made things a little easier, that's for sure," Bain said.
"Whenever I can play with him it's good, especially going that far away," Kolb added. "We just click."
Their coach in Marquette, Kenny Miller, also is a Toledo native and was another reminder of home.
"That helped a lot too," Kolb said. "Nobody else really knew who we were. They probably thought we were just some clowns coming from a clown league. But I think we all did pretty good."
In fact, the trio helped the Rangers earn a spot in the playoffs before falling to Motor City in the North Division semifinals.
The deciding game of the series went to three overtimes before Motor City's RJ Kleiman ended the Rangers' season 2:50 into the period.
Hafner made 80 saves in the 4-3 loss, while Kolb tallied a goal and Bain an assist.
"It was a heartbreaker losing like that," Hafner said. "But I think for both teams involved, it was a game of a lifetime that none of us will ever forget."
All three are still figuring out their plans for next season, but said there's a possibility they could all end up back in their home away from home in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
"I think we shocked some people on our team," Bain said. "We kind of came out of nowhere."
Contact Zach Silka
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