Five Teams under .500 I wouldn’t want to play

You’re judged by your W-L record, but does that really tell the whole story?

Craig Peterson

December 26, 2023

Photo from Instagram | @zachdelmonte
Photo from Instagram | @zachdelmonte

It’s not officially the halfway point of the season, but winter break always feels like a good time to assess and evaluate. For a few days, every team in the state pauses game action and celebrates the holiday season. That gives a lot of us a chance to catch our breath a little bit and analyze what we’ve done thus far, and address any changes needed to be made moving forward.

Most Michigan high school hockey teams have played eight, nine, maybe 10 games to this point. Country Day, Wyandotte and Riverview-Cabrini have completed as many as 14 games before the New Year. Others like Chippewa Valley United and Northville have only played eight to this point in the calendar. Regardless, all 129 teams have assembled an appropriate body of work that most talking heads like myself can begin to draw some conclusions.

The old coaches’ adage of ‘you are what you’re record says your are’ is hard to dispute. However, I do think there’s a few teams who have shown to be much more dangerous than their sub-.500 winning records would suggest. Here’s a few teams that I would not want to play on the other side of Holiday Break.

There’s more to Grand Rapids Christian than goaltending

I was torn between Mona Shores and Jenison on the west side. The Sailors can put things together offensively; four goals against Traverse City Central, three goals against East Grand Rapids, five goals against Forest Hills Central! They may have a 4-7-0 record and losers in their last four, but Mona has shown to be dangerous enough and an ability offensively to score on just about anybody.

Then I looked at Jenison and thought the opposite. This is a team that’s pretty tough defensively. Sure, they’ve been held to two-or-fewer goals in four of their nine games, but the Wildcats have held Chip Valley to just two goals, and — if not for one bad period of hockey — would have kept things close with EGR. The Wildcats were as frustrating defensively as the Sailors were successful offensively.

That was a long intro just to point out that while Mona and Jenison have strengths in opposite ends of the rink, Grand Rapids Christian may be the one that’s putting it together in all three zones. 

The Eagles lost their first four games of the season, held to one goal or less in three of those outings. In that stretch, though, goaltender Brayden Melinn held No. 3 Byron Center, Grand Rapids Catholic Central and Forest Hills Northern-Eastern to low-scoring games. GRC was getting good performances in net, and offensively, the team turned a bit of a corner with the Allen Park game. 

Leading scorer Josh VanSchepen has scored 14 of his 16 points in the month of December. Ethan Ogle and Jack Micus have started to click on the back end as well. Plus, Josh Hooper is finding the back of the net now, with five goals in the last four games.

There’s some tough games on the horizon like Clarkston coming right out of winter break, EGR a second time and closing out the regular season with Forest Hills Central. I may still consider them underdogs in those matchups, but that doesn’t mean I wanna line up across from ‘em either. 

A young Traverse City West is only going to get better

They’re 4-5-0 with a minus-four goal differential. Traverse City West hasn’t been able to find consistency in the win column but every game has certainly been close. All but one loss has been a ‘pull your goalie’ type game; one-goal, two-goal, three-goal defeats. 

Even the 7-3 loss to Escanaba, not to make excuses, but a Saturday game coming off of Thanksgiving. You haven’t practiced in a couple days. Get out to a slow start, and down 4-0 before you can get your legs under you. West got going as the game went on, and even won the third period against a talented Eskymos squad. 

When you’re below .500 and more talented than your record indicates, it’s those moral victories that tell more of the real story.

Defenseman Kallen Ray looked like the best player on the ice when I watched West upend Traverse City Central earlier this month. Leading scorer Brandon Meyers is starting to come through in big moments as well; he has points in seven of the team’s nine games. It’s a small and young team for coach Anthony Palumbo. But with every game, that group of five juniors, seven sophomores and six freshmen get more experienced and more dangerous for upcoming opponents.

It’s a tough back-half of the schedule; Forest Hills Central, Port Huron Northern and Saline, plus two teams they’ve already lost to once before (Alpena and Petoskey). The Titans may even finish the season with a losing record. However, this young squad with a battle-tested resume may enter the Division-I playoffs as the favorite to win Region 1, come the end of the season.

Top guys heating up for St. Clair Shores Unified

Aside from their 8-3 loss to Midland Dow, St. Clair Shores Unified has been ‘in the fight’ even in defeat. There’s more to the Lakers here than their 3-7-0 record would suggest. Close calls with Anchor Bay, L’Anse Creuse Unified, Port Huron Northern and an OT loss to Romeo. Even the Dow game was a one-goal score at the halfway point. A few bounces here or there, and SCS Unified’s record could be inverted entirely. 

Goaltending didn’t start out strong, allowing almost four goals against per game in the month of November. But the holiday season has been pretty good to goaltenders William Young and Brendan Dreisbach. They’ve allowed three goals or less in three of their last four starts. 

The Lakers ride a small two-game win streak into the holiday break. Six skaters are near point-per-game guys, including leading scorer Brennen Lenk. The junior forward has four multi-point games and junior defenseman Dylan Dzikowski is making plays from the backend as well. With 15 games remaining on the schedule, I think SCS Unified could play above-.500 hockey the rest of the way. That would be a stark contrast from the 1-5-0 start they got out to in November.

Braeden McNamara is dynamic for Divine Child

Similar to SCS Unified, a few pucks bounce a different way for Divine Child, and their 6-7-0 record could look much different. 

Winners of three of the last four, and four of the last six, the Falcons will have a chance to prove who they really are in the second half of the season. They’ll have a chance to avenge three of their losses with Metro League rematches towards the end of January and early February. Plus, tough matchups with Port Huron Northern and Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard will be opportunities to bolster their resume back up. 

The offense was buzzing heading into the holidays, thanks in large part to junior forward Braeden McNamara and his 13-game point streak. That is the longest active point streak in the state, and McNamara is tied for sixth in scoring with 29 points. He’ll be a matchup nightmare for just about everyone else remaining on the schedule in 2024. Defenseman Alessandro DiDomenico has found some success as of late as well. Five goals from the blue line in his last four games, and nine of his 15 points coming in the month of December.

Colin Tomaszycki has seen a ton of pucks come his way. The 419 shots he’s seen come his way are the fifth-most in the state thus far. DC will have to tighten up defensively coming out of break, but they did show signs of doing just that in the final weeks of 2023. They gave up just one goal to each of Woodhaven and Riverview-Cabrini, and played even hockey with Canton after the first period.

Can underclassmen keep winning for Calumet?

‘Never judge a U.P. team until after the New Year.’ It’s a pretty common phrase amongst Michigan high school hockey coaches, given the among of hockey players shaking off the rust from football season. 

Calumet is young this season with just two seniors on the roster. Both of them are playing key roles, though, with Cam Anderson leading the team in scoring and Hunter Tuoriniemi playing all 473 minutes in net. The Copper Kings were winless in their first eight games of the season, but finally got that elusive ‘W’ right before holiday break. It was a big one too, 4-3 over another young and talented Escanaba squad. All four goals came from underclassmen, with Erik Loukus, Ben Anderson, Brendan Boberg and Luca Matous finding the back of the net.

They’ve got tough non-conference opponents ahead. Brighton, U of D Jesuit, Brother Rice and Northville all come to town next month. Plus, Calumet will make an appearance at the MIHL Showcase, and draw Great Lakes Conference matchups with Hancock, Marquette and Houghton

The losses may continue to come for a while for the Copper Kings. A perfect storm of a young and learning team going up against a gauntlet of a schedule. But mark my words, this squad is absolutely going to win at least one — maybe multiple games — against the teams mentioned in the previous paragraph. It may be hard to see at the moment, sitting at 1-6-2 overall. However, this season of growing pains and learning experiences may lead to much bigger and better results in the future for Calumet.

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