Byron Center puts undefeated streak on the line against Bay Reps

Non-conference clash headlines the first weekend of 2024, plenty of intriguing matchups on the calendar

Craig Peterson

January 4, 2024

Photo from Instagram | @imagodeiphotography_
Photo from Instagram | @imagodeiphotography_

Happy New Year! That’s right. New year, new picks! Everything we did in the first half of the season gets wiped clean, and we can start 2024 fresh with the picks. Right? Agh, was worth a shot. I mean after all, I am trailing the public by one win despite having picked more games than you guys as well! Anyway, I digress. An update on the records:

Petey: 46-28-2
Public: 47-23-3

Let me forewarn everyone leading into this weekend. First game, first weekend coming out of holiday break is always a difficult one, regardless of previous records, heavy favorites, etc. As coaches, this weekend was one we always struggled with. Two weeks without games for most teams. Some teams were on the ice, some weren’t. Even within a particular team, some kids were on the ice and some weren’t! It’s just a tricky and difficult time navigating the holiday season and having that balance between family time and trips, while also staying sharp on the ice and not losing a step either. Hated dealing with it as a coach, but definitely intrigued by the volatility this week with the picks! Plenty of potential upsets loom in the first action of 2024, let’s get into it.

Livonia United vs. Farmington United
Friday, 6pm @ Eddie Edgar Ice Arena

It’s the second time this season that these two teams clash; a bit unusual for non-conference opponents. Livonia United scored three unanswered to pull away 8-4 back in November. However, coach Anthony Leitz has been steadily building Farmington United over the past few seasons, and I think this has the potential to be his biggest win to date with the program. It’s a KLAA opponent, on the road, and top scorers Ryan Elenich and Brady Brink just might be catching the Stallions at the right time. First game out of winter break is always a tricky one, but I like Farmington to get out to a better start this time around and come away with a huge program-building type win.

Petey’s Pick: Farmington United

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Mona Shores vs. Birmingham Unified
Friday, 7pm @ Muskegon

Birmingham opens up 2024 with a West Coast swing through Mona Shores on Friday, and Grand Rapids Christian the following night. Both are tough matchups, and both worthy of being highlighted in the Games of the Week. But I’m gonna focus on the first matchup in particular because it could really set the tone for the rest of the trip for BU. The Sailors have seen a boatload of high-scoring games; nine of 12 seeing six-or-more goals. And, as much as they score, they’re just as susceptible to giving up goals in bunches as well. This is a spot where Birmingham’s offense — scoring three-or-more goals just four times — may have an opportunity to open up for guys like Wagner Carrel and Nathaniel Bloom and produce big numbers. High-scoring game, be sure to take the over on 6.5 goals!

Petey’s Pick: Birmingham Unified

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M-1 United vs. Plymouth
Friday, 7:30pm @ John Lindell Ice Arena

These two teams are back-to-back in the latest MyHockeyRankings, and while I expect this to be a good game, it feels like a runaway pick to me. M-1 United thumped Novi 6-0 in the first week of December; a team that I think is quite comparable to Plymouth as both are similar KLAA teams. The Griffins are white hot with a 9-1-0 record and leading scorer Charlie Price’s eight-game point streak may not end for quite some time. The Wildcats have been a little streaky this season, and that’s always a challenge after being off for two weeks. M-1 wins comfortably over a KLAA opponent for the second time this season.

Petey’s Pick: M-1 United

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St. Clair Shores Unified vs. Chippewa Valley United
Friday, 7:30pm @ St. Clair Shores Civic Arena

Two teams that are looking to create separation in the Macomb Area Conference (MAC). It’s a league that sees a lot of offense, with member programs averaging 7.77 total goals per game, and both Chip Valley and SCS being right about the average. Biggest difference though, is Chip Valley has been on the winning end of its fair share while the Lakers have only scored four-or-more goals three times this season. Kevin Dolney and Cameron Staskowski are a real good tandem offensively, and I don’t know that SCS has an answer for them up front. Another game I’d hammer the over of 6.5 goals on, with Chip Valley winning a busy game for the scorekeeper.

Petey’s Pick: Chippewa Valley United

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Portage vs. Midland
Saturday, 10am @ Lakeshore Sports Centre

My New Year’s resolution is to watch more Saginaw Valley League (SVL) teams in action. Starts with this intriguing non-conference matchup between Midland and Portage. The Muskies are another team on my watchlist, so I’ll be paying close attention on Saturday morning. Portage junior forward Cayden Stasienko may be the best player on the ice when these two teams clash. But the Chemics counter with a pretty young and dynamic bunch of their own. Cade Sanborn is the team’s leading scorer with nine goals and 16 points, and Lucas Mankoff, Ben Wessel and Gibby Medina provide good secondary options as well. If it was an NHL Playoffs series, these two teams would absolutely go seven games. It’s close, it’s low scoring, and Midland steals a win from a team I think might actually be a little bit more talented than them.

Petey’s Pick: Midland

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Hancock vs. Cap City
Saturday, 1pm @ Houghton County Arena

Cap City is gonna win this game. Period. Look, it should be a great game, great matchup, I love that it’s on the schedule for both teams. Hancock is very disciplined, hard on pucks and heavy on a forecheck. Plus, sophomore Todd Kilpela will be the best player on the ice for either team. But I’m telling you, there’s something special about this Caps team. Chase Potter is an exceptional talent, and he’s only a sophomore. Aidan McGonigal, Will Tucker and Trevor Nightingale are all effective in their own right as well. Not to mention, their depth guys, third- and fourth-line effort guys, play a super disciplined and well-coached game. Cap City is going to win some games over the next few years that stuns people across the state… and I think this is one of them. 

Petey’s Pick: Cap City

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Midland Dow vs. Traverse City West
Saturday, 2:30pm @ Midland Civic Arena

Dow is on a four-game winning streak and victorious in five of its last six. While TC West checks in 14 spots behind the Chargers in the latest MyHockeyRankings, they are certainly not a team I’d want on the schedule right now. The Titans are just 5-7-0, but showed why I think they’re so dangerous over holiday break when they beat Saginaw Heritage 4-3 in overtime. That’s the same Heritage team that defeated Dow 5-3 earlier in the season. Now, West did need a 41-save performance from Alonso Ovaitt to pull off that upset, but it illustrates how sneaky this Titans team can be. Is it enough to upend Midland Dow in the first weekend of the New Year? I say yes.

Petey’s Pick: Traverse City West

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Sault Ste. Marie vs. De La Salle
Saturday, 3pm @ Big Bear Arena

Sault Ste. Marie may be the most slept on team in the state. They won 20 games a season ago, they’re 8-4-0 this season with wins over Traverse City Central and Lumen Christi, and played Top-20 opponent Marquette tough not once but twice! Three-year goalie Michael Bontrager has been solid with a 2.03 goals-against average and first-year senior Cam LaBadie has impressed as well with a 1.68 goals-against and .926 save percentage. De La Salle doesn’t exactly have a high-powered offense, so a 2-1 or 3-2 type of game would only benefit the Blue Devils here. If SSM can pull off the upset, I’d argue it to be the program’s biggest win in recent memory upending a Top-10 team in the state. 

Petey’s Pick: Sault Ste. Marie

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Byron Center vs. Bay Reps
Saturday, 3pm @ Southside Ice Arena

This is, the main event of the weekend! Undefeated Byron Center hosts fellow Top-10 team Bay Reps on Saturday afternoon. The Reps play GRCC the night before, which will be no easy task. Grant Lucas — fresh off of signing an NAHL tender — is playing some of his best hockey with his state-leading 26 goals and 41 points. Lucas just eclipsed the 100-point plateau in his Michigan high school hockey career as well. On the opposite side, though, sit two other members of the 100-point club in Byron Center’s Cade Pratt and Jackson Froysland. Both are playing exceptional hockey as well, with Pratt riding a 17-game point streak that dates all the way back to last February. It’s going to be a heavyweight bout with plenty of drama and excitement, but I think the home ice plays a huge advantage in this one. Aaaaaaaand still undefeated!

Petey’s Pick: Byron Center

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