Bracketology: 72 Teams With a Chance to Win a Regional Title

A Favorite, a Contender and a Longshot from each region who could claim a wooden mitten

Craig Peterson

February 19, 2024

Photo by Hockey Weekly
Photo by Hockey Weekly

Playoff hockey is finally upon us, and let me just say, there’s nothing more nerve-racking and exciting than elimination games. Sudden death, overtime, big saves, close calls… Every shift feels like it’s gonna make or break the outcome. The unfortunate reality is only three teams will end their seasons with a victory. One-hundred twenty-seven others will be sent home. And for seniors across the state, it’ll be for the last time. 

Top teams have separated themselves from the pack throughout the regular season. Yet, the gap between No. 25 and No. 80 in the state feels closer than it’s ever been. Chalk may ultimately prevail by the time we get to Plymouth, but I do believe this year’s playoffs could net several upsets and many results that stun the Michigan high school hockey world. Because of that, I’ve identified as many as three teams from each of the 24 regions across three playoff divisions that I believe have a chance at claiming postseason hardware. They’re categorized into the following groups:

FAVORITE: A top seed in the region who just needs to take care of business.
CONTENDER: They may not be favored, but a championship is in reach.
LONGSHOT: May need their best performance to get it done, but it’s possible.

A Near Sweep for Favorites in Division-I Regionals

We all love a good underdog story. And, I can make a strong case for several Contenders and Longshots to win a wooden mitten. However, when the dust settles on Regional Final Wednesday, I just see many of the top seeds ultimately prevailing. Four of my top seven teams in the state are Division-I teams, and the top three are all in separate regions. While that bodes well for a strong playoff at the Quarterfinal level and beyond, it could mean runaway performances in the early rounds of the tournament.

No. 1 Detroit Catholic Central looks to win its fifth consecutive Division-I state championship. No. 4 Brighton is attempting to get to the Final Four for the fourth straight time. No. 5 Hartland and No. 7 Clarkston will have to go through one another to achieve any sense of playoff success. Can Forest Hills Central get back to the title game? Will Sparta’s regular-season Cinderella story carry over into the playoffs? Can Eastside’s Reed Drouare or Cameron Cyrus from Romeo put together a John Lethemon-like performance? Division-I is the strongest it’s been in a long time, thanks to last year’s playoff restructuring. There’s plenty to unpack, so let’s get into it.

REGION 1: Sparta, Reeths-Puffer, Rockford, Mona Shores, Traverse City West

This may be the single toughest region in the entire division. Toughest in terms of the gap between the top team — Sparta — and the lowest-seeded team — Traverse City West — is quite minimal. They’re separated by just 42 spots in MyHockeyRankings statewide rankings. The Spartans are my pick to win the region, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see the winner of TC West and Mona Shores pull off an early upset. 

FAVORITE: Sparta. They’ve won 22 games, and one of the best stories in all of Michigan high school hockey this season. Their top guys Caden Gleason and Trevor Serba are legit, with 20 goals apiece. I’m buying into the hype, and think this Cinderella story continues for another week.
CONTENDER: Reeths-Puffer. They’re riding a nine-game win streak and have only lost one game in 2024 thus far. That includes a win over top-seeded Sparta. Jaxon Stone and Tyler Tindall have been a dangerous duo for two years now, and could look to end their run together on a high note.
LONGSHOT: Mona Shores. If you run-and-gun with them, you’re gonna pay for it. Four skaters in double figures, and the team averages 4.30 goals scored per game. The Sailors don’t need great goaltending. If they can just get good performances against the likes of TC West and Sparta, they could easily find themselves in the title game.

REGION 2: Forest Hills Central, Forest Hills Northern-Eastern, West Ottawa, Jenison, Caledonia, East Kentwood

If Forest Hills Central can withstand the pressure of an early-round rivalry game, it could very easily find itself back in the Final Four for a second straight year. War of the Woods III seems inevitable in this one, where the Rangers tied Forest Hills Northern-Eastern 2-2 and beat them 3-0 already this season. But throw those results out the window if a third meeting goes down at Griff’s IceHouse West. Don’t get complacent in this region; if you get caught looking ahead, someone’s going to send you home.

FAVORITE: Forest Hills Central. They’ll have the best goaltender (Pete Nemmers), the best forward (Ben Mielock) and the best defenseman (Gibson Grendel) in the region. But that doesn’t always translate to wins, especially come playoff time. I like ‘em a lot, but I’d be lying if I said the draw doesn’t scare me.
CONTENDER: Forest Hills Northern-Eastern. Never underestimate the power of an underdog in a rivalry game. The Rangers may be the better team on paper, but J.P. McGinnis and Sean Hall will have something to prove. They scored all three goals in the tie game back in December, and may have to do it again in order to get the Bird Dogs in the win column against their rival.
LONGSHOT: Jenison. They skated with FHC not once, but twice, including a 4-3 overtime loss in early January. They play teams tough and have a knack for keeping games close. Eli Systma and Hayden Blik are legit scoring threats, and twin brothers Jack and Sam Bydalek give the Wildcats two lines capable of creating offense in bunches.  

REGION 3: Howell, Eastside, Cap City, Kalamazoo Eagles, Kalamazoo United, Jackson United

This is the one region in Division-I where chaos could ensue. Top-seeded Howell limps into the playoffs with five of its seven losses coming in the last month. Eastside, Cap City and the two Kalamazoo programs have played a combined 12 games this season against one another. There’s a ton of familiarity amongst opposing coaches and players that could net less-than-expected results as well. Hell, my pick to win the region could be eliminated right out of the gate! If Region 1 is the toughest, Region 3 isn’t far behind in terms of overall competitiveness.

FAVORITE: Howell. They’re the only team in the region that’s been ranked in the Top 25 this season, currently sitting at 15th. The talent is there with guys like Joel Eskola, Ben Huotari and Chad Pietila. The Highlanders have also played one of the toughest schedules too, so they’re experienced and battle tested as well.
CONTENDER: Cap City. They’ll have to win three games to pull it off, and will likely need three of their best performances en route to a regional title. But underclassmen like Chase Potter, Trevor Nightingale and Will Tucker, as well as Max Tyler definitely provide the tools to get it done. They’re my pick for the biggest upset in Division-I.
LONGSHOT: Eastside. A pair of senior goalies with a combined 1.65 goals-against average this season. The Stars have a couple guys who can score goals, but it’s Reed Drouare and Leland Alvarez in net that give them a chance to win every night. They won’t be fazed being out-shot by Howell in a championship game situation.

REGION 4: Hartland, Clarkston, Genesee, Lake Orion, North Oakland, Grand Blanc

This is the most anticipated Regional Final of the entire playoffs. Hartland has won 12 consecutive regional championships, but has never faced a team of Clarkston’s caliber at this stage of the tournament. The Wolves feel like this is their year, with elite-level talent offensively in Ron Wade, Owen Croston and Kyle Lynch. They’re solid on the back end and have gotten good goaltending as well. Is it enough to end Hartland’s regional reign?

FAVORITE: Hartland. I don’t know that this Eagles team is getting the credit they deserve. They are young, and that seems to be the characteristic everyone gets hung up on. But they’ve also won 17 games and have one of the best forwards in the state in Ian Kastamo. Ten of their top 11 scorers are underclassmen, as well as all three goalies. The Eagles get past Clarkston and they’re a lock to reach Plymouth. 
CONTENDER: Clarkston. I love their top line. Plus, sophomore Brady Damian is playing like a seasoned veteran. The Wolves are just 4-4-0 against Top-25 teams, though, and I’m not sure their second and third lines match up well with the Favorites. A strong showing from the middle of the lineup could very well lead to a regional title, and beyond.
LONGSHOT: Lake Orion. I’d like their odds a little more if they were on the other side of the bracket, but either way, you still have to go through both the Favorite and Contender. They’ve only won five games this season, but the Dragons have faced four Top-25 opponents, two Metro League teams and two MIHL teams. It’s a respectable body of work, and they have the best opportunity to give Hartland/Clarkston a scare. 

REGION 5: Romeo, Anchor Bay, Chippewa Valley United, L’Anse Creuse Unified, Utica Eisenhower, SFT United, Utica Ford Unified

Utica Eisenhower beat Utica Ford Unified. Utica Ford Unified defeated L’Anse Creuse Unified. LCU beat Chippewa Valley United. Chip Valley upended Anchor Bay. Anchor Bay beat Romeo. The Transitive property in this Region is messier than any other in the playoffs. The top-seeded Bulldogs are 7-1-1 against teams in the grouping, and have already defeated five of the six opponents. Chip Valley has been on fire since the New Year, and the addition of junior Nate Hall has added a nice wrinkle to their lineup. The Tars have five scorers in double figures and a team GAA of 2.09 against. I’m the least certain about how this bracket of seven will break down, and fully expect it to be busted come next week.

FAVORITE: Romeo. They’re the only team in this region with solid, reliable goaltending. Cameron Cyrus has seen some tough matchups this season and compiled a .925 save percentage. He’s a bit undersized but super athletic, and good enough to single-handedly win a regional championship for the Bulldogs. Having five guys averaging a point per game doesn’t hurt either.
CONTENDER: Chippewa Valley United. They’ve been one of the hottest teams in 2024, with a 9-1-0 record in the back half of the schedule. Leading scorer Cam Staskowski has been a top sophomore in the state, and junior Nate Hall has quickly compiled 11 points in seven games since returning from injury. They are a couple good performances in net from going on a long playoff run. 
LONGSHOT: Utica Eisenhower. They’ve outshot LCU 100-43 in two games this season. I like the Eagles to reach the semifinal against Romeo; a team they damn near defeated back in December. Ike knows it can play with every team in the region, but it’s going to take three very challenging matchups to survive this stage of the tournament. Jacob Scharret and Dominic Riggio are as good of a tandem as anybody in this group too.

REGION 6: Detroit Catholic Central, M-1 United, Lakes Area, Bloomfield Hills, Rochester United, Troy United

“I am inevitable.” Detroit Catholic Central has reached Thanos status. It’s unfortunate for teams like M-1 United, Lakes Area and Bloomfield Hills that have some real nice components to their lineup. Charlie Price is having a sensational season for the Griffins. First-year senior Nick Elizarov has had a tremendous impact on the Black Hawks. Jakob Van Zweden has quietly been one of the best junior goaltenders in the state. Yet, the Shamrocks are just an unstoppable train bound for a Division-I state final yet again.

FAVORITE: Detroit Catholic Central. The over/under is set at 0.5 goals allowed against regional level opponents. I don’t say that to be insulting, but more speaking to the dominance that CC has had at this stage of the tournament historically. They haven’t given up a goal to a regional opponent in two years. The Shamrocks are also the deepest they’ve ever been, with six skaters at double-digit goals and 14 players at 10-or-more points.
CONTENDER: M-1 United. They don’t have a ton of depth compared to that of the Favorite, but they certainly possess the best odds compared to anyone else in the region. Charlie Price, Logan Eland and Kyle Paswater can absolutely skate with anyone on the Shamrocks. The bigger, more important question will be can they produce offense?
LONGSHOT: Lakes Area. If you’ve got a goalie, you’ve got a chance. Van Zweden has made 40-or-more saves three times and 30-or-more saves 15 times. A .913 save percentage isn’t too bad either, right?! He gets into a groove and Lakes Area could find itself in the Regional Final. Get there, and let it all hang out. 

REGION 7: Brighton, Northville, Novi, Ann Arbor Pioneer, Saline

One of two KLAA-heavy regions in Division-I. There’s plenty of familiarity between the teams in this group. Brighton is the runaway favorite, but Northville coach Ryan Ossenmacher has a reputation for being a dangerous underdog in the postseason. The Mustangs have won five straight games and haven’t lost by more than a goal since the first weekend in January. They’re playing just good enough to make a potential regional championship matchup with Brighton very, very interesting.

FAVORITE: Brighton. It’s felt like the Bulldogs’ year all season long. They’ve got veteran returners at all three levels of their lineup. Cam Duffany, Lane Petit, Charlie Burchfield, Levi Pennala and eight others have been on a war path to avenge last season’s D-I state final loss. They’ve got their sights set on larger goals, but they don’t get there without winning here first.
CONTENDER: Northville. The structure and execution is there. The results are starting to come as well. A pair of 30-point guys in Tommy Marinoff and Connor Vissotski. A first-round rivalry game always makes things tricky, but if the Mustangs clear that hurdle, they’re certainly capable of putting a scare into the Favorite.
LONGSHOT: Saline. Tyler Schroeder made 38 saves in the Regional Final against Brighton last season. The Hornets were shut out in that game, but if they can muster up any offense this time around, Schroeder is more than good enough to mount a winning performance in goal for Saline. 

REGION 8: Livonia Stevenson, Salem, Plymouth, Canton, Southgate Unified, New Boston United

The other half of D-I KLAA teams round out Region 8, accounting for four of the six teams in the field. Livonia Stevenson has an extremely bright future next season and beyond, but it’s also talented enough to make a run right now. Owen Hall, Christian Lang and Colin Stroble lead the way on a team with 23 underclassmen. But as nice as that youth movement is, the inexperience can be costly when the season hangs in the balance. Salem has already beaten the Spartans, and Plymouth nearly defeated them as well. Stevenson is a blue blood of Michigan high school hockey, and while I like their chances, it’s far from a runaway race at the regional level.

FAVORITE: Livonia Stevenson. In addition to playing in one of the toughest conferences in hockey, the Spartans also faced seven non-conference opponents currently ranked in the Top 25. Their 12-11-1 record doesn’t tell the full story, and they won’t be intimidated by anyone in the playoffs. Biggest question will be how this young squad handles adversity when the game is tight late.
CONTENDER: Salem. They’ve been a bit hot and cold this season, but this is the same Rocks team that lost to Hartland by a goal, tied Brighton, and most recently, tied Trenton as well. Dominic Chaput and Karsen Patel seem to get up for the big games and I expect that to happen here. They put a real scare into Stevenson, and a championship wouldn’t surprise me in the least.
LONGSHOT: Plymouth. Familiarity can be dangerous this time of year, and the Wildcats have seen both Salem and Stevenson plenty. Four different scorers helped push Plymouth past Salem in the regular season. And, if they earn a rematch with the Spartans, the pressure of a Regional Final could net much different results than the 3-2 loss they suffered back in November.

Byron Center’s Quest for Redemption in Division-II

Like Brighton’s quest in Division-I, the narrative around Byron Center has been about Jackson Froysland and Cade Pratt’s push to get back to the D-II State Final. The Bulldogs returned their top two scorers from a team that nearly won a championship last season, and they return motivated to not let a second chance slip away. They opened the season on a 20-game unbeaten streak, playing possessed on a path to Plymouth.

As dominant as they’ve been, D-II powerhouse Trenton is having one of its best seasons in recent memory. The Trojans are looking to get back to the Final Four after being kept out in 2023. Bay City, White Lake Lakeland and Allen Park have mounted dream seasons, with aspirations of making historic playoff runs of their own. Oh, and the Boogeyman Brother Rice still lingers heavily in the picture after being written off in the first month of the season. A 4-6-0 start turned into a 14-9-1 record by the end of the schedule, solidifying that the path to a D-II championship goes through the Warriors.

REGION 9: Traverse City Central, Midland, Midland Dow, Mid-Michigan, Lakeshore

It’s 134 miles from Traverse City Central High School to the Region 9 host site of Midland Civic Arena. That’s certainly one of the longest treks any 1-seed has to make during the Regional Playoffs stage. As much as I see them as a heavy favorite in this grouping, travel can certainly be a factor, as can the youth and inexperience of this young Trojans team. They may have more talent, but the door is absolutely open for Midland schools to play spoiler.

FAVORITE: Traverse City Central. Leading scorer Graham Peters may only be a sophomore, but he’s likely the best forward in the region. Plus, the Trojans have pretty good depth. Three solid lines that can play and certainly match up well with any opponent at this stage of the tournament. Can the young guys get it done though?
CONTENDER: Midland. They split a pair of game with cross-town rival Midland Dow, but I agree with the seeding here that puts the Chemics second and Chargers third. Cade Sanborn and Lucas Mankoff are a solid tandem. Ayden Spencer may be the best second-line center in the region too. Goaltending is a wild card, though, falling on the shoulders of freshmen and sophomores.
LONGSHOT: Midland Dow. They’re limping into the playoffs, with just two wins in their last 13 games. But as I mentioned, the Chargers have already proved they can beat their semifinal opponent. Guys like Nolan Harris and Ethan Menzies have also found ways to produce, even in defeat, with 30-plus points apiece. Don’t rule them out.

REGION 10: Bay City, Saginaw Heritage, Fenton-Linden, Tri-Valley, ETA Legion

Another one of the top stories in Michigan high school hockey this season, Bay City’s been on a dream run in ‘23-24. Senior Gunnar Weber has been special, with 35 goals and 60 points. His play and leadership is rubbing off on younger guys like Lucas Nieman and Sean Daily, meaning the Wolves could be here to stay awhile. For them to continue this impressive run, they’ll likely have to go through Mid-Michigan mainstay Saginaw Heritage. Coach J.J. Bamberger knows what it takes to make a deep playoff run, and the Hawks have enough top talent to make it very difficult on the top-seeded Wolves.

FAVORITE: Bay City. Weber is the biggest reason, but like I mentioned, other guys around him are elevating their game as well. Twenty-five of Caleb Anthony’s 40 points have come in the last month and Nieman has recorded a point in 14 of the last 15 games. Nash Leonard has been reliable in net too, with a .932 save percentage.  
CONTENDER. Saginaw Heritage. They just beat Bay City two weeks ago, outshooting them 38-25 in the process. So the Hawks being regional champs is not a hard sell by any means. The top line is solid, but depth and defense is what keeps them from being a Favorite here. They give up 3.57 goals per game, and I’m not sure Heritage holds Bay City to just one goal a second time.
LONGSHOT: Fenton-Linden. They’ve given up six or more goals eight times this season, which doesn’t bode well considering the offenses they’d have to go through as a Longshot. Even so, players like P.J. Swainston and Nicholas Griggs have good foundations to their game. On top of that, Trenton Rockman and Vincent Loria lead the way offensively, providing the Griffins some nice options.

REGION 11: Byron Center, Portage, Mattawan, Grandville, Kenowa Hills, Grand Haven, Hudsonville

They call it ‘the second season’ for a reason, but it feels like the playoffs could have a similar beginning to the regular season for Byron Center. Jackson Froysland and Cade Pratt have been playing with something to prove, bulldozing anyone in their path. The winner of Portage and Mattawan could provide good resistance. Neither the Muskies or Wildcats are susceptible to being blown out by anyone. Grandville is even capable of keeping it close, playing even hockey with BC for 40 minutes earlier in the year. But the Bulldogs seem to be on a warpath, and there may not be a regional foe capable of the ultimate upset.

FAVORITE: Byron Center. It’s the middle of the lineup that makes the Bulldogs a real threat this time of year. Luke Philo, Ben Passeno, Dalton Clark, Kasey Brehm… For BC to follow through on a playoff run, these are the guys who have to come through with quality minutes and responsible hockey. They’re also guys that nobody in the region has in their lineups.
CONTENDER: Portage. Top performers at all three levels of the lineup. Cayden Stasienko up front. Jack Schnur on the back end. Lee LaPorte in net. Mattawan is a tough out in the semifinal matchup, but I like the Muskies to win a close one. After that, there’s enough talent on this top line to skate with Byron Center and generate a few offensive looks. Can they capitalize on those opportunities?
LONGSHOT: Grandville. They’re still a year or two away from making some real noise in the playoffs, but the talent is absolutely there. Sophomore Landon Smith leads the team in scoring and freshman Ayden Karas has started 21 games. They’ve seen the Favorite twice already this season, so they already know what to expect when the puck drops.

REGION 12: South Lyon Unified, Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard, Ann Arbor Skyline, Dexter, Ann Arbor Huron

Most of Washtenaw County will be in action in Region 12. Three of the four Ann Arbor schools, Dexter and South Lyon Unified tangle in what could be an intense rivalry-ridden grouping. Top-seeded South Lyon has had a strong season with a senior-heavy core led by Gavin Mulcahy and Carter Temple. But Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard is the only team in the region to have won a wooden mitten in the last five years. Top scorer Nick Dunphey and the rest of the Irish will make a strong case to keep it that way in 2024 as well.

FAVORITE: Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard. They might not have the top line that they’ve had in seasons past, but the depth is better than it’s been. Not a bad trade off, considering nine skaters have reached double-digit point totals. Nathan Kelly’s 2.63 goals-against average is also the lowest among starting goalies in the Region. 
CONTENDER: South Lyon Unified. A 15-win season. The top seed in the Region. A bunch of senior contributors. SLU feels like it’s their time, and for good reason. My only hesitation is, it’s never been done before. At least according to the Hub. How does South Lyon handle the pressure when the bullseye is on their back?
LONGSHOT: Ann Arbor Skyline. They tied AAGR in the Dan Jilek Cup earlier this season, and shared seven opponents with South Lyon. Results haven’t gone their way, but with guys like Graham Newton and Shane Roberts, the Eagles are more than capable of keeping it close with higher-ranked opponents.

REGION 13: Brother Rice, White Lake Lakeland, Stoney Creek, Walled Lake United, Milford 

Early in the season, I’d have considered Region 13 very much up for grabs. Guys like Tyler Burns, Patrick Axworthy and Carson Cagigal showed how dangerous Stoney Creek could be offensively. White Lake Lakeland’s Paul Baker carried the Eagles to a 16-game unbeaten streak. All of that happened while defending D-II champion Brother Rice struggled to find an identity through the first half of the season. Seniors Christian Hajji and Johnny Kunz settled in as leaders, and underclassmen like Roman Villair and Cameron George began succeeding in more prominent roles. The Warriors closed out the regular season on a 7-2-0 run, primed and ready to defend their title.

FAVORITE: Brother Rice. It took some time for the Warriors to fill the void after graduating the bulk of their offense from last season’s championship team. Eighteen of Aidan Agbay’s 30 points came after winter break; Same for Brenden Beith, 13 of his 22 points, and 10 of Davis Belt’s 15 points. The offense is starting to blossom just in time for another playoff run.
CONTENDER: White Lake Lakeland. They thrive quite a bit in fast-paced offense off the rush. Having Baker as a backstop has allowed guys like Brennan Grant and Timmy Hinkle to make most games one-directional in terms of scoring chances. Six guys are double digits in goals, but that offense may struggle against a disciplined and structured attack from a team like Rice.
LONGSHOT: Stoney Creek. They haven’t defeated an opponent the likes of Lakeland, much less Rice. So to pull off not one, but two of those wins now in the postseason would be ambitious. But the offense is averaging 4.26 goals per game with a 25.2 percent power play. They’ll make you pay when you make mistakes.

REGION 14: De La Salle, Port Huron Northern, St. Clair Shores Unified, Grosse Pointe South, Port Huron

The 2024 playoffs could be junior Gavin Szalkowski’s coming out party, so to speak. He’s 9-6-2 with a 1.97 goals-against average and .935 save percentage. If De La Salle wins the Region, as I suspect, and goes on a playoff run, it’ll certainly be due to the play of Szalkowski in net. The Pilots are 4-0-0 against Regional opponents this season, and none have scored more than twice against the top seed. It’s going to take a good amount of offense from Grosse Pointe South, Port Huron Northern or St. Clair Shores Unified to play spoiler. I’m pretty confident Szalkowski’s not going to let that happen.

FAVORITE: De La Salle. In addition to top-notch goaltending, they’re pretty sound defensively. The Pilots have only given up three-or-more goals five times, and all five were to Top-10 teams in the state. They wouldn’t see an opponent of that caliber until the Final Four, and possibly, the championship. Buckle up, because A.J. Zaccagni, Keegan James and Dylan Blackwood are going for ride.
CONTENDER: Port Huron Northern. They played DLS twice this season, and showed a lot of life in both games. Matt Graham and Brycen Smith actually put the Huskies up 2-0 in their first meeting and the second matchup was a one-goal game early too. Smith is a pure goal scorer, with some secondary threats as well. If it’s close late into the third, PHN is very much a threat.
LONGSHOT: Grosse Pointe South. The Blue Devils share a good amount of similarities with PHN in terms of gritty, disciplined and just being a tough out. The problem is scoring; they were shut out 6-0 by the Pilots in December. If Drew Brady and Evan Bernard can create some offense, GPS may have a chance at scaring the Favorite.

REGION 15: U of D Jesuit, Allen Park, Livonia United, Farmington United, Wyandotte Roosevelt

UPSET ALERT! The Cubs from U of D Jesuit have to be the Favorite in Region 15, but I’m very hesitant. They closed out the season 4-7-1, and have given up six or more goals five times in that stretch. That certainly opens the door for a surging team with something to prove like Allen Park. They’ve got good goaltending in Jack Miller, a talented top line and a team that plays with pace and structure. Allen Park — the hunter — is confident, and U of D — the hunted — is reeling. And, I wouldn’t necessarily rule out a Livonia United team that’s played comparable opponents like Livonia Stevenson, Salem and Northville to close finishes as well. That’s a recipe for chaos in a Region where three teams have a legit shot at hardware.

FAVORITE: U of D Jesuit. I still like this Cubs squad a lot, and believe the pieces are there on this team to make a deep playoff run. Carter Cate, Thomas Angell, Graham Cesa, Henry Balasia. Guys at every level of this lineup worth noting. The sum needs to be greater than its parts though, and when adversity comes, cohesion is key.
CONTENDER: Allen Park. They close out the regular season on the road against the Cubs. An interesting scheduling tactic that may serve the Jags well in pursuit of a playoff matchup with U of D a week later. There’s a chance the Jags could be the surprise of the playoffs and make an appearance in Plymouth.
LONGSHOT: Livonia United. I just can’t get over their 4-3 overtime loss to rival Stevenson. When the Red Stallions play inspired and with purpose, they can be a tough out. I expect them to channel that same passion when their season is on the line. A very under-the-radar opponent that if the Jags or Cubs don’t respect, could pay for greatly. 

REGION 16: Trenton, Lenawee United, Temperance Bedford, Gibraltar Carlson, Woodhaven

Trenton hasn’t lost a Regional Championship since 2017, and odds are heavily in its favor to keep that streak alive in 2024. This season’s squad is one of the more complete Trojan teams I’ve seen in recent memory. I expect them to dominate this group in a similar fashion to the way DCC should own its respective region. As much as I like what Lenawee United and Gibraltar Carlson have done this season, they just don’t quite have the depth to stand toe-to-toe with one of the blue bloods of Michigan high school hockey.

FAVORITE: Trenton. A pair of nine-win goalies is impressive enough. The Trojans also have 14 guys with double-digit point totals. That’s tied with CC for most in the state on a single team! I expect them to cruise to the Final Four, and while they won’t be the favorite in Plymouth, the Trojans have what it takes to beat a Byron Center, Rice or whoever stands in their way.
CONTENDER: Lenawee United. It’s been a historic run, tying the program’s record for most wins in a season. Rhett Micallef is the real deal too, as a top junior in the state. That first line is definitely a threat to Trenton, but can they generate enough opportunities to out-score a Trojans team that could produce four, five, six goals or more?
LONGSHOT: Gibraltar Carlson. They held Trenton scoreless for 40 minutes the first time these two teams met, and an empty-net goal made it just a 2-0 final. Now, the Marauders were out-shot 42-8 in that game too. But if Charlie Huntoon and Justin Genzel can generate a few more opportunities, there’s at least the possibility of making things interesting with the top-seeded Trojans.

Upper Peninsula ends its drought and secures a state title for the first time in eight years

It’s the ‘Quarter of Death’ when you lump Region 17 and 18 together. No other section of any playoff bracket is as competitive as the upper peninsula section of Division-III. Houghton, Hancock, Marquette and Sault Ste. Marie are all legitimate title contenders. Calumet, Escanaba, Jeffers and Manistique are all capable of making things interesting as well. Four in the top 20 in the state, and eight of the nine teams rank in the top 70, according to MyHockeyRankings. Predicting that quarter alone will be utter chaos, and the rest of the bracket isn’t much cleaner either.

East Grand Rapids looks poised to make a return trek to Plymouth, deeper and more talented than ever. The Bay Reps have one of the best top lines in all of Michigan high school hockey. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s has been a Top-5 team all season long, and lets not forget about defending D-III champ Flint Powers. The Chargers have won 17 games with a deep offensive attack and a solid goaltender in Blake Zloto. As turbulent as this division could be, Powers will absolutely be in the conversation to repeat as champ as well.

REGION 17: Houghton, Hancock, Jeffers, Calumet

Small, but mighty. This four-team Regional features four teams ranked in the Top 50 in the state. Houghton has been a perennial favorite all season long, appearing to be even better than its star-studded squad of a year ago. Mikey Maillette is an elite-level forward. Connor Raffaelli is an elite-level defenseman. Bryant Lee is a top-level goalie. Yet despite all that, the Gremlins still aren’t a lock to win Region 17, much less a Division-III state title. 

Hancock is young, but players like Todd Kilpela, Tevin Stukel and Brady Axford ooze talent and potential. Not to mention, they have a high compete level and have played not one, but two close games with the top seed already this season. Calumet can’t be counted out either, and by all accounts, Jeffers is much improved as well.

FAVORITE: Houghton. The talent I mentioned earlier — plus others — makes the Gremlins an obvious Favorite here. But the path to Plymouth is going to be a gauntlet, if not, the toughest of any team in any Division. Hopefully, playing the eighth toughest schedule in Michigan has helped prepare Houghton for such a run. 
CONTENDER: Hancock. A 10-3-0 record coming out of the holiday break is pretty indicative of how this young team is starting to ‘get it.’ Kilpela is a top sophomore in the state, Stukel and Axford are likely top freshmen as well. The team as a whole is playing disciplined and at a fast pace. They’re gonna give Houghton a run for its money.
LONGSHOT: Calumet. They have yet to beat any team in this Region, with an 0-7-1 record this season. The Copper Kings have still managed to play everyone tough this season, and I’d never count out a Calumet team. It’s possible for Cam Anderson and Brendan Boberg to steal a ‘W’ with the season on the line.

REGION 18: Sault Ste. Marie, Marquette, Escanaba, Manistique, Kingsford, Negaunee

There’s only three of the 24 regions in the playoffs with two legitimate state championship contenders in the bracket. This is one of them. It’s unfortunate, because Sault Ste. Marie or Marquette will be eliminated in the infancy stage of a tournament both are capable of winning outright. First-year senior Cam LaBadie may be the best goalie in the state with a 1.38 goals-against average and .943 save percentage. Reliable goaltending coupled with and aggressive style of play put the Blue Devils in great shape. Meanwhile, Marquette’s depth is unmatched. Four lines, six defenseman, and they too, have a talented net minder in Cole Kelly

Region 17’s Houghton, Sault Ste. Marie and Marquette are all deserving of a Final Four bid, yet only one will survive.

FAVORITE: Marquette. I don’t know that anyone in the state plays like Marquette. Deep, talented, disciplined and aggressive. Top to bottom, left to right, front to back. Four skaters with 10 or more goals, and a fistful of others with double digits in points as well. A white hot goalie might be the only thing to slow down Marquette at this stage of the tournament.
CONTENDER: Sault Ste. Marie. ‘It’s me, hi. I’m the white hot goalie.’ LaBadie has snuffed out every top offense he’s faced. Plus, the Blue Devils play a fast-paced, in your face style as well. Watching Garrett Gorsuch and Nick Wood go head-to-head with Marquette may be the best of all championship games on Regional Final Wednesday.
LONGSHOT: Escanaba. They just don’t have the depth Marquette and the Soo possess. The Eskymos do have Cully Hayes, though. If he’s on his A-game, they’ve got a chance to upset Marquette, similar to when they skated to a 2-1 game back in November. Graham Johnson and Nolan Bink are special talents as well.  

REGION 19: Bay Reps, Petoskey, Cadillac, Cheboygan, Gaylord

In search of a third consecutive regional championship for the first time in program history, the Bay Reps should face little resistance. No opponent in the region ranks higher than 80th in the state. Meanwhile, the Reps have one of the best top lines in all of Michigan high school hockey and maybe the most talent the program’s ever had. Can anyone slow down the likes of Grant Lucas, Thomas Boynton-Fisher and Ethan Coleman? It’s a very big ask.

FAVORITE: Bay Reps. It’s a confident group that’s played one of the toughest schedules in the state. This region is far from that though. So do they keep their foot on the gas or play to their competition? Even on the Reps’ worst night, I think they’re still the best team in this group and a serious contender in Plymouth.
CONTENDER: Petoskey. If I’m the Northmen, I’m hoping the Reps are looking past me. Count those chickens before they’re hatched. Goalie Nick Timm has stifled a couple opponents this season with three 40-save performances. Closer to a Longshot than a Contender, but crazier things have happened!
LONGSHOT: Cheboygan. I give the Chiefs credit. For being ranked 108th with five wins on the season, they certainly challenged themselves with a tougher schedule. Bay City, Chippewa Valley, Stoney Creek, Alpena, Midland, even Kingsford and Jenison. In total, 10 games against opponents ranked 30 or more spots ahead of them in the statewide rankings. Hopefully, it pays off now in the postseason.

REGION 20: Alpena, Gladwin, Tawas, Bay Area Thunder, FNV

FAVORITE: Alpena. Did anyone expect the Wildcats to reload the way they did after losing two major contributors from a season ago? Garrett Hamp is a finisher. Gavin Winterstein is a physical force. Luke Miller is a top-notch skater. The team may only have three seniors but is still capable of making a lengthy playoff run.
CONTENDER: Gladwin. It’s been a special season for the rookie program. The Flying G’s started out on an 11-1-1 run, and have mounted 14 wins in total. They also have a pair of 50-point producers in Isaac Wheeler (55) and Treyton Siegert (50). I’m not picking it, but a regional title in Year 1 of the program would be a storybook season. 
LONGSHOT: Tawas. They nearly beat Gladwin in overtime back in January. If the Braves can follow through this time around, it would be Gage Maxfield and Devin Grathoff in the Regional Final opposite the Favorites. Can they create enough offense to outscore two tough opponents?

REGION 21: East Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Christian, Grand Rapids Catholic Central, Big Rapids

Three of the four best teams on the West Side all crammed into one Region. Another unfortunate grouping, considering my Longshot has already defeated both the Favorite and Contender this season. So this four-team bracket really is up for grabs, and there’s a ton of talent in the mix as well. Grand Rapids Catholic Central’s Trent Goheen, Glenn Green from East Grand Rapids and Grand Rapid Christian’s Josh VanSchepen, to name only a few. Each team is dangerous offensively. How well they can defend, avoid costly penalties and keep opponents to the outside will ultimately determine the outcome though. 

FAVORITE: East Grand Rapids. The Pioneers are one of the deepest teams offensively in the state. Regional opponents don’t match up well with middle-of-the-lineup guys like James Albers and J.T. LaMange. Having three solid lines — maybe even stretched to four at times — and 11 guys in double figures sets up EGR not just for Regional success, but a State Tournament run as well.
CONTENDER: Grand Rapids Christian. They head into the postseason with a ton of confidence, winning seven of their last eight games. Guys like VanSchepen, Josh Hooper and Jack Micus can play at a fast pace and are dangerous offensively. Depth may be the biggest hurdle for them in matchups with EGR and GRCC, but the Eagles have played both tough already this season.
LONGSHOT: Grand Rapids Catholic Central. Did the MPR system get it right? I’m not so sure here. The first month of 2024 was tough, winning just once during a nine-game stretch. Likely the reason the Cougars are No. 3 and not the top seed. But being an ‘underdog’ knowing they have already defeated both East and GR Christian is a fantastic chip to have on this Longshot’s shoulder. 

REGION 22: Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, Flint Powers, Jackson Lumen Christi, Chelsea, Western-Pinckney

It seems like Orchard Lake St. Mary’s and Flint Powers are on a collision course in this five-team region. However, Jackson Lumen Christi has an ace up its sleeve capable of derailing every bracketologists’ plans. Junior Zach Jaakkola is the real deal, and the Titans lean on him heavily to keep them in games. Nine games of 40 or more saves, including four in the last two weeks. His 1.99 goals-against average and .944 save percentage has been dependable enough to get Lumen to a 19-win season. Can another strong outing — or two — steal a regional title as well?

FAVORITE: Orchard Lake St. Mary’s. I don’t think anybody had the Eaglets on a short list to win the Division-III state title at the beginning of the season. They are very much in the conversation now though. Putting away the defending champ would solidify those claims and make them a real player at the State Tournament.
CONTENDER: Flint Powers. Certainly a bitter taste in their mouths after losing 5-4 in overtime to OLSM last month. I expect the Chargers to play with a purpose and throw their best punch. Blake Zloto in net, Ayden Cook and Brendan Sly will be out for revenge in the rematch. They just might get it too, keeping their reign over D-III alive as well.
LONGSHOT: Jackson Lumen Christi. I’m confident they can keep it a low-scoring game with both the Favorite and Contender. But I do worry how they’re going to create enough offense to put either team away. Guys like Isaiah Dinverno and Brodie Gregory may not get many high-quality chances, so they’ll have to make the most of their scoring opportunities.

REGION 23: University Liggett, Cranbrook, Marysville, Bishop Foley United, Grosse Pointe North

Could this be Marysville’s best shot at a Regional Title? Twelve guys in double figures, with Ben Lavalley having a monster junior season at 28 goals and 57 points. The Vikings haven’t won a wooden mitten since 2012, but it appears the stars have aligned 12 years later to give them a great chance at snapping that drought. 

It’s still a Longshot in my mind, considering they’d have to go through both Cranbrook and University Liggett. But Marysville has faced some comparable opponents this season and fared well. And while the Cranes are my pick to win the region, it comes with some hesitation. They’re not an offensively dominant team, having scored more than three goals just twice this season. The schedule has been very difficult though, and Nick Timko and Roman Cicco are having great seasons as well. 

FAVORITE: Cranbrook. Offense — or lack thereof — is concerning. But the fact they’ve played a Top-10 schedule and maintained a 2.33 goals-against average is impressive. I really like Timko’s game too, and Cicco is a top D-man in the state. I’m cautious, but very optimistic this squad still gets the job done.
CONTENDER: University Liggett. Speaking of low-scoring teams, Knights games average 5.3 goals. So in the event of a Liggett-Cranbrook final, don’t expect much offense. The Knights closed out the season 8-2-0 in their final 10 games. Leading scorer Gary Stacy and Kevin Vreeken have been a good one-two punch up the middle too.
LONGSHOT: Marysville. They’ve played Romeo and Stoney Creek twice each, as well as two MIHL teams. Still, none of those opponents are direct comps to what they’ll face from Cranbrook. There’s a path for the Vikings, though, and I wouldn’t be totally shocked to see Lavalley and company pull it off.

REGION 24: Riverview Gabriel Richard, Grosse Ile, Country Day, Birmingham Unified, Divine Child, Riverview-Cabrini

Can Riverview Gabriel Richard win its seventh straight regional title? Tony Venturini and Ryan Rainey certainly arm the Pioneers with enough weapons to do so. But perennial D-III powerhouse Country Day likely stands in their way. The two Metro League teams have already played a pair of tight games this season, and all bets are off in a potential third act. Grosse Ile put together one of its greatest seasons in program history with 21 wins. The Red Devils’ top line of Fisher Gurney, Tate Hubler and Adalar Hovis is nasty. They’ve logged some serious minutes, and will be a matchup nightmare at the regional level of the tournament.

FAVORITE: Riverview Gabriel Richard. Are they the most slept on team in the state? I know I was apprehensive this season after the Pioneers graduated 88.9 percent of their offense last spring. Yet they bounced back in ‘23-24 with a 14-6-3 record, a top goaltender, a top forward and the top seed in the region. Wake up! Because RGR is a real contender.
CONTENDER: Country Day. They outshot the Pioneers by a good margin in both Metro League games this season despite tying 2-2 and losing 4-3. Clay Spencer is the best player in the region, and if guys around him heat up, the Yellowjackets are going to be tough to put away. Overlooked because of their 10-13-2 record, but a regional title could be just the beginning of a state tournament run.
LONGSHOT: Grosse Ile. Unofficially, they’re the only line in the state where all three players are north of 50 points on the season. They were able to run-and-gun most of the season, but defensive strategies from RGR and Country Day will be pretty calculated and disciplined. Can that trio still find ways to create offense?

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