By Andrew Johnson
MUSKEGON TOWNSHIP – Since 1960, the number 12 jersey has had a special place on the Muskegon hockey scene.
That’s because it was worn by Bryan McLay, who starred with the Muskegon Zephyrs and Muskegon Mohawks professional teams from 1960 to 1973. Today his jersey hangs in the rafters at Mercy Health Arena, formerly known as L.C. Walker Arena.
The number 12 and McLay’s presence are still being felt at the arena, because his grandson, Nolan Convertini, plays on the Reeths-Puffer hockey team and wears the number in his honor.
“I wear his number because his number was retired at the arena,” said Convertini, who’s in the middle of his senior season. “I always wanted to wear it to support him. Going through the years, and going through high school, I kind of wanted to make a name for myself. But more than anything, I wanted to make him proud with what I’ve been able to accomplish.”
If it wasn’t for his grandfather, Convertini said he may have never developed a passion for hockey.
“I’ve been playing since I got on skates around the age of four or five,” he said. “I started competitively playing around eight. My interest in hockey came from my grandpa, and hearing about him kind of made me fall in love with the game.”
The bond between grandfather and grandson has grown through hockey in recent years.
“He comes to my games when he can,” Convertini said. “He still goes to all the Lumberjack games and I try to go with him when I can. It’s pretty special to talk to him and hear all his stories. I’m always learning the game more and more from him.”
Convertini is becoming pretty well known on the ice himself. He’s the captain and one of the top players on the Reeths-Puffer squad, which has posted a very impressive 11-4-1 record so far this season.
“Nolan isn’t a loud leader,” Reeths-Puffer head coach Bill Zalba said about Convertini, who has nine goals and 12 assists. “He’s a great quiet leader. He earns the respect of those around him. He walks the walk and he’s really just a great athlete.”
Convertini was an assistant captain during his sophomore and junior seasons, when the Rockets won 5 and 13 games, respectively, so he has been part of a very successful building process.
“We didn’t win as much as we wanted to,” said Convertini about the past two seasons. “This year I think we’ve had chemistry built up, and have been using it well in games. We’re just having fun and winning more games than we have in the past.”
Team chemistry is something that doesn’t come as easy for the Rockets as it might for other teams.
That’s because the Reeths-Puffer co-op hockey team also includes players from North Muskegon, Whitehall and Muskegon Catholic Central – which is actually Convertini’s school.
In the fall Convertini is an MCC football player. In the spring he plays baseball for the Crusaders. It’s only in the winter that he’s a Rocket, because his school, like most, lacks a hockey team.
“My freshman year it was a little weird,” Convertini said about playing for a different school. “But after that year, I formed a bond with some of the younger players on the team, and going through the years we’ve become lifelong friends.”
The Rockets have plenty of players with strong offensive skills, regardless of where they go to school. Caden Brainard leads the team with 13 goals, followed by Navarre Klint (11), Quinn Fowler (10) and Matt Herniman (10).
The Rockets have five players with double-digit assists. Herniman is pacing the team with 20, followed by Christopher Hawkins (19), Fowler (18), Klint (16) and Convertini (12).
Goalkeeper Nick Meyering has also contributed to the Rockets’ success. He currently has a sparkling 11-1-1 record with a 2.24 goals against average.
Everyone on the team will have to continue to play well and improve over the rest of the season for the Rockets to have a realistic chance of reaching their goal – to advance far into the state tournament, and pick up a few trophies along the way.
“We’ve lost in the first round the last two seasons, so we really want to make a long run this season,” Convertini said.