Big North Conference Preview

Is this the year Traverse City Central gets over the hump in league play?

Craig Peterson

October 19, 2023

Photo by Mike Krebs | Traverse City Record Eagle
Photo by Mike Krebs | Traverse City Record Eagle

A small, but definitely mighty conference; the Big North certainly lives up to its name. A six-team league that includes heavy hitters like Traverse City Central, Traverse City West and Alpena. Not to mention, schools like Gaylord and Petoskey that have both won regional championships as recently as four and five years ago.

The Big North championship has come down to the final games of the season each of the last two years. Both times, it was TCC coming up just short in its pursuit of eventual champions Petoskey (in 2022) and Alpena (in 2023). A puck bounces a different way or a game result breaks another direction, and either one of the last two championships could have gone to the Trojans. However, it was Alpena’s 10-0-0 run in conference action that clinched the title last winter. The Wildcats return a few key pieces this fall, as do a few other programs in the conference. So, the Big North should once more be a hotly contested league in Michigan high school hockey. Likely to come down to the final few games of the season yet again.

Last Season’s Champion: Alpena

The Wildcats were undefeated in-conference and a 22-3-0 record overall. It was the program’s first league championship since ‘18-19 and just the second on file with The Hub. They also reached the state tournament for the fourth time in five seasons, achieving not just local but statewide success.

Anden Marceau, Harrison Kaszubowski and Reid Meinhardt finished one, two and three in the Big North in scoring in ‘22-23. However, Marceau has since graduated and pursued a junior hockey career while Kaszubowski and Meinhardt explore alternative routes. While the Wildcats graduated 10 seniors — and likely lost two additional key returners — there’s still a lot to like about them this coming season. Luke Miller was a top performer at the 2023 MHA Showcase, and Brady Misiak and Gavin Winterstein showed well against top-level competition. Plus, Garrett Hamp as a junior… Alpena will be dangerously young but a wealth of promising talent and skilled players. 

Players To Watch: 

Brandon Meyers, Traverse City West Senior Forward

Born in Landstuhl, Germany, Meyers enters his fourth season of Michigan high school hockey. He’s coming off of a 40-point season as a junior, and a 10-point campaign in the Michigan Developmental Hockey League (MDHL) this fall.

Bryton Thaxton, Gaylord Junior Forward

Recorded a hat trick five times last season alone, recording 27 goals and 41 points in 26 games. Thaxton factored in on 65 percent of all Blue Devils goals as a sophomore, and may somehow be depended on for more offensive production as a junior.

Graham Peters, Traverse City Central Sophomore Forward

The Trojans graduated a bunch of key contributors. However, there’s a strong contingent of underclassmen like Peters, Luke Weaver and Luke Vander Roest who will be called upon to carry a significant workload this season.

Luke Miller, Alpena Sophomore Defenseman

He was one of my favorite players at the 2023 MHA Showcase. A very talented and skilled defenseman with great footwork. Miller is a promising high school prospect who’s hitting his stride at the same time his team is in need of a player — or players — to step up.

Kallen Ray, Traverse City West Junior Defenseman

A near point-per-game guy for the Titans last season as a sophomore. Ray has logged big minutes on the blue line and earned a great amount of experience already. I think he steps into the next phase of the process and shows flashes of dominating high school hockey games.

John Rensberry, Alpena Senior Goalie

Been with the program for four seasons now, and may finally get his shot at being ‘the guy’ in net. He’s backed up some pretty top notch goaltenders during his tenure, but now as a senior, the Wildcats will likely lean on him to provide stability during a bit of a ‘rebuilding’ season.

Save The Date: Dec. 23rd, Givens Bowl XIV

Well Christmas might be a little awkward this year. 

Traverse City Central head coach Chris Givens will clash with his son Cam Givens — assistant coach for Alpena — less than 48 hours before Santa is slated to slide down the chimney. Dad holds a slight 7-6-0 advantage in the record books going back six seasons. However, son Cam has been on the winning side each of the last three meetings and the Wildcats are the reigning conference champs.

The two teams will meet again later in the season (Jan. 24th), so high school hockey will once again be able to enjoy the Givens Family Feud. The matchup right before the holidays seems to be a bit more important though. Being able to sit up a little higher and puff your chest out a bit more while sitting around the dinner table for a holiday feast. 

Petey’s Prediction: Traverse City West

It feels like a weird year for Big North hockey. Comparing my deep dive into this conference to the other leagues I’ve broken down thus far, the Big North waters seem to be the most muddied. TCC, TCW and Alpena all graduated key contributors, and return almost no significant sources of offense from a season ago. Goaltenders, same thing. The conference from afar looks very young. Hell, four of the six players I highlighted in the section above are underclassmen! 

The Wildcats could be rebuilding a bit, coming off of a league championship last winter. Both Traverse City teams could get out to slower starts, as they also look to replenish lost weapons. That may even open the door for Gaylord — who returns a pair of starting goalies and a top forward — to close the gap a bit between the top and bottom of the conference. Not to mention, Petoskey is only 18 months removed from being champion of this conference itself!

I think the ‘23-24 Big North could unfold similar to the ‘17-18 campaign in a few ways. First, every team in the league finished with multiple losses that season. It was rich with parity and no one team really separated itself from the pack. And second, TC West — who got out to a slow start that year with a 3-4-2 record — went on to win the league. Of all the players returning to their respective teams, I gotta think the Titans are sitting in the best starting position with leading scorer Brandon Meyers and top D-man Kallen Ray

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