Brycen Smith Helps Port Huron Northern Complete Comeback

One player from every team that caught my attention at KLAA-MIHL Showcase

Craig Peterson

December 11, 2023

Photo from Instagram | @ashleydixonphotography
Photo from Instagram | @ashleydixonphotography

Tim Monaghan carried the puck below the Plymouth goal line. He quickly put the brakes on and changed directions, shaking a defender from his back and opening up some space. Monaghan then sent a pass to line mate Silas Klink, open at the net front, who quickly one-touched it into the net and passed the Wildcats goaltender Tanner Olepa.

Plymouth had held Port Huron Northern to just one goal, while maintaining a 3-1 lead through the first 49 minutes of action on Saturday. The final 120 seconds, however, would be a much different story. Klink’s goal drew the Huskies within one. And as their offensive surge continued past the one-minute mark, Olepa was forced to freeze the puck with 42.2 left on the clock. Plymouth coach Brian Dallas called a timeout to regroup, and go over defensive responsibilities one final time, before getting his best defenders on the ice with fresh legs.

Huskies forward Brycen Smith won the ensuing face-off clean, and PHN used the sixth attacker to treat the next 21 seconds like an in-zone power play. The puck worked its way around the perimeter, before Smith centered the puck to Klink in the slot. Olepa stood tall to the first shot from Klink but couldn’t react to the rebound fast enough as Monaghan was there on the near side to tap it in and tie the game at 3-3.

If the game ended there, it would have already been a crazy comeback to earn a hard-fought tie. But with 21.7 seconds left, Northern wasn’t done. 

Smith received a pass in the neutral and attacked. He crossed the blue line and then doubled back up the wall. In doing so, Smith made a backhand pass down the boards to Paul Chenault. He one-touched the puck into the slot for Tanner Skotcher. The senior defenseman absorbed a hit and sent the puck down to the playside post for Kyren Bruno. Just six feet off Olepa’s left post, Bruno caught the puck on his backhand, quickly pulled it to his forehand and chipped the puck into the net short side.

There was four seconds remaining on the clock and Port Huron Northern had gone from down 3-1, frustrated and angry at their performance at the KLAA-MIHL Showcase to basking in a 4-3 victory that gave their conference an early 1-0 lead in the showcase standings.

The MIHL would go on to win seven of the nine matchups with KLAA opponents on Saturday, winning the Adam Mitchell Memorial event for the fifth time in six years. 

Northern’s come-from-behind win may have been the most exciting, dramatic moment of the day. But there were plenty of other key moments and standout performers from all 10 games at Eddie Edgar Arena. 

With 20 teams in action, I highlighted one player from every team that stood out to me. Not necessarily for being the best player on their respective team that day, but just having an impact, playing a necessary role and influencing the game in some way. 

Canton: Sophomore Forward Cameron James

Scored his third goal of the season, and second in as many games when the Chiefs executed on a nice offensive-zone face-off play. Nate Oberliesen won the face-off clean, James quickly released a shot on goal and then followed behind it to the net. After a scrum in front, James was in position to finish off the play he started and chipped the puck past Carlson goaltender Riley Demeester. 

Gibraltar Carlson: Senior Defenseman Justin Genzel

The Marauders’ strength definitely came from the back end. A couple nice defensemen that could skate and move pucks, but I liked Genzel the most just because of how fluid and comfortable he looked with the puck. Chasing a 3-2 deficit late in the game, though, Carlson did struggle to create opportunities in the face of Canton’s passive 1-2-2 forecheck.

Plymouth: Senior Forward Noah Smentowski

Two plays stood out to me. First, he reloaded through the middle of the ice on a forecheck, and that responsible positioning put Smentowski in the perfect place to intercept a pass and force an offensive zone turnover. Then, he showed a nice ability to create space off the rush with a quick inside-outside move and wired a wrist shot off the far post for a nice scoring chance. 

Port Huron Northern: Senior Forward Brycen Smith

Chasing a two-goal deficit as the game got later and later, the puck ended up on Smith’s stick more and more. He set up the game-tying goal and had what would’ve been the third assist on a tic-tac-toe sequence for the game-winning goal. I didn’t always love his shot selection but it was pretty obvious the Huskies needed the puck on his stick with the game hanging in the balance.

Novi: Freshman Defenseman Jacob Vellucci

The Wildcats picked up Vellucci shortly after Thanksgiving and the ‘09 freshman has already made an immediate impact on the blue line. He’s got really good feet and is very comfortable with the puck on his stick. Not many freshmen — especially on defense — have that level of patience and such a calm presence with possession of the puck. He’s gonna be a fun one to watch develop.

Cranbrook: Junior Forward Nick Timko

You could insert Timko into any of these teams’ lineups and he would’ve made an instant impact. He’s a good skater with nice size and plays with pace. He made a great play on a line rush, driving the net hard and opening up space for his linemates to make a play. Will Nottle sent a shot low and hard on goal and Thomas Kiemel cleaned up the rebound to put the Cranes on the board. None of that happens if Timko isn’t streaming down the middle on a net drive. 

Livonia United: Sophomore Forward Dominic Medina

At face value, it seemed like he was floating and puck watching. In reality, I think Medina was feeling the flow of the game and finding the soft spots of the offensive zone. That made him the go-to passing option quite a bit and put him in a position to make a lot of plays as his teammates continually found him in open ice. 

Grosse Pointe South: Senior Forward Anderson Tigges

Tigges is solid on his feet. While he may not be the prettiest skater, he was able to navigate through traffic, absorb contact and maintain possession of the puck. A Red Stallions defender stepped up on Tigges in the neutral zone, and he was able to side step it, glance off the attacker and continue heading north with the puck without really breaking stride. Like a running back hitting the hole in football.  

Northville: Senior Forward Connor Vissotski

This was my second time seeing Vissotski in eight days. He looked even better the second time around too. Vissotski’s feet were buzzing, he supported the play well and he was crisp with his passes. Looked like the Mustangs best forward, if not, their best player overall. They inherited an injury or two this week, so Northville needed a big effort from Vissotski, and they got just that from their four-year captain. 

De La Salle: Sophomore Forward Shane Balten

The Pilots’ top line is solid. The next step for first-year coach Chad LaRose is to find and develop secondary scoring from the middle part of your lineup. Balten has a couple nice traits that I think could set him up for success. He’s a buzzsaw; feet never stop moving, and he competes really well. If you can channel those efforts, it could lead to successful forechecks, causing turnovers and creating scoring chances. 

U of D: Senior Forward Carter Cate

The game snowballs for Cate. One good play or two can turn into five, six, seven strong shifts in a row. Conversely, though, a bad shift or a frustrating penalty may throw Cate off his game a bit too. Nonetheless, Saturday was a game where one good scoring chance turned into a goal the following shift and another scoring chance the shift after that. Those momentum swings ultimately led to U of D pulling away from Salem with seven unanswered goals.

Salem: Junior Defenseman Cameron Eichner

What I liked most was Eichner constantly thinking a step ahead. As his D partner moved the puck to him on a regroup, he already knew what curling forward he was going to bump it up to before ever having possession. Same thing in the offensive zone, positioning himself into open shooting lanes before the puck ever made it to the point. He was prepared, with a good understanding of the game and where the play needed to go next.

Hartland: Junior Goalie Brady Hubenschmidt

He’s big, he’s athletic, he competes, and I’m sorry, but nobody else in Division-I — or the Top 10 — has a goalie like that! I don’t know that Hubenschmidt is the best goalie prospect, but he also doesn’t need to be for the Eagles to have a ton of success this season. If he makes the saves he’s supposed to, and can steal a few others he’s not expected to, the rest of the Hartland lineup is talented enough to skate and defend against literally anyone. 

Rice: Junior Defenseman Cam George

So smooth all over the ice, like, really smooth. He’d corral the puck on a retrieval, come around the net and position himself behind the puck and wire a pass to a teammate seamlessly. George’s hands, feet and eyes working together in rhythm, navigating around the rink with his head up and the puck always ready to be moved to an open teammate. Rice has a bunch of returning D, but George may have the highest ceiling of the bunch.

OLSM: Senior Forward Brennan Morgan

Morgan is really small, listed at just 5-foot-2, but I absolutely love his energy in the game. Feet are constantly buzzing, he’s flying around the rink, and just around the play a lot. His lack of size doesn’t stop him from impacting the game in some way. Morgan’s efforts led to him scoring a team-leading sixth goal this season and helping the Eaglets pick up their sixth win of the season. 

Howell: Senior Forward Joel Eskola

He’s a big forward who could play with speed and make some pretty fancy individual plays. Eskola scored back-to-back goals on Orchard Lake’s Will Keane. First, beating him with a forehand-backhand deke that froze the junior goalie. Then, on a similar 1-on-1 approach just a few minutes later, played head games a bit by shooting the puck short side when everyone in the building expected Eskola to throw a similar deke as the first goal. Bottom line, he’s a finisher.

Trenton: Sophomore Forward Gabriel Polyviou

Initially, I wanted to highlight a few of the Trojans’ defensemen because they had multiple guys that stood out, each for a different reason than the other. Ultimately though, Polyviou just possesses a unique combination of skating and puck skills that sets him apart from most at this level. He’s a well-rounded player and showed an ability to change directions swiftly with the puck on his stick. That propelled Polyviou into open space and gave him opportunities to make plays. 

Stevenson: Junior Forward Owen Hall

I love when hard-working players that do the right things get rewarded for their efforts. Hall is a hard-nosed, gritty forward who suffocates opponents with in-your-face pressure. That doesn’t always translate to offense, but it’s absolutely necessary to have in your lineup. Thankfully for Stevenson and Hall, that relentless work ethic led to Hall scoring the first two goals of the game and a team-high six goals on the season.

Brighton: Senior Forward Charlie Burchfield

He’s an agitator, stirring the pot and getting under the opponents’ skin. As a coach, I don’t love it because it typically leads to more problems than solutions (Ex. The end of the game on Saturday). However, I can still appreciate that style of play, so long as it doesn’t jeopardize team success. The Dogs were down four key players on Saturday, and Burchfield stepped up to play some of his most impactful hockey, prior to the third-period skirmish when the game was out of reach. 

Detroit Catholic Central: Junior Forward Peter Sanin

On a team that rolls four forward lines and has eight forwards averaging a point per game, it’s hard to stand out. There’s a lot of mouths to feed, and Sanin is starting to show why he deserves ‘a seat at the table’ so to speak. He made a nasty toe drag to get around Brighton’s John Benkner and followed it up with a backhand-forehand tuck past Levi Pennala. That was his first of two goals on what would be his second consecutive three-point night. 

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