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Craig Ward, a 1990 grad, will coach his Royal Oak team against cousin Brent, who coaches the Petoskey Northmen. Brent won a state championship as a Trojan in 1998. Photo by Ken Swart

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HOCKEY: Trenton cousins ready for coaching showdown (PHOTO)

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It’s hard to imagine many young kids born and raised in the city of Trenton don’t dream of one day playing for the Trenton Trojans varsity hockey team.

It’s a rite of passage, so to speak.

“When you grow up in Trenton, you’re born and bred to play hockey,” said Royal Oak Coach Craig Ward, a Trenton native. “You see the talent that comes out of there year after year, the tradition hasn’t stopped.

Both Ward and his younger cousin, Brent, came through the system. They were both team captains. The elder Ward was an all-state player. He graduated in 1990.

Brent was a talented player, too and won a state championship with the 1998 Trenton squad.

Craig played two years for the Trojans. His team’s best finish came in 1990, when Trenton fell in the state title game, 5-4, to East Kentwood.

“It was on kind of a fluky goal up at Perani Arena (then the IMA in Flint),” Ward quipped.

Though family does come first for the Wards – Craig and Brent’s fathers were brothers and the two are the only male cousins on that side of the family – their thirst for competition is a close second.

“We all share war stories. We all say we (were on) the best team in Trenton history,” Craig said. “He’s got the (trophy) to prove it, but I joke with him that ‘That year was so easy; my (current) team could beat you guys.’ ”

Craig and his cousin rarely see each other anymore. Craig still lives in the Detroit area. Brent moved to Petoskey, where he’s in his third year coaching the Petoskey Northmen.

But for the first time, the two will get a crack at one another. Royal Oak is set to face Petoskey in the Michigan Public High School Hockey Showcase in Chelsea on Feb. 7.

“It’s really exciting,” said Brent, who credited Craig for piquing his interest in the sport at a very young age, yet refuted the comment that any of Craig’s teams could touch his state title team of 1998. “We had always hoped that this time would come, where we’d have a chance to do something like this.

“We both love hockey and we’re both competitive people. We know this is about Petoskey vs. Royal Oak, but deep down we both want to win this game. We both want our teams to win.”

Royal Oak currently sits at 9-8-1 after a big victory over Troy earlier this week. The Ravens are third in the OAA White, a point behind both Auburn Hills Avondale and Troy Athens.

The team is led by senior Evan Fall. He leads the Ravens with 20 goals and 36 points. Senior Kevin Trumble (25 points), Griffin Kerner (19) and Wade Hebert (12) also provide an offensive spark for the team.

Mathieu Bashi and Chris Swartz form the team’s top defensive pairing. Junior Danny Harlick has saved nearly 90 percent of the shots he’s faced in goal.

Petoskey has struggled a bit this season. The Northmen are 1-12-3 after Wednesday night’s 7-3 loss to Traverse City Central.

Nick Gadowski and Ben Schwartzfisher are the team’s leading scorers.

Still, it’s a game both Wards have had circled on their calendars since the Showcase announced the matchups.

“We’re both excited. I know I am,” said Craig, who along with Brent requested the matchup last summer. “I haven’t started talking (smack) to him yet, but I definitely will get there. He’s not as loud as I am. He’s more reserved, relaxed and he plays the dummy game with me.”

Brent knows he can’t match Craig’s bold persona, but hopes his team can match the intensity he expects the Ravens to bring to the ice.

“He’s the enemy on the other side,” Brent said, laughing. “We’ll do what we can to get our team ready. There’s really only so much you can do on the ice. It really comes down to which team executes. It’s going to be really fun to see.”

Last Updated: 1/31/2014 4:46:58 PM EST