From mini-stick knee hockey in the living room to Rink 1 at Farmington Hills Ice Arena. Nothing is as intense or as passionate as that of a rivalry between siblings. After all, they really are our first real ‘opponents’ in the game of life. Competing for toys, fighting for the last slice of pizza, jockeying for mom and dad’s love and affection.
On Wednesday, older brother Anthony Lietz — head coach of Farmington United — will lead his team into its Oakland Activities Association (OAA) game against not only Rochester United, but his younger brother, assistant coach Zach Lietz.
Anthony’s older. Zach’s taller. Anthony got better grades in school. Zach was the better athlete. Anthony is mom’s favorite. Dad calls Zach more.
For the past two seasons, Zach was an assistant under Anthony, helping turn Farmington around from winless in 2020-21 to finishing second in the OAA’s White Division last season. The job is still far from done, as Anthony continues to push Farmington back into conference championship and regional title consideration. But a new opportunity arose for Zach this offseason.
“I was approached by coach [Tucker] Penning on if he could have a conversation with Zach about the possibility of transitioning over and it was a no-brainer to me to say yes,” said Anthony. “I’m very happy for Zach and proud of him.”
Penning is in his first season as head coach of RU’s varsity team. He transitioned up from the JV team this summer and needed help on his staff. Couple that with Suburban Ice Rochester — home to Rochester United — being much closer geographically for Zach, it just made sense logistically.
“It’s been an adjustment losing him on my staff because he is so valuable and not only meant so much to me as one of my staff members but because he’s my best friend and my brother as well,” said Anthony.
Farmington comes in with a 7-6-0 record; its best start to a season since ‘18-19 when the team finished 17-6-2. Leading scorer Ryan Elenich is in the top 10 in the state in both goals (18) and points (33), and five other skaters are averaging a point per game. They’re also first place in the White Division currently with a 3-1-0 record in association play. Despite not having him on staff anymore, Anthony said his brother had a lot to do with where the program is at now.
“He’s been with me since day one, and put just as much effort and passion into reshaping this program to what we want it to be,” said Anthony.
So it may make for an awkward pregame conversation between coaches. Warm-ups could have a funny feel to it, as Zach watches players he once trained now prepare to defeat his current team.
Rochester United certainly has a lot to play for as well. The team is 4-6-1 this season, but still looking for its first win in OAA action. Farmington — giving up 3.83 goals per game — leaves the door open for RU’s top scorers to create offense. It’s been a relatively quiet season for Drew Jeric and Ashton Bissell, averaging a point per game. However, Farmington has surrendered five goals against in four of its last five games, making this a premium opportunity for RU’s top line to produce in bunches.
Not only is it the first time the Lietz brothers will be on opposite benches, but it's also the first time since 2019 that these two programs will clash.
“As much as I cheer him on and support him, when we go against one another, it’s game on,” said Anthony. “Ultimately, we have to let the boys play and hope that we prepared them as best we could respectively.”