Oakland Activities Association Preview

Can Anyone Slow Down Clarkston?

Craig Peterson

October 10, 2023

Photo from Instagram | @clarkstonhockey
Photo from Instagram | @clarkstonhockey

The short answer is no, no one can stop Clarkston in the Oakland Activities Association (OAA). If you’ve been listening to me on the podcast, I’ve been praising the potential of this Clarkston team since August. They were undefeated until January 13th last season, finishing with a 21-3-2 record. The Wolves graduated seven seniors in the spring, and three of them led the team in scoring. Doesn’t matter. Owen Croston may be the best player in the state, plus Ron Wade returns as Clarkston’s top scorer a season ago. Evan Adams, Trey Damian on the back end. Brady Damian in net. Jump on the rocket ship now, baby! Clarkston stock is going to the moon!

In all seriousness, coach Nathan Bryer has done a pretty remarkable job at Clarkston entering just his fourth season with the program. After back-to-back losing seasons, the Wolves won more games in ‘22-23 than they did in the previous two seasons combined. I don’t believe that’s a flash in the pan, but more a sign of things to come. Bryer has the Wolves in legitimate state title contention, and is set up for not just seasonal success, but long-term promise.

Since splitting into two divisions in ‘20-21, six different programs have won division championships in the OAA. Lake Orion and M-1 United have both had strong moments in recent memory, not just in association play, but at the state level as well. Clarkston — and maybe Stoney Creek, to a degree — have taken the mantle so to speak, as the ‘class of the county.’ However, the Red Division in particular, has been wildly competitive with just five points separating the second-place team from the fifth-place team last season.

Last Season’s Champion: Clarkston and Stoney Creek

Winning a league championship is the goal for just about every team in the state. I’m sure repeating as OAA champs is on Clarkston’s ‘To-Do List’ but there are certainly bigger fish to fry this season as well. The non-conference schedule definitely gets tougher. That says a lot, given the ‘22-23 slate included the likes of Detroit Catholic Central, Salem and Mona Shores. This winter includes a four-team holiday tournament with the likes of Brighton, Hartland and Forest Hills Central. That has the potential to be a showcase where all four teams rank among the Top 10 in the state. 

A regional championship should be the goal. A trip to Plymouth should be the goal. Hell, a state championship should be the goal for this team! But it’d be really hard to achieve any of those goals if you don’t accomplish an OAA championship first. 

Stoney Creek’s 20-8-1 record was its best season in a decade. I don’t know if they can replicate a Division-I State Quarterfinal appearance from last spring. I only say that because making it to the “Elite Eight” and beyond is so tough to do just once, let alone twice in a row. However, when you return players like Carson Cagigal and Tyler Burns, among others, I do think the Cougars could build upon their regular season success. They’re not as deep or as talented as their Clarkston counterparts. But good coaching, structure and discipline in games can be the ultimate equalizer. 

As much as Clarkston’s focus shifts to statewide success, I think Stoney Creek’s attention should be solely focused on Clarkston. These are two programs on similar trajectories, just at different stages of the process. I feel like Stoney Creek is where Clarkston was a year or two ago, and Clarkston is where Stoney Creek could be in the near future. The Cougars’ next hurdle in the process is competing with and beating Clarkston. Achieve that goal and the focus shifts to state-level accolades.

Players To Watch: 

Owen Croston, Clarkston Senior Forward

All the makings of a high-level junior prospect. He’s got size, strength, plays with speed and competes constantly. Croston scored 20 goals and 30 points, but he may double that total year-over-year as a senior.

Ron Wade, Clarkston Senior Forward

May be the only leading scorer in any conference to return this season. Everyone else has graduated. Wade scored 23 goals and 59 points as a sophomore, and has 89 points in his young career. 

Charlie Price, M-1 United Junior Forward

He scored a point in all but three games for M-1 last season. Price is a quiet producer, who won’t dazzle or overwhelm you with his play on the ice. Yet he will end up with two, three, four, even five points on the scoresheet by the end of the night. 

Carson Cagigal, Stoney Creek Senior Forward

Missed nine games to start the season last year, but upon his return, the Cougars averaged 1.2 goals per game more with Cagigal in the lineup. He can absolutely fuel an offense, recording multiple points in 12 of 20 games as a junior.

Tyler Burns, Stoney Creek Senior Defenseman

The top scoring defenseman in the association as a junior, Burns may need to play an even bigger role for the Cougars this winter. He had 35 points — 11 of which came on the power play — and will provide a sense of stability for a program that graduated nine seniors.

Brady Damian, Clarkston Sophomore Goalie

All the top goalies in the OAA have graduated. The title of top ‘tender is wide open and Damian may find himself in a timeshare in net. However, he certainly has an opportunity to garner some recognition in the association, and statewide as well. 

Petey’s Prediction: Clarkston and Stoney Creek

There isn’t much more I can say about Clarkston, other than teams I think could give them trouble along the way this season. Lake Orion, obviously, is the big rivalry but the Dragons haven’t won in this matchup since Feb. 5, 2022. The Dragons were a bit top-heavy last season and those top scorers have since graduated. I’ll have to wait and see what LO has coming in before making any bold claims of an upset there. Birmingham Unified was the only OAA team to defeat Clarkston last season, when Joaquin Robinson made 35 saves in an overtime win. They, too, graduated some of their top performers, including Robinson. Rochester United is one of my favorite programs in the state, although I don’t really know why. They always seem to compete, even in defeat, with four of their losses last season coming by just one goal.

Clarkston and Stoney Creek had already set themselves apart from the bunch, and then the bunch just graduated everything they had. It’s addition by subtraction for the Division favorites in my opinion. There’s a ton of turnover across the board for teams in the association, with the exception of the Wolves and the Cougars.

If there’s a team to upend the applecart, it’s M-1 United. Returning leading scorer Charlie Price, and even having juniors Zach Steiner and Kyle Paswater is a huge luxury. Especially when you consider what other teams had to replace this offseason. Can the goaltending improve enough to give the Griffins a chance against potent offenses though?

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