Power Rankings for the Eight Playoff Teams Remaining in Each Division

Best and worst odds to win a state title

Craig Peterson

March 1, 2024

Photo from Twitter | @brightonhockey1
Photo from Twitter | @brightonhockey1

My brother’s team won a regional championship in 2004, and I vividly remember him saying to my dad, “Holy sh!t, we are only one of eight teams still playing in the entire state.” You think about Michigan high school hockey, and just the sheer amount of programs that compete. Even though numbers continue to decrease — holding steady at 130 this season — it is still such a testament and accomplishment to be one of only a few teams left still competing at this point in the tournament. 

I know programs like Brighton and Riverview Gabriel Richard and Detroit Catholic Central have made a habit out of reaching this stage of the state tournament. But the fact is, anyone at this point of the season has a one-in-eight shot at winning a state title.

With that, I broke down each of the three divisions, ranking the teams in order of least to most likely to win it all by next Saturday. Let’s get into it:

Division-I is DCC Hockey’s to lose in a top-seed heavy tournament

Top-seeded teams like Detroit Catholic Central, Brighton and Romeo made it seem like chalk would prevail in the Division-I state playoffs. But, programs like Reeths-Puffer and Forest Hills Northern-Eastern played spoiler in a pair of Westside regional finals. No. 2-seeded Clarkston snapped the state’s longest active consecutive regional championship streak (12) by beating Hartland 5-2. Both Livonia Stevenson and FHNE were in survive-and-advance mode, winning their respective regional championships in overtime. 

8. Romeo

It’s not so much about them, but who they have to go through. Detroit Catholic Central is two goals better than the best team the Bulldogs have faced this season. If they managed to pull off the ultimate upset, a blue blood like Brighton and/or Clarkston lay in waiting.

7. Reeths-Puffer

It’s been a very impressive run for Reeths-Puffer; an 18-win season and the program’s first regional title since 2020. The Rockets haven’t fared well at this round of the tournament historically, only reaching the quarterfinals three times, and losing twice. 

6. Forest Hills Northern-Eastern

From a losing record in the regular season to a regional championship in the playoffs. Not only that, but I think Forest Hills Northern-Eastern stands a real good chance at winning its quarterfinal matchup despite having lost to Reeths-Puffer two weeks ago. That may be it for the Bird Dogs though.

5. Howell 

Every opponent remaining in Howell’s way will likely have more talent, and the same — or more — amount of depth in the lineup. That doesn’t necessarily count out the Highlanders, but it does make their path to a championship very difficult. 

4. Livonia Stevenson

Round by round, it’s probably the toughest route to a state title remaining in Division-I. Fourth-ranked Brighton in the quarterfinals, more than likely eighth-ranked Clarkston in the semifinals, and then top-ranked CC in the championship. Tough spot to be in.

3. Clarkston

Wednesday’s win over Hartland was a signature victory against a Top-5 caliber team that Clarkston’s been looking for all season. That win could really be a springboard into potential rematches with Brighton and DCC; two teams that beat the Wolves earlier this season.

2. Brighton

A 20-win regular season with 12 seniors on a quest to ‘finish the story’ (shoutout Cody Rhodes and Wrestlemania 40). The pressure of this playoff run will get turned up exponentially with each of the next three rounds. Anything short of a title game for a rematch with the No. 1 team in the state would be a tough pill to swallow.

1. Detroit Catholic Central

The Shamrocks cruised through the regional playoff rounds, out-scoring opponents 17-1 in two games. I expect them to stay on autopilot through the next two rounds, and then be a heavy favorite in the D-I State Final. You’d be nuts to pick against the four-time, reigning, defending champion that’s already won 26 games and has 14 guys with double-digit point totals.

Will the Surprises Continue in Division-II?

More than half of the regional championship games went in favor of the lower seeds: Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard, Saginaw Heritage, Midland, White Lake Lakeland and Port Huron Northern all prevailed as underdogs. And, at least two of them are guaranteed to get to Plymouth for the Final Four. Did the road get easier for teams like Byron Center and Trenton because of these upsets? Or is the chaos just getting started in Division-II?

8. Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard

Just getting through Byron Center would be their biggest challenge this season. Getting past the No. 1 team in Division-II only means the Irish would then have to tackle two more Top-10 teams to win a title. That’s a huge hill to climb for a team that hasn’t faced a Top-10 team all season.

7. Midland

Midland was blown out 8-2 the last time they faced their quarterfinal opponent, Saginaw Heritage. That’s always a tricky one because it’s a very decisive outcome but a rematch is always ripe for a letdown performance. It’s possible for the Chemics to squeak out another win, but that’d likely be it.

6. Saginaw Heritage

There’s a really good chance that Saginaw Heritage returns to Plymouth for the second consecutive season, and the fifth trip in seven seasons. They’d likely see top-seeded Byron Center in the semifinals, which is a less than favorable matchup.

5. U of D Jesuit

If U of D Jesuit can upset its MIHL counterpart Trenton in the quarterfinals, it’ll enter the Final Four with a great chance of getting to the championship. But getting past the Trojans will be the most adversity the Cubs have faced all season, and I’m very curious how they handle it.

4. Port Huron Northern

They may have pulled off the biggest upset of all D-II regional finals this week, knocking off top-seeded De La Salle. Port Huron Northern has enough goal scorers to continue playing the role of underdog, but the Huskies may also need more chaos to unfold throughout the rest of the bracket as well.

3. White Lake Lakeland

It’s been 12 years since White Lake Lakeland qualified for the state tournament. Paul Baker is the best goalie remaining in Division-II and, if you’ve got goaltending, you’ve got a chance. The quarterfinal is a winnable game and anything can happen under the pressure of a Final Four game… so ‘Why not us?’

2. Trenton

After cruising through the regional playoff rounds, Trenton’s quarterfinal matchup with U of D will be its toughest game in almost a month. That’s definitely a pause for concern, but the Trojans are deep, talented at all three levels and extremely well coached. I’m confident this is one team that won’t have a ‘let down’ type of performance, and I still like them to make the championship game.

1. Byron Center

Barring a colossal upset, Byron Center should return to the D-II state final. This feels like an even more complete, more unified squad than a season ago, and they’re playing with a chip on their shoulders. The championship game will be another one for the ages, regardless of who comes out on the other side. I like the Bulldogs to get it done a second time around.

Division-III Power Rankings

It was suspected to be the most competitive of the three divisions, yet chalk has prevailed more often than not. Seven of the eight regional championships went to the top-seeded team in the group. That would suggest the rest of the tournament should be uber competitive, with six of the remaining teams currently ranked in the Top 25 in the state.  

8. Alpena

They were nearly mercied by their quarterfinal opponent, Bay Reps, back in December. Now, this very young squad is much improved from three months ago, but that’s a really tough hurdle to get over for Alpena. A win would likely give them Houghton in the semifinals, so the path to a title just gets exponentially harder with each potential victory.

7. Cranbrook

There’s a decent chance Cranbrook makes it to the Final Four. The Cranes got a relatively favorable draw to this point, but making it to Plymouth puts them in a pool of top-level teams that they haven’t fared well against this season. I’ve got them at 3-10-0 against Top-25 teams, and I’m not sure they have the depth — or offense — to push this run much further.

6. Riverview Gabriel Richard

I’ll admit, I’ve been subconsciously low on Riverview Gabriel Richard all season long. And maybe that continues here with the Pioneers in the bottom half of the power rankings. They can absolutely beat Cranbrook in the quarters, and may even fare better than the Cranes would because of RGR’s strength in net. Great goaltending is the ultimate equalizer this time of year.

5. Bay Reps

They’re almost a lock to be a Final Four team. Once the Bay Reps get to Plymouth, their top end is certainly talented enough to carry them to a title. Goaltending has been good too. But all four teams ahead of them in the power rankings are going to pound them with four lines of constant pressure, making it extremely hard to survive and advance much further.

4. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s

Possibly the toughest path to a D-III title, having to go through not one, not two, not three, but four consecutive Top-25 opponents. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s is built for this type of adversity, though, with solid depth and strong goaltending. The Eaglets are also 9-5-1 in close games this season, so they’re no stranger to adversity.

3. East Grand Rapids

I’m hopeful East Grand Rapids’ narrow escape from Big Rapids in the second round was a wake-up call, and not a sign of things to come. The Pioneers are capable of winning the entire thing, and I’m not expecting any let-down performances again as they head into matchups with other Top-25 teams. 

2. Sault Ste. Marie

This is one team I would not want to see in D-III. Sault Ste. Marie has a relentless forecheck, with plenty of skill guys up front, reliable puck movers on the back end, and arguably the best goaltender in the playoffs regardless of division. They’re going to be extremely tough to put away.

1. Houghton

I really believe the winner of the U.P. quarterfinal wins the whole thing, hence, having the Soo and Houghton at the top of the list. It feels like all the pressure is on the Gremlins going into that matchup, which is sure to be one of the most intense games to take place on Saturday. If they can weather the storm against Sault Ste. Marie, the D-III title becomes Houghton’s to lose.

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