OK Conference Preview

The West’s Best Still Belongs to Byron Center

Craig Peterson

November 1, 2023

Photo by Hockey Weekly
Photo by Hockey Weekly

Michigan High School Hockey’s largest league in terms of members, the OK Conference is made up of 18 teams across three different divisions. Not only is there a large number of teams, but an incredible amount of parity between the top, middle and bottom.

The three divisions — Fischer, Baum and Rue — are structured similar to that of soccer in Europe. Based on season-end standings, top teams in lower divisions are ‘promoted’ while bottom teams in upper divisions are ‘relegated.’ That format splits the top 12 programs into two divisions: Rue and Baum. The remaining six compete in the Fischer Division. Win the Fischer Division and get promoted to the O-Show. Finish last amongst the big boys, and drop down to the Fischer. This makes for highly competitive league-play across the board for all teams involved.

For the upcoming season, Hudsonville earned itself a promotion to the Rue after going 10-3-0 in Fischer Division action in ‘22-23. West Ottawa, on the other hand, was relegated for the first time since ‘17-18. 

I love the structure of the OKC, and the passionate rivalries encapsulated by its teams. Not to mention, some of the top-level talent it has produced in recent years as well as promising prospects set to join the fray this fall.

Last Season’s Champion: Byron Center

No longer a flash in the pan, the Bulldogs are very much here to stay on the statewide stage. Byron Center has won five consecutive regional championships, coming off of its second ever State Final appearance last March. They graduated long-standing, key contributors in three-year letterman Logan Nickolaus and four-year letterman Brady Breit. In their wake steps in high-flying forwards Jackson Froysland and Cade Pratt

Here’s where I was alluding to BC being here to stay. The program isn’t just producing one-off prospects like Nickolaus — who’s playing in the NAHL this season — but they’re filling those voids with another wave of top talent. Froysland may be the best forward in West Michigan this winter, and is highly regarded after skating with Team Michigan and the Michigan Developmental Hockey League (MDHL) this off-season. Pratt was also in attendance at both of those major events. For the Bulldogs to have a pair of top prospects returning really cements themselves as not just a top team on the west side, but in the entire state.

Players To Watch: 

Jackson Froysland, Byron Center Senior Forward

Finished last season with 61 points in 30 games. Seventeen of those came in the playoffs too, so Froysland has a proven track record of performing in big games. The Bulldogs will be a team to beat in the OKC — and in the state — with Froysland and Cade Pratt being a dangerous duo.

Tyler Tindall, Reeths-Puffer Junior Forward

Led the Rockets in scoring as a sophomore with 29 goals and 54 points in his first season of high school hockey. With experience under his belt, and Jaxon Stone on his line, the tandem could improve on Reeths-Puffer’s 19 wins from a ‘22-23.

Ian MacKeigan, East Grand Rapids Senior Forward

The Pioneers return a good amount from their State Final squad last season. That includes four of their top five scorers, with MacKeigan leading a very balanced attack up front. He was one of nine skaters who were double digits in points for EGR.

Gibson Grendel, FHC Junior Defenseman

Has all the tools you love to see in a young D-man. Pretty footwork, plays with pace, aggressive without being reckless. Grendel was a point-per-game guy for the Rangers as a sophomore, and if he continues to develop, could be among the best Class of 2025 defensemen.

Jack Micus, GR Christian Junior Defenseman

A quiet stat line of 13 points last season, and that kind of reflects his unassuming play in-game. Micus is a very steady defenseman with great size and reach, who seems to hover above the ice as he moves. Came back this fall as one of the top defenders for Team Green in the MDHL.

Trent Goheen, GRCC Senior Goalie

I think the Cougars could be really good this season with a pretty large senior class coming back from ‘22-23. Goheen may be the best goalie west of Interstate-127, and strong play in net is the ultimate equalizer. He’s about to be a three-year starter, which is a rare commodity for coach Mike Slobodnik. 

Save The Date: Dec. 2nd, War of the Woods

This is one of my favorite rivalries in Michigan high school hockey. Forest Hills Central (FHC) takes on Forest Hills Northern-Eastern (FHNE) in a Baum Division matchup. It’s the first of two scheduled meetings between the cross-town rivals who will fight for the forest. Really, I just love the alliteration at play here with the matchup… ‘War of the Woods’ and ‘Fight for the Forest’ I mean come on!

FHNE has won seven of the last 10 meetings, and you gotta go all the way back to 2014 to find a game that was decided by more than three goals. That’s right, over the last 20 games head-to-head, the average margin of victory is just two measly goals. These games are always close, always come down to the wire and can go either way right up to the final buzzer.

Now, as much success as FHNE has enjoyed in this series, its FHC that returns a good amount of prospects from a season ago. Gibson Grendel should be a top D-man, and Ben Mielock may prove to be a top forward by season’s end. That 1-2 punch may be better than anything FHNE has on the roster. However, never underestimate the pageantry and excitement of the rivalry and the influence of a PACKED Patterson Ice Center on a Saturday night.

Petey’s Prediction: Grand Rapids Catholic Central

I know what GRCC has coming back from last season, and a pretty good idea of what new faces may be arriving as well. The Cougars could be scary, not just in OKC play but in the state tournament. A returning goaltender in Trent Goheen with a bunch of games under his belt and MDHL experience. Top forwards Braylen Outwater and Zach Westrick back up front. Plus, “depth” if you want to call it that, in players like Nate Sova and Ryder Mulvey. They’re going to go three forward lines deep without skipping a beat. Oh! And, speculation, rumors, potential for a pretty big prospect coming on to the blue line as well?!

Byron Center brings back a bunch as well, so it won’t be an easy road for GRCC. I love some of the young players FHC is developing as well, but they may be a year away still. Oh my God, and East Grand Rapids?!  ‘Hey, hello. We went to the D-III State Finals last year and bring back, like, ALL of our forwards.’ Can’t forget about schools like Grandville and Rockford. Grand Rapids Christian dominated the Baum Division last season, can’t forget about that either. They’ll still have leading scorer Josh Hooper to pair with defenseman Jack Micus and goaltender Brayden Melinn. Ugh, what I’m trying to say here is the OK Conference is wide open, and a ton of good teams with a bunch coming back, and this league just has a way of beating each other up. It’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s super competitive. I’m picking the Cougars but they’ll have to survive a gauntlet to get to the top. 

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