Players to Watch at the MIHL Showcase

35 of the top Michigan high school hockey programs in the state all under one roof

Craig Peterson

January 31, 2024

Photo from Instagram | @dcc_hockey
Photo from Instagram | @dcc_hockey

The best event in Michigan high school hockey is finally upon us. The MIHL Showcase gets underway Thursday night when Salem and Alpena square off as the first of 42 games to take place over the weekend. Don’t @ me about the MHSAA state playoffs or Final Four in Plymouth… nothing compares to what goes down at the Kennedy Recreation Center. Each of the Top 20 teams in the state will be in action; 25 of the Top 30 as well. Not to mention, a Top-10 team from Illinois, a Top-5 team from Wisconsin, and three of the Top 5 teams in Ohio. It’s a who’s who of elite programs in high school hockey. 

It’s non-stop action from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m., in a steady rotation between the Feldman Arena, Practice Rink and Teifer Arena. Scouts, coaches, volunteers, parents, team buses, warm-ups. It’s got all the pageantry and excitement of hockey tournaments from our younger days with the intensity and emotions of season-ending playoff drama.

If you’re not there, you desperately want to be. If you are competing, it’s the one stage you want to have your best performance.

This is far and away my favorite weekend of the year. I’ve had it circled on my calendar for months. On top of that, I’ll have my eye on as many teams and players in action as possible. But as I head to the rink, I certainly have a shortlist of prospects I’m wanting to take a closer look at. Here’s one player from every team I’m keying in on this weekend:

Brooks Rogowski, Detroit Catholic Central Sophomore Forward

Jackson Walsh has grabbed much of the headlines this season, and rightfully so. He is their best all-around, most impactful player on the roster. However, Brooks Rogowski is the team’s current leading scorer and is the Shamrocks’ next rising star. He’s already a well-rounded prospect as just a sophomore, and it will be interesting to see him up close in two big matchups.

Jakub Kurcab, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Senior Forward

I am fascinated by the Eaglets this season. I like junior Will Keane in goal because of his sheer size and measurables — listed at 6-foot-4 — but it’s been a bit of a quiet season for him so far. The team has won a ton of games and in the Top 10, if not Top 5, of most rankings. I’ve just struggled to identify their key game-changing contributors and pinpoint specifically where this success is coming from. It’s likely the strength of the collective, not necessarily its individual parts, but Kurcab is carrying the torch offensively with 12 goals and 21 points.

Jackson Froysland, Byron Center Senior Forward

I’ve only seen Byron Center from afar this season, and in small doses. So it’ll be really good to take a long look at a lot of prospects in their lineup. Don’t sleep on Ben Passeno, Luke Philo or Braxton McKee playing major roles up front! But the success and strength of this team stems from Froysland and Cade Pratt. The undefeated Bulldogs have a tough matchup Friday against Orchard Lake, and the toughest matchup Saturday against Detroit Catholic Central. Can’t wait to see how they hold up.

Connor Raffaelli, Houghton Senior Defenseman

STUD ALERT! That word gets used way too casually when coaches and scouts talk about prospects, but Raffaelli is a bonafide stud. It’s the first time Houghton has come to the lower peninsula this season, so I’m fascinated how many of these guys — Mikey Maillette, Connor Arko, Jace DeForge, Bryant Lee — will hold up. A long bus ride. A larger rink than what they’re accustomed to. Opponents with a ton of depth. The Gremlins are gonna be tested big time. I know Raffaelli can make high-level plays with the puck on his stick, but definitely honing in on how he, and the team, defend and play without the puck as well.

Ian Kastamo, Hartland Junior Forward

I like Kastamo. He’s been a Top-10ish forward for me since I saw him in the Fall. But I haven’t seen Hartland in action since Thanksgiving, and in that time, I’ve heard people fall in love with this kid’s game. Some even saying he’s the best in the state. The Eagles have a bunch of other younger guys that intrigue me too; Luca DiGirolamo, Jake Pietila and Drew L’Esperance among them. Plus, I’ve been on the Brady Hubenschmidt train since August. So there’s a lot to watch with Hartland but it obviously starts with Kastamo and his 200-foot game.

Levi Pennala, Brighton Senior Goalie

Last time I saw Pennala, the Bulldogs lost 7-1. Now, that was to the best team in the state in a game that Brighton was short-staffed and limited. So it wasn’t the most conducive evaluation opportunity. Since then, he’s posted a 0.98 goals-against average with a .950 save percentage, and Brighton has gone 5-0-1 in that stretch. Cam Duffany and Lane Petit have drawn plenty of attention, and will continue to be the main attractions, but I’m looking forward to seeing Pennala in a big spot too.

Roman Villaire, Brother Rice Junior Forward

This Fall, Villaire showed the ability to be explosive and dangerous with the puck on his stick. It’s nice to see him display that as the Warriors’ top producer with 10 goals and 29 points this season. Rice has struggled a bit this season, with an 8-8-1 record overall. However, Villaire has produced in all eight of those wins and is a proven key to the team’s success. Throw their record out of the window, Villaire and the Warriors are going to be a tough out for both St. Edward’s (OH) and Clarkston.

Kyle Lynch, Clarkston Junior Forward

Ron Wade is the straw that stirs the drink, and Owen Croston is a big-bodied forward who can absolutely finish. They deserve a ton of attention, and your eyes are naturally drawn to them. But Lynch shouldn’t be overlooked either. He’s a highly skilled prospect who was playing in the middle on this line with Wade and Croston. Lynch can make plays and keep pace, while also being responsible and supportive in all three zones. This Clarkston team has seen some tough matchups this season, and a win — or wins — here could really be a launching point for playoffs.

Gavin Szalkowski, De La Salle Junior Goalie

Similar to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, I haven’t quite been able to pinpoint where De La Salle’s success has stemmed from this season. In what little bits I’ve seen of the Pilots since the KLAA-MIHL Showcase, I have a hunch Szalkowski could very well be the key. He has a 1.78 goals-against average, was stellar when I saw DLS tie Sault Ste. Marie in January, and has held some other tough competition to very little offense as well. He’ll be tested pretty good this weekend, so it’s a perfect opportunity to assess the junior net minder.

Glenn Green, East Grand Rapids Senior Forward

I’ve been singing this kid’s praises since I saw him in November! It’s good to see him leading the Pioneers in scoring with 26 points. East is deep up front, and there’s a lot of forwards worth noting — Ian MacKeigan, Charlie Hoekstra, Scotty Millman, James Albers — but Green may have the most junior hockey potential of the bunch. His game translates well to the next level and Green has a pretty high ceiling. There’s plenty of prospects to watch on this team, but I’d start with him first.

Thomas Boynton-Fisher, Bay Reps Senior Forward

He’s been pretty hot all season — points in 18-of-19 games — but Boynton-Fisher has really turned it up since Christmas. He has 22 points on the team’s last 32 goals, and has factored in on 11 of the last 12. Grant Lucas is already tough enough to stop on this Bay Reps team. Now with TBF seemingly unstoppable, they’ll be a tough matchup for both Brighton and Hartland to contain. Plus, he’s 6-foot-3 and carries a deceptively heavy shot; intangibles that very few have at this level.

Aidan Charron, U of D Jesuit Senior Forward

I was a big Thomas Angell and Carter Cate fan this fall. Paul Therriault grabbed my attention as well. All of them had inadvertently distracted me from Charron and his influence on the game. He’s a top producer for the Cubs, and I remember him being pretty influential in the middle of their lineup against Salem. So I’ll start with Charron this time around and work my way to the others, to ensure I don’t overlook anybody on a U of D team that has a wealth of talented forwards.

Kyle Moyer, Marquette Sophomore Defenseman

I’ve talked about Seth Sandstrom so much this season, people are starting to question if we’re related. We’re not. Nash Riipi is back in the mix and looking fantastic as the tip of the spear offensively as well. But I feel the need to zero in on Marquette’s defensive unit as a whole, and in particular, Kyle Moyer. The team is very strong top to bottom, and the effectiveness of their forecheck naturally distracts your attention from the back end. So I’m making a point to start with Moyer this weekend, especially considering the fact he leads the team in scoring with 19 points. 

Will Barrett, Trenton Senior Forward

No other Trenton player has more than six goals, except Barrett, who has 16. He also has 15 more points than anyone else on the team. Jay Cormier is a stellar puck mover on the back end, and I really like Gabriel Polyviou’s skating ability. So they are certainly notable as well. Barrett’s production this season is unique though, as I rarely see a leading scorer so separated from the pack. Opponents know he’s the one to stop, and no one’s really had a solution yet. I’ll certainly be looking at how Marquette and/or St. Francis (OH) defends him. And conversely, how he creates space and finds offense in the midst of that game plan.

Todd Kilpela, Hancock Sophomore Forward

There’s little-to-no information on the Hub regarding Hancock, but I can assure you Kilpela is an absolute stud in the making. Really good feet, he’s constantly maintaining a tight gap and keeping himself engaged in the play. Very patient and poised with the puck on his stick. Very fun to watch. Freshman and fellow ‘08 Brady Axford is a nice budding prospect too, and Tevin Stukel is a dirty-work, high-energy guy who’s a pest to play against. They’re a bit of a mystery due to the lack of data out there, but the Bulldogs will certainly be worth the price of admission.

Parker Bendall, Flint Powers Sophomore Forward

Really grabbed my attention in the University Liggett game a few weeks ago. He’s got pretty good size, plays with speed, was responsible from the center position and just seemed to be around the play a lot. Bendall is definitely worth taking a closer look at. Ayden Cook leads the team in scoring; Nolan Berner is one of the best senior defensemen in the state. I like Andrew Parmentier and Andrew Burny as well. Powers has some prospects to pay attention to, but my recency bias has me most intrigued by Bendall.

Cam LaBadie, Sault Ste. Marie Senior Goalie

I’ve watched a decent amount of film on LaBadie, and from afar, he looks damn good. He’s big, and gotta be way bigger than the 5-foot-11 that Elite Prospects has him listed at. Not only is his size intriguing on tape, but his movements are excellent. Very composed, under control, square, good footwork. I haven’t seen LaBadie really under duress or scrambling or having to make desperation saves. So is he largely untested or just that solid? He’s seen four games of 30-plus shots, and held ranked opponents to an average of 1.80 goals in six games with a 4-1-1 record. I think he’s just that solid, but seeing a big performance from LaBadie in person would definitely be the tipping point for me.

Colin Stroble, Livonia Stevenson Sophomore Defenseman

Owen Hall was priority No. 1 for us when MY Forest Hills Central Rangers took on the Spartans earlier this month. He’s a dangerous forward, and one we wanted to account for at all times. Yet, the team’s leading scorer still managed to break through with a goal and an assist. Hall’s impact was obvious, but Stroble on the back end was more difficult to notice, just because as a coach, your main focus is teaching up and watching your own guys. This time around, I won’t be on the bench for GRCC or Hancock — at least I don’t think so — so that should allow me to really key in on the sophomore defenseman’s impact on a young Spartans squad.

Chad Pietila, Howell Sophomore Defenseman

The team’s top defender, but not just in the sense that he moves pucks, makes plays and contributes offensively. Pietila is really sound defensively as well, and it’s very obvious. He stood out to me two weeks ago, as he stood up attacking players at the blue line, stayed square and eliminated rushes. He’s not a physically imposing presence on the back end, listed at 5-foot-9, but Pietila is definitely tough to play against. Joel Eskola has also had some really impressive flashes where he’s shown a high-level ability to be a finisher and flat out put pucks in nets. 

Liam TenHarmsel, Grand Rapids Catholic Central Junior Defenseman

I pegged TenHarmsel as one of the best junior defensemen in the state after seeing just two shifts from him in the fall. Obviously, I need to see more to validate those claims and admittedly, just haven’t had the opportunity to see much of GRCC this season. So he’s high on my list this weekend to get eyes on. He’s big and skates very well; a pretty good starting point when looking for defensemen. Plus, Trent Goheen in net, Braden Bates, Braylen Outwater, Zach Westrick… There’s a lot to get to with the Cougars this weekend.

Dominic Chaput, Salem Junior Forward

The Rocks are 5-1-1 since Dec. 28th, and Chaput has been a big reason for that recent success. He’s got 15 points during this stretch, factoring in on 62.5 percent of the team’s offense. Karsen Patel and Cam Eichner were guys I had honed in on in the past — and will still get a refresher on those guys — but Chaput is an intriguing one, especially since he’s playing some of his best hockey at the moment. How do they fare against two tough matchups with Alpena and Marquette?

Paul Baker, White Lake Lakeland Senior Goalie

I know he’s big, he’s super athletic, and his numbers are stellar. Baker has played all but 16 minutes for the Eagles this season and has a 1.60 goals-against average with a .931 save percentage. He’s seen some tough competition like Trenton and Sault Ste. Marie, but Saginaw Heritage will present a challenge and Forest Hills Central will be an even tougher test as well. A strong showing here could really put Baker on the map as one of the top senior goalies in the state. Similarly, Lakeland could enter the discussion as contenders in the Division-II playoffs. 

Eli Lipke, Forest Hills Central Junior Defenseman

I’ve talked ad nauseam about Gibson Grendel, and his skills will certainly speak for themselves this weekend. He’s a fantastic skater, slick with the puck and his ability is undeniable to anyone watching. But Lipke is a really good change of pace to Grendel’s game. The 6-foot-1 defender is steady, consistent, reliable, low-risk and high-reward. Every coach wants that type of guy on the back end, but few players are willing to embrace that style. It’s worked very well for Lipke, as he’s quietly produced eight goals and 22 points this season. Lipke and Grendel are hockey’s version of a ‘thunder and lightning’ combo in a football team’s backfield. 

Gunnar Weber, Bay City Senior Forward

In the Fall, he was a ‘right place, right time’ kind of guy that produced with regularity in the MDHL. In the regular season, Weber has been a do-it-all player for Bay City and the puck is constantly on his stick. What I love most about his game is that he doesn’t overdo it or force plays or embark on D-I-Y projects while everyone else stands around and watches. He’s true to his game, making the right plays, moving pucks to teammates, buzzing all over the ice, and I think his teammates feed off of it. Lucas Nieman, Andrew Kaczmarczyk and Sean Daily have started to add wrinkles to their respective games as well. I really like the direction of this team.

Josh VanSchepen, Grand Rapids Christian Senior Forward

He showed flashes of making high-level plays at top speed the last time I saw him. VanSchepen leads the team in scoring with 11 goals and 28 points, and had good chemistry playing on a line with Josh Hooper and Jack Micus. That trio should see more success in matchups with Saline and Saginaw Heritage. Micus, who played defense in the Fall and is listed as a D on the roster, player forward in the two games I watched the Eagles this season. I thought it was a pretty good move for him. Even though I like Micus as a top junior defenseman in the state, he was able to get a lot of puck touches and opportunities to make plays alongside VanSchepen and Hooper.

Brendan Boberg, Calumet Junior Forward

Cam Anderson and Nathan Londo have combined for 34 assists this season, so their play-making ability is certainly worth watching. Boberg has been on the receiving end of much of their efforts, scoring a team-leading 17 goals. Half of those goals have come in the month of January alone, so I think we should see the best version of this Copper Kings team in Trenton. That trio is intriguing, and so is the sophomore combo of Ben Anderson and Erik Loukus. They may only have five wins on the season, but it wouldn’t shock me in the least to see Boberg and the Copper Kings to sweep the weekend with a pair of Ws.

Logan Spykerman, Forest Hills Northern-Eastern Junior Defenseman

The Bird Dogs have been on my watchlist for a while. Senior J.P. McGinnis, junior Sean Hall and sophomore Justin Halverson all intrigue me and will have to watch closely. But I liked Spykerman’s upside quite a bit this Fall and I look forward to seeing how his game has progressed since then. He’s got four goals and 16 points this season. He’s got a big frame with an ability to skate and move pucks. This weekend was made for prospects like Spykerman because it’s an opportunity to really showcase your game and how far you’ve come since the last time people like me have seen you in action.

Tony Venturini, Riverview Gabriel Richard Junior Forward

I haven’t seen the Pioneers yet this season. Got to watch defenseman Brendan Brothers and goalie Ryan Rainey extensively this Fall, but it’ll be my first look at Venturini. He has 15 goals and 35 points this season, and he’s not the only one I’m curious about. Connor Forster is having a strong sophomore year and freshman Michael Taucher is averaging a point per game as well. A lot to unpack with RGR this weekend for a variety of reasons, and the matchups are tough too! Both Forest Hills Central and Sault Ste. Marie are ranked ahead of Gabriel Richard on MHR, so it’s a huge opportunity to move up as well.

Logan Boettcher, Saginaw Heritage Junior Defenseman

This team is fueled from the back end. Boettcher and senior Owen Turner looked to be the Hawks’ two best players when I watched them earlier in the year. Both have that burst and sheer ability to make plays. Playing on the back end affords Boettcher and Turner plenty of puck touches and opportunities to make plays. I’m intrigued to see how successful Boettcher can be against the likes of White Lake Lakeland and Grand Rapids Christian. Freshman goaltender Landon Hayward’s numbers are not impressive, but he looked pretty sound fundamentally to me on film and sometimes, you gotta read between the lines with goalies. Seeing that young prospect in person will be good too. 

Garrett Hamp, Alpena Sophomore Forward

If you’re looking for young, up-and-coming talent, the Wildcats have plenty of it. Gavin Winterstein is a big-bodied, power forward type who can play very heavy. Luke Miller displays fantastic footwork on the back end. Clark Weir, Brody Misiak, Ethan Walker, goalie Parker Schuldt… They’re all ‘08s and ‘09s that are contributing and playing impactful minutes for Alpena. Hamp is so unique though because of his pure ability to finish. Twenty goals in 20 games is no accident, and he finds very creative ways to put the puck in the net.

Clay Spencer, Country Day Senior Forward

I really liked Spencer coming into the season, and he’s had a solid campaign with 17 goals and 28 points. He can be a real puck hound and apply relentless pressure on the forecheck. Admittedly, as familiar as I am with Spencer, I’m a little in the dark on guys like Ian Lancaster, Joseph Fisher, Rylan Crozier, Hunter Novock and Ryder Novock. I’m interested to see what they all bring to the table. So while Spencer is the main attraction, there’s a slew of other Yellowjackets I’m itching to see as well. 

Brycen Smith, Port Huron Northern Senior Forward

He’s a quantity over quality shooter that’s produced 20 goals on the season, and seven multi-goal games. I don’t fault Smith for his shot selection. After all, you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take. For the Corsi and Fenwick advanced analytics fans out there, it’s more of an indication of how much he has the puck on his stick with a chance to make a play. Kyren Bruno and Tim Monaghan both made plays the last time I saw the Huskies, and Silas Klink showed a nice rhythm in his movements with the puck. They get a pair of winnable games this weekend, but can they make good on both?

Tyler Schroeder, Saline Senior Goalie

Mateo Iadipaolo and Blake Woodrel have been a dangerous duo for the Hornets for the past three seasons. The ‘23-24 campaign hasn’t been as dominant for Saline, though, and Schroeder has had to assemble some monster performances to keep his team in the hunt. Seven games with 30-or-more saves, and he’s suffered not one, not two, but three 2-1 losses this season. The 5-foot-9 goaltender does everything to give his team a chance, and it seems like the more pucks he sees, the better he performs. The Grand Rapids Christian game could be a real fun matchup on the first day of the showcase.

Drew Brady, Grosse Pointe South Senior Defenseman

I liked both Brady and sophomore Charlie Wade on the back end for the Blue Devils, but for different reasons. Brady showed an ability to be a solid puck mover who made the simple plays. Wade displayed a surprisingly heavy shot from the point for an ‘08. While the team has struggled mightily since the last time I saw them, I’m expecting both the team and Brady to be significantly improved from Dec. 9th. Grosse Pointe South has lost six one-goal games, including three in the last month alone. They’re competing extremely well, but just on the wrong side of outcomes as of late. Can Brady, Wade and GPS turn the tides this weekend?

Braden Graham, Lake Orion Sophomore Forward

He’s a little guy, but Graham sure does get a lot of shit done for the Dragons. He’s been a one-man wrecking crew at times where he keeps the opponent hemmed in below their own goal line. Graham’s effort on the forecheck coupled with Derek Ryberg’s work in and around the net seemed to be a pretty successful tandem so far this season. Both Graham and Ryberg will have to do more of that to compete in tough matchups with Port Huron Northern and Saline at the showcase.

Want to talk about it? Let's connect on social: