Top-25 Team Tiers

Parity runs rampant, making the final five spots difficult to select in this month’s rankings

Craig Peterson

February 6, 2024

Photo by Jim Lehocky | SooLeader
Photo by Jim Lehocky | SooLeader

We’ve entered the home stretch of the regular season, with just two weeks left before state playoffs. Major events like the North-South Showcase, Chelsea Showcase and MIHL Showcase are all in the rearview mirror and single-elimination hockey is on the horizon. I update my Top-10 rankings on a weekly basis, but have expanded to 25 teams once per month this season. Today’s edition of the Top 25 will be my last update until the MHSAA state tournaments conclude next month. So, I’ve added a new tier to the blog this week and I’ve expanded past the Top 25 to included a few fringe teams in consideration as well:

Detroit Catholic Central: They’re in a tier of their own.
Front-runners: They’re out in front of the pack as tops in the state, and their playoff division.
Favorites: Teams capable of competing for a state title, and bringing home hardware.
Contenders: Regional players with potential to compete with those ranked ahead of them.
Longshots: Definitely underdogs, but if you get caught sleeping on ‘em, they’ll bite ya.

1Detroit Catholic Central
3Orchard Lake St. Mary's (OLSM) hockey logoOrchard Lake St. Mary’s
6Byron Center
8De La Salle Hockey logoDe La Salle
9East Grand Rapids
10Trenton hockey logoTrenton
11Brother Rice hockey logoBrother Rice
12Marquette hockey logoMarquette
13Bay Reps
14Sault Ste. Marie
16U of D Jesuit hockey logoU of D Jesuit
18Livonia Stevenson hockey logoLivonia Stevenson
19Riverview Gabriel Richard hockey logoRiverview Gabriel Richard
20Grand Rapids Catholic Central
21Flint Powers hockey logoFlint Powers
22Grand Rapids Christian
23Bay City
24White Lake Lakeland
25Jackson Lumen Christi
Last updated: Feb. 5th, 2024

Also in the mix: Salem, Northville, Cranbrook, Sparta, Grand Rapids Christian, Lumen Christi Chippewa Valley United, M-1 United

Detroit Catholic Central achieves untouchable status

I shared some pretty strong thoughts regarding Detroit Catholic Central coming out of the MIHL Showcase this weekend. I won’t spend much more time on them this week, but feel free to circle back to yesterday’s blog for more on the Shamrocks. I will say, though, the depth on this year’s particular team is breathtaking. Sophomore Brooks Rogowski leads the team in scoring with 18 goals and 36 points this season. He is one of 14 — yes, fourteen — players who have reached double digits in points. That is astounding, when you consider they’ve played the toughest schedule in the state and routinely see opponents’ best performances on a nightly basis. 

Rogowski and Jackson Walsh have received plenty of attention this season. But the contributions of players like Josh Granowicz, Jordan Diegel, Nolan Galda and others are what really separates CC, and makes them such a dominant powerhouse in the state. Oh, and Mathieu Chernauckas has a 1.47 goals-against average and .931 save percentage, having allowed three goals against just once since Dec. 1st.

Brighton Back in the Driver’s Seat Among Front-runners

They’re only up one spot from December’s Top 25 update, but Brighton is on a roll heading into the final few games of the season. After a bit of a surprising 5-1 loss to No. 17 Hancock, the Bulldogs have gone on an eight-game unbeaten streak, smothering opponents with a plus-27 goal differential. Lane Petit is scoring in bunches, producing three multi-goal games in the month of January, and half of Aiden Seiter’s 17 points have come during the team’s recent hot streak. Offensive options not named Cam Duffany are really coming into their own, and doing so at just the right time.

Hats off to both Houghton and Byron Center. While neither were able to knock off the top dog DCC over the weekend, the Gremlins and Bulldogs made an honest effort and competed extremely well. Byron Center takes a bit of a hit, dropping from No. 3 to the sixth spot in my latest rankings. Two losses at the MIHL Showcase coupled with surges from Brighton, Hartland and Clarkston being the reason for movement. I was tempted to bump Houghton down in a similar fashion. However, I just think in a head-to-head hypothetical, the Gremlins are more well-rounded top to bottom than where BC is at currently.

I just can’t deny Orchard Lake St. Mary’s any longer. The proof is in the pudding; wins over Brighton, De La Salle, Hartland, Trenton and now Byron Center this past weekend. I have Houghton ahead of the Eaglets, which is contradictory to other outlets out there, but it’s purely speculation. 

A young Hartland team is really rounding out late in the season. The emergence of the Finnish Five has led the Eagles to be winners in 11 of their last 12 games. Three games remain on the regular-season slate, and it all leads up to a collision course with fellow Front-runner, No. 7 Clarkston.

The Wolves are capable of making some noise in the playoffs. A regional final matchup with Hartland will be one I’ve been waiting for all season long. Ron Wade and Kyle Lynch kept Clarkston within striking distance in their 5-3 loss to CC earlier last month. That was one of the better showings any public school has put up against the Shamrocks. They showed what they were capable of in that game, even in defeat. Coach Nathan Bryer’s squad should hit the playoffs in the best shape of any other team in the Front-runner Tier.

Don’t Sleep on Sault Ste. Marie as a Favorite

I fell for Sault Ste. Marie in a similar fashion as when I fell for Marquette at the North-South Showcase. The Blue Devils looked really good at the MIHL Showcase last weekend, and could make some noise in Division-III’s ‘Region of Death.’ Houghton, Marquette, Hancock… I’m telling you, The Soo is right there in the mix. Couple those Favorites with Escanaba, Manistique and Calumet in Regions 17 and 18, and you have the hardest quarter of any bracket in the playoffs. They play hard, have pretty good depth, a decent amount of skill, and maybe the best goalie in the U.P., in Cam LaBadie. I’m not ready to pick them, but Sault Ste. Marie certainly factors into the playoff picture.

I love this grouping of teams with De La Salle, East Grand Rapids, Trenton, Marquette and the Bay Reps. There’s a lot to like about each one of these teams, whether its the Pilots’ goaltending, Bay Reps’ top line, Trenton’s defensive group, Marquette’s playing style or EGR’s scoring depth. They’re all dangerous Favorites, but for very different and unique reasons.

Marquette is still a personal favorite, as I mentioned earlier, but East had a monster weekend at the MIHL Showcase with wins over U of D and Howell. De La Salle played well, even in defeat to Hartland. Trenton beat Marquette, and Marquette has a win over the Bay Reps. Not only are they different stylistically but they’re also uber competitive and too close to call on the ice. The entire group of Favorites here could be shuffled up and arranged in almost any order without pushback on my end.

I’m really coming around on Brother Rice lately too. They remain at No. 11 overall in my rankings, and have won four of their last five (probably should’ve beat Lake Forest despite losing in overtime as well). Junior Roman Villaire has emerged as a go-to guy for the Warriors and could be a real impact player for the foreseeable future. The team is really gelling around Christian Hajji, Aidan Agbay and Johnny Kunz as well. I think people wrote off Rice earlier in the season after its quiet 5-5-1 start. But I’m confident they’re still going to factor into the state championship conversation yet again this March.

Ryan Rainey Looks to Settled Unfinished Business

A 21-win season for Riverview Gabriel Richard came up just short with a Division-III state semifinal loss. The dream season came up just a bit short, and after graduating 93.2 percent of their offense last spring, hopes of making it back seemed to fade away. However, senior Ryan Rainey remained in goal, and his 1.88 goals-against average coupled with a .934 save percentage has given the Pioneers hope for yet another playoff run. Not only that, but leading scorer Tony Venturini has completely elevated his game from a season ago, flourishing as RGR’s go-to guy. He has 15 goals and 36 points this season, and the Pioneers could now be considered the favorite to win their quarter of the bracket! They’re unbeaten in their last nine games, and may finish the regular season that way too.

Hancock is a young team, but it’s really starting to put things together lately. A 9-1-0 record in 2024, with an impressive win over fellow Contender Livonia Stevenson. Those two teams share a lot of similarities, just in terms of talented underclassmen. It was reassuring to see them tangle in a closely contested, back-and-forth game. I’ve got the Spartans winning their second consecutive regional championship at the end of the month, and Hancock could make things tough in the aforementioned Region of Death as well. I wouldn’t want to see either of these teams in an elimination game.

While I don’t think Howell or U of D Jesuit are playing their best hockey of the season at present day, I still believe both have dangerous components to their game that makes them Contenders.

Losers in three of their last four, and six of their last nine, the Highlanders aren’t trending in a great direction with only two games remaining. But, Joel Eskola is a pure goal scorer who’s always a threat to put the puck in the net. Ben Huotari, Tanner Sauve and Rory Sturos are double-digit goal scorers as well. If the offense can get back on track in the final weeks, Howell can still be a very scary opponent come playoff time.

For those same reasons, U of D Jesuit is still believable as a Contender as well. They gave up 17 goals over the weekend and got mercied by Flint Powers. It’s not a great look. But I’m also not going to forget the fact that the Cubs beat Brother Rice — twice — and tied the Bay Reps, lost to OLSM and Trenton by just a goal and beat De La Salle as recently as last weekend. Getting mercied at the MIHL Showcase is not a great look, but it can also galvanize a group and be a reality check. 

Total Logjam of Longshots is a Good Problem to Have for High School Hockey

As far as the final five or six spots are concerned in the Top 25, it could really be an assortment of up to 15, 20 or 25 teams that all have a strong case to be considered. That’s a really good problem to have in high school hockey. The parity in this state continues to grow each year, and the gap between 20th and, say, 40th, 50th or even 60th teams in Michigan narrows. Now, I only rank up to 25 teams, and that proves to be a challenge in its own right.

Teams like Chippewa Valley United may have a strong case — currently riding a nine-game win streak — and others like Salem, Northville and Cranbrook are battle tested after facing daunting schedules. Sparta has won 12-of-13 games, and is closing in on a 20-win season. M-1 United has strong cases to remain in the Top-25 picture month-over-month as well. But in the absence of head-to-head matchups and shared opponents, I’m left to trust my instincts and what I’ve seen thus far this season.

Grand Rapids Catholic Central was 14th last month, and after going 3-6-2 in January, they definitely drop down but not out. All six of those losses have been by a single goal. That’s right, 3-2 to No. 8 De La Salle, 3-2 to No. 14 Sault Ste. Marie, 2-1 to No. 18 Livonia Stevenson. Results might not have gone in the Cougars’ favor but they absolutely belong in the discussion with some of the top teams ranked ahead of them. Coach Mike Slobodnik’s squad is right there. A bounce here, a break there, and they could have just as easily been bumped up a tier or two.

Flint Powers doubled its win total in the month of January, none more noteworthy than its stunning 9-1 mercy of No. 16 U of D Jesuit. As impressive as that victory was, I don’t know that it’s entirely indicative of either team. Looking at the Chargers’ body of work, they’ve still suffered losses at the hands of six teams ranked ahead of them. Lumen Christi has gone 9-2-0 since the last rankings update, with both losses by just a goal. An argument could be made that they should move up instead of down two spots month-over-month, but like I said, logjam!

I got the opportunity to see Bay City first-hand on two occasions. Coach Zach Schalk’s group may not be the most talented, but he’s got them playing the game the right way and competing on a nightly basis. Top scorer Gunnar Weber is pretty special offensively as well. Paul Baker has been rock solid for White Lake Lakeland this season. He’s good enough to single handedly keep the Eagles in the mix among Top-25 teams.

Lastly, Grand Rapids Christian slips into the picture of top teams after a strong showing at the MIHL Showcase. Josh VanSchepen, Ethan Ogle, Jack Micus, Josh Hooper offensively and Brayden Melinn in net. The Eagles are an incredibly talented bunch. Now, there is some volatility amongst the bunch; they were down 4-0 to Saginaw Heritage before scoring seven unanswered to win. But a win’s a win, and the skill is undeniable. GR Christian certainly worthy of consideration amongst the top teams in the state.

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