Who Will Punch Their Ticket To The Elite Eight?
March 4, 2020
The first two rounds have been completed and now just 48 teams remain in the state of Michigan. Hardware is on the line for the first time, and 24 Regional Champions will be decided in the span of just five hours. It is going to make for a wild Wednesday and arguably one of the most exciting days of the MI-HS calendar, so let’s get into and serve up some awesome projections.
Traverse City West is looking for its third Regional title in six years while Reeths-Puffer is after its first since 2014. Junior Matt Herniman had a three-point night to propel the Rockets past the Bay Reps, 3-2 in the semifinal. I think RP could bring the pressure, out-possess and out-shoot the Titans in this one, generating a couple good chances. However, I also like West to weather the offensive storm with guys like freshman Mason West, who has stopped 38-of-40 shots in the postseason and Tyler Esman whose accounted for five of the team’s 11 goals in Regional action. This should be a low-scoring affair, where TC West grinds this one out and runs down the clock, winning a tight one.
I’ve counted out the Panthers in previous playoffs and they burned me significantly, winning Regional Championships when I didn’t have them making it out of the first round. Don’t overlook West Ottawa in this one either, as they’ve been playing some of their best hockey recently. The Region is Byron Center’s to lose, as they’ve been the favorite and should still remain that way heading into Wednesday, but Levi Sall will have to be at his best game for that to hold true. Senior Luke Linart has two goals and an assist in the previous two meetings of this matchup; he’ll bring his best to the table in a pivotal third game of the season. Ultimately, BC is able to key in on him, limit him and utilize its depth to pull away late to claim its second consecutive Wooden Mitten.
What a story. First-year program Kalamazoo staring down the barrel at its first Regional Championship just months after becoming MHSAA compliant. A ton of firepower out of this group averaging five goals per game. The offense led by Trent Stoner and Alexander Johnson should overwhelm Mid-Michigan in this one as well but there is a path to a potential upset for the Marauders if Kzoo doesn’t handle its business. I’ve been concerned about the Eagles’ bad habit of taking costly penalties — roughly 750 minutes of infractions — and that can be the ultimate equalizer. If it’s not Carson Finney and Mid-Michigan cashing in, it will certainly be someone else before the postseason is over. Kalamazoo gets ahead, stays ahead and finishes ahead.
Wednesday will be a rematch between Saginaw Valley opponents as Saginaw Heritage and Bay City face-off. Game 1 was a 9-0 drubbing by the Hawks back in early December but I like Game 2 to be a lot closer, at least early on. Watch this game be a 1-0 or 2-1 game after the first period with the Wolves throwing their best punch in the first 17 minutes, as Zac Lewandowski and the top half of that lineup are on fresh legs. Heritage ultimately wears them down as the game progresses and that top line of Rappuhn-Cole-Houck pulls away from Bay City again.
Another regular-season rematch between conference foes, as Brighton and Howell face off in a cross-county clash. The Bulldogs won the previous meeting 5-2, but it was the Highlanders who carried the play at 5-on-5 and the contest could have been much closer than the three-goal spread suggests. Brighton is playing some of its best hockey with a top line that’s buzzing and getting big contributions from depth guys. Stefan Frantti from Howell is the pendulum in this one. If he produces, the Highlanders win but if the Bulldogs shut him down, the Wooden Mitten goes the other direction. I’m taking Brighton in a back-and-forth thriller.
I’m gonna eat a big ol’ pile of crow in this Region. The sub-.500 L’Anse Creuse Unified with a chance at being one of the lowest-ranked teams in the state to claim a championship on Wednesday. LCU pulled off a huge stunner over No. 33 Macomb Dakota in the Semifinals and leading scorer Jeffrey Deriemacker could play some hero hockey to pull off another upset to get his team to the Elite Eight. Juniors Justin Chevalier and Steve Myers have six points apiece in the playoffs for Rochester United though, and the boys in blue won’t be going away quietly, having won 13-of-15 games down the stretch. I smell an overtime game in the making here so settle in for a nail biter.
It’s not Birmingham Unified’s fault. The Kings have had a fine season in a competitive OAA schedule and rank in the Top 50 in the state. It’s been a really good run for BU. It’s just that DCC is an unstoppable force in Division-I. The Shamrocks are outscoring Regional opponents 17-0 and I fear this one could get out of hand quickly. Kyle Gaffney has taken off in the last month with 18 points in the last five games after being a bit snake-bitten early in the season. With him heating up in addition to the wealth of other options that CC has, opponents should duck and cover because a storm is coming.
On paper, this looks pretty lopsided. Salem ranks 12th, Northville ranks 39th. The Rocks’ goal differential is plus-39, the Mustangs’ is minus-29. Blue has eight guys in double digits, Orange has three. It was a 2-1 game when the two teams met on Dec. 12th, despite Salem outshooting Northville 31-13 and thoroughly carrying the play. I feel like the rematch is ripe for a repeat scenario where a puck off a shin guard or fluky bounce over a stick could open the door for a Mustangs upset. The Rocks gave up four goals to Jason Crossland in the Semifinals and Northville’s Nick McInchak could create some similar magic in the championship but with six days of prep time, I like Ryan Ossenmacher’s squad to survive the scare.
Marquette outscored Escanaba by a combined score of 13-2 in the previous two meetings this season. I like Ethan Silverstone and Kyle Krutina to play inspired hockey with the Eskymos’ future hanging in the balance, keeping the game much closer than the series track record would suggest. However, I’ve felt this is the Redmen’s year since seeing them in early November and the way Gaetano Cammarata and Jakob Peterson are playing, I have no reason to shy away from that prediction four months later. Look for this to be a 2-1 or 3-1 game where Escanaba has chances early into the third period, but Marquette cashes in some late insurance to clinch the Regional and begin plans for a trip south.
If I could only watch one Regional Final on Wednesday, I think it’d be this one. Mona Shores is better than its No. 53 ranking and should give No. 17 TC Central a great game at Howe Arena. The Trojans have good depth and guys like Chris Usiondek, Nick Sommerfield and Hunter Folgmann will play pivotal roles if TCC continues on a potential path to Plymouth. Mona has a couple showstoppers though, and Connor Winegar, Trent Benedict and Ty Langlois are dangerous enough to play spoiler. The Sailors get out first in this one and lead early, but the hometown team settles in and responds as the game goes on.
Forest Hills Northern-Eastern enters Wednesday having won four consecutive Regional Championships. Rockford, on the other hand, hasn’t claimed one since 2017 but coach C.J. Pobur has assembled a squad in 2020 that could snap the three-year drought. The Rams are a young bunch but they’re deep too, and much better than their 10-14-1 regular-season record would suggest. Will Haggerty and Kyle Switzer lead the offensive charge for Rockford, but FHNE counters with solid weapons of its own with Tyler Nickelson and Ryan Almassian. I think the Bird Dogs throw a smothering forecheck that will frustrate Rockford for long stretches, but won’t actually generate many offensive looks. As long as the Rams don’t panic in the face of pressure and avoid costly turnovers, I like their odds of outchancing FHNE.
Hartland has outscored opponents at the Regional level 87-3 in the span of 10 games over the last four postseasons. I fully expect this trend of dominance to continue until someone finally decides to change the playoff system that’s remained basically unchanged since 2000. Davison’s one glimmer of hope comes in the form of Dominic Wendel. He’s had some huge games this season but he’ll have to have the biggest performance of his life to give the Cards a shot. Ultimately, The Eagles at home are just too much to keep up with; Adam Pietila and Kieran Carlile keep the state’s longest active Regional Championship run alive for another year.
If there’s one team that’s just handling its business in the playoffs right now, it’s Brother Rice. So far, they’re outscoring Regional opponents 22-1 and capitalizing on their path to Plymouth. Lake Orion stands in the way on Wednesday, and Brendan Finn, Kade Manzo and Nick Haag could put up a decent fight in the finale. The Warriors’ top end is just too good for the Dragons to contain, as I don’t think Ryan Murphy, D.J. Dixon and Nick Marone can be denied at this stage of the postseason. Rice gets out to a quick lead and then stays in front comfortably.
Logan O’Flanagan and Chad Noetzel have combined to score nine of Port Huron Northern’s 14 goals in the 2020 playoffs. The scary situation for opponents like Chippewa Valley, is that the Huskies are just warming up. PHN’s last six wins are by an average margin of 5.8 goals; when they win, they win BIG. I think Wednesday could be another one of those victories. There’s a chance Kyle Hauer and Shyam Patel could put a charge into the Big Reds, but Northern is battle tested and weathered a tough schedule to get to this point. Huskies win comfortably.
I don’t know if Novi has enough to beat Livonia Stevenson outright, but they do have just enough to slow down the Spartans and frustrate an aggressive offense. Coach Mark Vellucci does a tremendous job formulating game plans to keep his ‘Cats competitive against teams with superior talent. I could see Novi slowing this game down a bunch, packing it in and keeping Stevenson’s dangerous threats to the perimeter and out of scoring areas. Offense will come for the Spartans, but they’ll have to work for it and I won’t rule out Novi sneaking in a couple chances of their own.
I’ve had Trenton on upset alert through the first two rounds, and while the games were snug, they ultimately took care of business. I think that happens again here in the Regional Final against Saline. Ben Wild and Connor Wright are talented forwards for the Hornets, and have the potential to generate some offense in this matchup, even if they’re up against one of the top goaltenders in the state in Joey Cormier. With play-making forwards on both sides, I could see a lot of up-and-down action but Trenton is more acclimated to a faster pace. I lean in favor of Ethan Holt, Hunter Allen and Collin Preston for the Trojans.
Game number four in the season series between Calumet and Houghton. It’s a shame only one of these teams can advance past the Regional rounds because they both could be legitimate players in Division-III. The Copper Kings carry the series lead two games to one, but the Gremlins claimed the most recent decision 3-2 on Feb. 18th. Scott Loukus and company provide a significant edge in offensive options up front, with as many as six legitimate scoring threats. Houghton has had plenty of looks at them though, and I think that familiarity with opponents makes for a much lower-scoring game. Watch Jimmy Pietila steal this one in a stunner for the Gremlins.
The two lowest-ranked teams to face off in a Regional Final on Wednesday, as Gaylord checks in at No. 84 and Sault Ste Marie at 119th. The two teams skated to a 6-3 finish in early January, favoring The G Men. Senior Gabe Kleinsorge had a monster performance in the first matchup and I anticipate him having another big game for Gaylord with the season on the line. The Soo could put up a fight early on, but once Kleinsorge and that top line get loose, I think Gaylord pulls away with it.
It’s a Mid-Michigan Matchup for the Regional Final between Midland Dow and Flint Powers. Austin Iueter’s three-point night capped off a dominant performance in favor of Dow 5-1 in an earlier meeting between these two teams. It was far from Powers’ best game of the season and I expect them to put up a much better fight in the rematch. Joey Carpenter and Tim Washburn were kept in check the first time but could both get loose on Wednesday, making for a close game down the stretch. I’ll stick with Dow outlasting Powers in the third period, with Luke Blasy working some late-game magic again.
The top two players in the Grand Rapids area go head-to-head in this one, with Forest Hills Central’s Mason Kelly squaring off against Jacob Onstott and GRCC. If the top two lines go head-to-head, I think it favors the Cougars. If Coach Kevin Zaschak can get Kelly and Ryan Jeffreys away from the 1-v-1 matchup, I think they can exploit some mismatches in CC’s depth. This will be a chess match behind the benches and I could see multiple lead changes in this one, making for some exciting championship hockey. May even need OT to decide a winner but I’ll give the Rangers the slightest of edges because of depth guys and Gavin Brady between the pipes.
They’re tied for most wins in the state, the two-time defending, reigning D-III champs and I feel like Country Day is being overlooked somehow. The top line is dangerous, and now Dallas Hood is starting to really heat up over the last month, along with Lucas Krol and Logan Gotinsky. I think Yellowjackets overwhelm Pinckney early and often, continuing their title defense on to the State Playoffs as they flirt with a potential three-peat.
University Liggett pulled off a huge upset in the Semifinals against No. 10 U-D Jesuit. Their reward for winning? No. 4-ranked Grosse Pointe South. Grant Lindsay’s 46-save effort and Doug Wood’s five-point performance for the Knights were sensational, but the Blue Devils present a significantly tougher challenge in the Championship. First-year coach Paul Moretz’ squad attacks opponents wave after wave after wave, and I expect more of the same in this matchup. They could hit the same wall the Cubs ran into with Lindsay in net, but I think GPS has a few more pure scorers than Liggett has faced in the past.
Chelsea and Churchill are set to clash at the Arctic Coliseum. It’s a matchup of polar opposites as well, with the Bulldogs coming in offense heavy and the Chargers being pretty stingy defensively. Coach Jason Reynolds’ squad has allowed just eight goals against in their last seven games and they’re a scrappy bunch that’s tough to put away. I like Churchill to hang around for a while and battle right down to the end, with Chelsea scoring late to decide it. Between Tyler Valik, Gabe Vowles, Devin McIntyre and Corbin Steele, they’re able to spread things out and exploit some mismatches.
I don’t know about this one. Don’t have a good feeling at all. Nathan Vazquez has been pretty well contained in the previous two meetings against Riverview, and think that’s why Gabriel Richard hasn’t been able to quite get over the hump in the rivalry this season. I don’t think the Pirates can keep Vazquez quiet for a third straight game but also not convinced the Pioneers have an answer for Gavin Holmes and Ryan Herzog, who have accounted for all six goals scored for Riverview in this series. It’s a tight, ugly, knock-down, drag-out game where Riverview hangs on and survives to win.
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