KLAA Conference Preview

Brighton’s Best Are Back For Another Run At The Championship

Craig Peterson

November 3, 2023

Photo by Timothy Arrick | Livingston Daily
Photo by Timothy Arrick | Livingston Daily

The Kensington Lakes Activities Association (KLAA) is home to some of the best public school-based hockey programs in the state of Michigan. Member teams account for 10 of the last 16 state championships won by public schools. Brighton, Hartland, Stevenson and Novi all among those to reach the game’s summit since 2011. Howell and Livonia Churchill have also reached the state finals in that span as well. Ten teams split into two divisions, with a league format that concludes with a championship game between the top team from the East and West. 

Brighton was crowned champion of the KLAA last season for the first time since 2015. Hard to believe but speaks to the competitiveness of the league, considering the program has won two state championships in that time. The Bulldogs were the third different program to win the league title in as many seasons, with Stevenson and Hartland both claiming a championship as well. However, that turnover may come to a halt in ‘23-24, as Brighton returns a plethora of key players from last season’s squad.

As good as the top of the conference has been — Brighton, Hartland, Stevenson — other programs like Howell, Northville, Novi and Salem are very much on the rise. This season may prove to be the most competitive one in recent memory, even with the defending champ bringing back top scorer and junior prospect Cam Duffany

Improvements to the Highlanders’ roster has people taking notice, can they beat Hartland and Brighton in the same season? Coach Ryan Ossenmacher has the Mustangs heading in the right direction in Year 2, are they ready to contend? Will the co-op of Franklin and Churchill strengthen the Livonia United program into a contender in the East division? There’s a lot of familiarity across the KLAA this season, but plenty of unknowns that should make this winter a volatile one in the standings.

Last Season’s Champion: Brighton

Cam Duffany led all skaters in the KLAA in scoring last season. Levi Pennala was among the top goaltenders in the conference in terms of goals against and save percentage. Lane Petit, Charlie Burchfield, Aiden Seiter were all key contributors to Brighton’s success in ‘22-23. They won the KLAA West Division. Won the conference. Won a Division-I regional championship. Made it to the state finals… So what’s left for the Bulldogs’ Class of 2024 to accomplish?

A state championship, obviously. After winning four of seven Division-I titles between 2012 and 2018, the wooden mitten has eluded Brighton each of the last two seasons. Coach Kurt Kivisto and company will have to find a way to get over its biggest hurdle: Detroit Catholic Central. The two programs have gone head-to-head for the state championship six times in the last 10 years, with the Shamrocks victorious in four of them. Now, if ever there was a year where the Bulldogs were equipped to topple CC, it may be this year. The challenge will be, can players like Duffany and Petit and Seiter and others keep focus all season long and take care of business in the KLAA to put themselves in position of getting over that hump? 

League play may be the best it’s been in a decade, and will be a great test for the Bulldogs on a week-in, week-out basis. Use a Friday night matchup against Northville to sharpen your skills in a tight-checking game. Put Howell away in a close game on a Thursday before holiday break. You may get as many as three games this season against Hartland. Do you keep a clear head in an emotional rivalry game or get chippy in the midst of exhaustion against a familiar foe? There will be challenges aplenty for Brighton in the KLAA, all of which would serve as great preparation towards the program’s ultimate goal of winning a state title.

Players To Watch: 

Cam Duffany, Brighton Senior Forward

The most dynamic scorer in high school hockey this season. Duffany had 58 points as a junior and more than 100 in his career. A stunning feat, when you consider the level of competition he faces playing one of the toughest schedules in the game.

Ian Kastamo, Hartland Junior Forward

The Eagles graduated their top three scorers and starting goalie. To most, that’s a significant loss, but with Kastamo — and a few others — slated to step into a larger role, I expect Hartland to reload and contend in the league and the state once again.

Owen Hall, Stevenson Junior Forward

Prototypical Dave Mitchell forward who is relentless on the forecheck and makes a lot of good things happen. Every lineup needs a kid like Hall in it, who does dirty work that others aren’t willing to do. Still, he scored 20 points in 17 games as a sophomore for the Spartans.

Connor Vissotski, Northville Junior Forward

Scored nine points in 12 games, playing a significant role for the Mustangs despite playing just half the season. Vissotski’s healthy, at full strength, and Northville is ripe for a big year. I’m expecting both him and the program to have a huge ‘23-24 campaign.

Chad Pietila, Howell Sophomore Defenseman

A near point-per-game guy last season as a freshman; almost unheard of in the KLAA. Pietila will take on an even larger role in Year 2, and may be one of the best defensemen in the Class of 2026. 

Levi Pennala, Brighton Senior Goalie

Widely considered to be the top goalie in high school hockey entering this season, given his current body of work. Pennala has won 13 or more games each of the last two seasons, with half of them coming against MyHockeyRankings Top-25 teams.

Save The Date: Jan. 19th, Brighton vs. Hartland

Win the West, win the KLAA. 

The West Division consisting of Brighton, Hartland, Howell, Northville and Novi may be the toughest division in Michigan high school hockey this season. Initially, it comes down to Brighton and Hartland, as illustrated by the Save The Date. 

However, the Mustangs return a bunch and could have a ton of talented newcomers debuting too. I fully expect Northville to pull off multiple upsets this season that will stun the statewide landscape. I mentioned the Highlanders as well, and there’s plenty of talk about how strong they will be this season. Coach Rocky Johnson has a way of leaning on the ‘little brother’ narrative to the other two schools in Livingston County and I could see Howell knocking off Hartland, Brighton or both if all goes well. Novi could return as many as 12 players from the Class of 2024. They’ll have their sights set on a big campaign in their final year. 

I don’t think it’ll be easy, but ultimately, the West Division should come down to Brighton and Hartland. This could be the third time these two teams meet this season, as both play in a Holiday showcase as well as another matchup in mid-December. Whoever wins this matchup likely wins the West and should go on to win the conference.

Petey’s Prediction: Brighton

A lot has built up to this season and it just feels like Brighton’s year. Not just from a local standpoint, but at the state level too. They’re loaded, they’re experienced and looking around the Michigan high school hockey landscape, I don’t know that anyone else has that. It won’t be an easy road, as I alluded to the difficulty expected to be in the KLAA this season. From a state-level, everyone is still chasing DCC. However, players like Duffany, Petit, Pennala, Seiter and Burchfield put the Bulldogs in a starting position slightly ahead of the rest on Nov. 1st. 

They’re the team to beat in the KLAA and everyone — including Brighton — knows it. That does make me a little leery about this pick because of the energy every opponent brings into their game against the Dogs. In the opposite locker room is the pressure of expectations and striving for perfection every game, every period, every shift. Can this team be mentally tough enough to face adversity? Battle back from fluky goals? Play through bad penalties? I think they can, but as I said, it won’t be easy.

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