Hartland’s Jake Behnke topped a field of elite candidates to become Livingston County’s hockey Player of the Year.
Hockey Player of the Year Jake Behnke of Hartland forced people to notice him
Highlights and an interview with Livingston County hockey Player of the Year Jake Behnke of Hartland.
HARTLAND — Jake Behnke overcame the preseason hype.
Or, in his case, the lack thereof.
The senior center from Hartland wasn’t on anyone’s radar heading into the 2017-18 hockey season, either on the state or local level.
He wasn’t on the preseason list of the top five players in Livingston County, which wasn’t the worst slight in the world, given the list included three returning first-team all-staters and two NCAA Division I recruits.
Around the state, some Livingston County players were under consideration for Mr. Hockey heading into the season, but Behnke wasn’t one of them.
For Behnke to get noticed, he was going to have to force himself into the conversation when major postseason honors were being discussed.
He made a name for himself by producing big goals time and time again. Once he rested his case, Behnke made Division 2 first-team All-State, the prestigious Dream Team comprised of the best six players in all three divisions and Michigan Player of the Year by State Champs! Network.
And there’s one final honor to cap Behnke’s remarkable senior season for the Eagles: Livingston County Player of the Year.
“I’ll tell you this about Jake Behnke: He’s been fighting that adversity for three years,” Hartland coach Rick Gadwa said. “He’s a guy (who) when he came to us wasn’t as physically mature as he is now. He’s just a guy who answers the bell and gets better and better and stronger and stronger.
“When you look at Player of the Year candidates, he takes that as a challenge and works his butt off during the season and offseason. Even now, the guy’s on the ice making himself a better player for next year.”
Being selected as the top player from among only four hockey schools in the county isn’t an insignificant award. The county had two state championship teams in Brightonand Hartland, eight first-team all-staters and three of the state’s six Dream Team selections.
“There’s a ton of great players in Livingston County, especially, and all over the state,” Behnke said. “It could have gone to so many players. There’s a ton that really could deserve it, as well.”
There wasn’t much separation between the top candidates. Behnke got the edge because of his clutch scoring all season, his elevated level of play during a state championship run and for helping Hartland sweep its two-game season series with Brighton.
Behnke went from solid to good to great during his three years with Hartland.
He joined the Eagles as an undersized sophomore, scoring 10 goals and 14 assists in 20 games in 2015-16. Behnke was the third-leading scorer on the team last season with 24 goals and 25 assists in 30 games, earning honorable mention in all-state voting.
“(As a sophomore) I was 150 pounds soaking wet,” Behnke said. “Now I got up to 175 or so. That’s huge. A lot of that is strength and maturing.
“I definitely played a different game (two years ago). I was trying to make quick plays and not really hold on to the puck as long. Now that I’m getting older with more strength and playing against younger guys and guys my age, I was able to hang on to the puck and make better plays.”
Behnke’s game took off this season. With 35 goals and 21 assists in 31 games, he led the county in goals and tied teammate Joey Larson for the most points. Behnke had 13 goals during Hartland’s six playoff games, scoring at least two goals in five of those games.
In nine games against teams that made the state semifinals, Behnke scored 12 goals and three assists.
He scored the overtime winner in a 2-1 victory at Detroit U-D Jesuit on Jan. 5 and netted the game-tying goal in a 3-3 deadlock with Division 3 runner-up Livonia Churchill on Jan. 17.
“That’s what you look for as a hockey player are those big moments, a chance to score a goal like that,” Behnke said. “You’re working to score those goals. It’s what every player dreams of, being out there with a chance to do that.”
Behnke also dreams of moving on in hockey.
He hopes to play junior hockey next season as a stepping stone to the college ranks. He will certainly get some looks as a member of a team of Michigan high school seniors who will compete in the CCM High School National Invitation Tournament April 19-22 in Minnesota.
Brighton’s Sam Brennan, Hartland’s Josh Albring and Howell’s Russell Daavettila also made the 20-player team.
“I’m still weighing my options and seeing what I have,” Behnke said. “After Minnesota with Team Michigan, I should find out more and see what’s going on.”