Biggest Takeaways from Week 1
Houghton hockey makes a statement loud and clear
November 20, 2023
The last six months for Houghton included a coaching change and the graduation of two of the best players in the state. First-year head coach Micah Stipech stepped in for 25-year veteran Corey Markham. 2023 Mr. Hockey Award recipient, Cam Markham, graduated and is now a member of the NAHL’s Wisconsin Windigo. His Gremlin wingman and classmate last season, Gaborik Carlson, is also playing junior hockey for the Grande Prairie Storm in the AJHL. Houghton didn’t just lose guys over the offseason, they lost some of the best guys we’ve seen in Michigan high school hockey.
It took Houghton hockey all of 34 minutes to squash any doubt outsiders had about the state of the program.
In Friday’s season opener, the Gremlins took on Great Lakes Conference foe Escanaba. By my estimation, the conference championship was likely to come down to these two teams.
Houghton beat the Eskymos 11-1 in two periods.
What I thought was going to be a pretty wide open conference up for grabs with a couple teams vying for the top spot, quickly became a front-runner runaway in a matter of minutes.
One opposing coach even said they may be a more complete team than last year, and I think he’s right. I highlighted Connor Raffaelli in the Top 100 Names to Know, but he may only be the tip of the iceberg for the Gremlins on the back end. Oscar Petersen is a big-bodied defender who skates pretty well and has a long reach. Wyatt Jenkins is another towering figure on the back end who’s got decent footwork and finds ways to get pucks through from the blue line. Hudson Markham is extremely fluid, moving with his hands and feet in rhythm, and is a great offset to Raffaelli as a pairing.
Mikey Maillette was another Gremlin prominently featured in the Top 100. He too, is just the start of a relentless offensive attack. Jace DeForge, Tanner Flachs, Grant Schaible, Jay Halonen, Connor Arko… Wave after wave after wave, this Houghton team comes at you with pressure that doesn’t let up.
And, if you somehow manage to weather that storm, goaltender Bryant Lee is the last line of defense between the pipes. He’s smooth in his movements, crisp lateral footwork and rarely gives up second chances.
I went from cautiously optimistic to pushing my chips all in on these guys in the span of a weekend. Can call it an overreaction if you want to. Fair-weather fan, whatever. But I challenged the Gremlins and they made a statement loud and clear. Keep it going, boys.
Brother Rice Reloads (Again) with Roman Villaire
Similar to Houghton, the losses Brother Rice hockey experienced with last spring’s graduating class were undeniable. Andrew Marone and Peter Rosa accounted for 52.2 percent of the team’s offense last season. The duo scored 36 more points than the next highest producer on the roster in ‘22-23. Rice had a lot to replace during the offseason, but it did have the luxury of returning five of seven defensemen on the back end and a goalie with 17 games of experience.
Much of the team leadership group even admitted at MIHL Media Day that this team wasn’t going to be able to run-and-gun its way to victory like it had in previous years. Rice’s path to success was going to be in the form of shut-down defense and low-scoring contests. Or so we thought.
The Warriors opened up the season with a pair of games against Preseason Top-25 teams.
Five different players scored a goal on opening night. That well-balanced offense gave Rice a 5-2 win over Detroit Country Day. That performance was followed up by a breakout game from Roman Villaire. The junior forward scored two goals and assisted on three others, factoring in on all five tallies as Rice topped Marquette 5-1.
Now, I don’t expect Villaire to be a one-for-one replacement for either the departing Marone or Rosa’s production. Villaire’s performance, coupled with the team’s pair of dominant wins over stiff competition, illustrates once again how the Warriors have reloaded with talent at all three levels of their roster. The reigning Division-II state champions won’t be giving up that title without a fight.
Wins Are Tough To Come By In Michigan High School Hockey
Of the 89 game results registered on the Michigan High School Hockey Hub, 35 of them were decided by two goals or fewer. Nearly 40 percent of all contests in Week 1 were what I’d deem to be very close and competitive games. That doesn’t factor in three-goal games. Hell, I’ve been a part of 4-0 games that I felt had good back-and-forth. Nonetheless, 39.3 percent of games decided by two goals or fewer is actually up a full two points year-over-year. Could the 2023-24 season prove to be one of the closest in recent memory?
A couple close games that caught my attention throughout the week:
Allen Park 3-1 over University Liggett
Reeths-Puffer 6-4 over Grand Rapids Christian
West Ottawa 4-3 over Mattawan
Salem 5-4 over Jenison
Utica Eisenhower 5-4 over Stoney Creek
Hartland and Hancock tied 3-3
Plenty of good action from the first seven days of the schedule, and we’re just getting started.
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