MIHL Conference Preview

Is it possible for the best conference in high school hockey to get better?

Craig Peterson

November 3, 2023

Photo by Brandon Folsom | HometownLife.com
Photo by Brandon Folsom | HometownLife.com

The Michigan Interscholastic Hockey League (MIHL) is the best league in all of Michigan high school hockey. I wish things were different. I’d love to offer up a debate or counterpoint. It’s even a little hard for me to say that out loud and admit it, but there is no other conference like the MIHL. It’s the equivalent of the SEC in college football. Hate ‘em because you ain’t ‘em, the 10-team league in metro Detroit is like pro wrestling’s greatest heel of all-time. Member teams have won 34 of the past 60 state championships, with winners at all three divisions, including a clean sweep in 2021.

Take a look around the league. Gaze into the rafters at Cranbrook’s Wallace Ice Arena, and you’ll see more hanging banners than Little Caesars Arena. Take in the game day presentation from the family suites, staged high above the ice at Trenton. Watch Detroit Catholic Central stroll off their charter bus in matching game day attire, with a 35-game in-state win streak in tow. Everything about this league is all business. It’s as if the Eden Hall Warriors played in a league with eight other Eden Hall Warriors schools.

To further illustrate the league’s dominance, the KLAA-MIHL Showcase was created seven years ago to pit the top two conferences in MI-HS against each other. Every win earns a point for the team’s respective conference in a weekend competition. The MIHL has won it every year since it started. Not enough? CC, the top team in the MIHL, hasn’t lost a game to a non-league opponent since 2018!

It is the best league in all of Michigan high school hockey, and there’s a ton of teams and players to get into, so let’s get started.

Last Season’s Champion: Detroit Catholic Central

The Shamrocks are to the MIHL what the MIHL is to high school hockey. There’s really no denying this program’s historic run that they are on currently. I mentioned CC’s current win streak earlier. They’ve also won the last four Division-I state championships, collecting all of the league titles along the way as well. I don’t care about turnover, or who they graduated, or how young they are coming in, CC is the top team in the MIHL — and the state — until they’re not.

What I mean by that is, until someone in the league can prove otherwise, there’s no reason to think the Shamrocks won’t continue to roll. They’ve got weapons like Jackson Walsh, Andrew Atala, Sebastiano Iavasile and Josh Granowicz, among several others.

Unbeaten in league-play dating all the way back to February of 2021, only three teams in the league have beaten DCC since coach Brandon Kaleneicki took over in 2015. Unfortunately for the rest of the MIHL, there may not be much reason to suspect that trend changes any time soon.

Players To Watch: 

Jackson Walsh, DCC Senior Forward

Potential to be the best forward in the state. Walsh dominated the Michigan Developmental Hockey League (MDHL) this fall after being a top performer on Team Michigan last spring and producing a 39-point season for CC as a junior.

Carter Cate, U-D Jesuit Senior Forward

I think the Cubs take a huge step this season, as does Cate, and a few others on the roster. He scored 18 goals and 25 points in 28 games last season, and was a standout for the Michigan Hockey Advancement (MHA) 18U tournament team this fall. 

Dylan Blackwood, De La Salle Junior Forward

Showed an ability to be explosive at times with the puck on his stick. Blackwood scored 15 points in his first season of high school hockey in ‘22-23. Still young, with two full seasons ahead of him, Blackwood could play a key role in the Pilots’ future moving forward.

Cameron George, Brother Rice Senior Defenseman

A type of D-man you can take for granted sometimes because he doesn’t make the flashy, dynamic plays that catch your eye. George, however, is one of the most steady, calm and composed defensemen in all of high school hockey, with a very high ceiling.

Roman Cicco, Cranbrook Senior Defenseman

A tournament team defenseman for the MDHL this fall, Cicco’s footwork is very impressive and keeps him involved in the play all over the ice. Had 15 points and could play a large role this season for the Cranes looking to bounce back from a seven-win season. 

Will Keane, OLSM Junior Goalie

A massive goaltender that takes up a ton of the net with his long and lanky frame. Don’t overlook Keane’s athleticism either. He’s very agile, capable of sprawling when needed and making big-time saves. Only played three games as a sophomore but should step into a much larger role in ‘23-24.

Save The Date: Nov. 22nd, DCC vs. Brother Rice

Set to play twice this season, the Shamrocks and Warriors clash in one of the greatest rivalries in all of Michigan high school hockey. CC has won six in a row in this series, and 10 of the last 11 dating back to 2017. Not only have they been dominated in the series, but Rice has lost quite a bit from a season ago. Recent grads Andrew Marone and Peter Rosa accounted for 52.2 percent of the team’s offense last season, and while the Warriors have a tendency to reload, that’s still a significant loss. They’ll need players like Johnny Kunz and Andrew Lindsay to make a big jump this season, but the good news is, they’re absolutely capable of doing just that.

On the other side, CC’s outgoing class of 12 seniors is actually one of the program’s smaller ones on record in recent years. That means even despite graduating top scorers Landon West and Ryan Wantuck, the Shamrocks could return as many as 14 players from a season ago. They are deep up front with two legit, top-level scoring lines. This has the potential to be a very close game, that I actually think Rice has a better chance at winning than many will give them credit for at present day.

Petey’s Prediction: Detroit Catholic Central

They’re the No. 1 team in the MIHL and the No. 1 team in the state until they’re not. I’m not going to give you some hot take on another team being at the top of my rankings, or discredit the run that CC has been on. The Shamrocks are the pick to win it because they’ve done so year after year after year, and anything contradictory is just wasted air.

I will say, though, the MIHL appears to be exceptionally strong this season. A team like U-D Jesuit is ripe for a breakout with a boatload of promising prospects. Rice, as I mentioned in the previous section, will be capable of keeping pace with Shamrocks. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s may have the best goalie in the league — and maybe the state — in Will Keane. I fully expect coach John LaFontaine and Cranbrook to bounce back from a challenging season last winter, as those young players come back a bit more experienced. Trenton, De La Salle, Grosse Pointe South and Port Huron Northern are always tough. There really is no easy out in the MIHL anymore, so even as dominant as CC has been, I fully expect it to be a gauntlet, more so than its been in recent years.

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