Top 25 Team Tiers

Updating the Rankings, Breaking Michigan high school hockey teams into favorites, contenders and long shots

Craig Peterson

December 13, 2023

Photo by Tim Arrick | The Livingston Daily
Photo by Tim Arrick | The Livingston Daily

We are about a full month into the regular season now, and just about every program in Michigan high school hockey has played at least five games. Plus, as many as eight teams have yet to suffer a loss. I’ve been updating my Top 10 on a weekly cadence, but I thought it may be good exercise to expand to the Top 25 once a month. This week’s look at a Top 25 would be my first foray since releasing the preseason rankings in November. 

Not only do I unveil an updated Top 25, but I also break down the teams into tiers: Front-runners, Favorites, Contenders and Long Shots. First, the Top 25…

1Detroit Catholic Central
3Byron Center
7Bay Reps
8Grand Rapids Catholic Central
9Orchard Lake St. Mary's (OLSM) hockey logoOrchard Lake St. Mary’s
10Trenton hockey logoTrenton
11U of D Jesuit hockey logoU of D Jesuit
12East Grand Rapids
15Brother Rice hockey logoBrother Rice
16De La Salle Hockey logoDe La Salle
17Forest Hills Central LogoForest Hills Central
18Livonia Stevenson hockey logoLivonia Stevenson
19Marquette hockey logoMarquette
20M-1 United
21Flint Powers hockey logoFlint Powers
23Bay City
24Allen Park
25Sault Ste. Marie
Last updated: Dec. 13th, 2023

Front-Runners: Catholic Central continues to set the pace

Detroit Catholic Central’s in-state winning streak is up to 36 games. After getting past No. 4-ranked Brighton last Saturday, they may not face much resistance keeping that streak alive into the playoffs. Not only are the Shamrocks the top team, but they’re spreading the wealth in the process. Six skaters have reached double digits in points, and seven are averaging at least a point per game. I really liked their forward line combinations against the Bulldogs, and it led to great success. Jackson Walsh, Brooks Rogowski and Sebastiano Iavasile may be the team’s most talented trio. Follow that up with Peter Sanin, Josh Granowicz and Nolan Galda — a line that scored four of the seven goals against Brighton — and a heavy grind-line type in Cael Rogowski, Collin Dell and Andrew Atala.

Brighton was far from full strength against CC, but that’s no excuse. Even with the loss, the Bulldogs have still been impressive, with two wins over No. 7 Clarkston and another over No. 5 Hartland. Players are starting to find their roles and the team is taking on an identity. Cam Duffany and Lane Petit have been downright dominant, and I mentioned how impactful Charlie Burchfield has looked as of late as well. 

Houghton and Byron Center may continue to be a bit of a mystery to most until the MIHL Showcase in early February. The Gremlins don’t leave the county for another seven weeks. The Bulldogs will be on-hand for the North-South Showcase, and will draw additional matchups, with No. 5 Bay Reps and No. 16 De La Salle. But make no mistake, both are every bit the real deal. 

Half of Byron Center’s wins have come against ranked opponents, and prospects Cade Pratt and Jackson Froysland have been well documented. On top of that, Ben Passeno posted a hat trick in a 5-2 win against unranked Country Day. Luke Philo and Braxton McKee have added excellent secondary scoring as well. Goaltender Brady Swanson has seen the bulk of the action, but still hasn’t had to face more than 29 shots in a single outing. He’s got a .925 save percentage and 1.67 goals-against average.

As good as Swanson’s been for BC, Bryant Lee is making a case to be the top goaltender in the state for Houghton. He’s allowed just six goals against in six starts, facing the likes of No. 5 Hartland, No. 10 Trenton, No. 13 Hancock and No. 19 Marquette. Speedy forward Michael Maillette has flexed his finishing skills, scoring 11 goals, and he’s getting plenty of offensive help from guys like Jace DeForge, Grant Schaible and Tanner Flachs

Favorites: Hartland is heating up, and could get white hot by season’s end

Hartland could very easily work its way into the top tier as a serious front-runner. They have the talent and goaltending to be a real problem for anybody come March. All three forward lines can score, and Drew L’Esperance and Ian Kastamo are dangerous with the puck on their sticks. L’Esperance showed a natural goal-scorer’s touch that, if given a clean look, he will make you pay, as evidenced by his team-leading six goals and 11 points.

Clarkston’s schedule lightens up considerably down the stretch. They’ll be tested by the likes of No. 16 De La Salle and No. 17 Livonia Stevenson, but I’d consider the Wolves favorites in all but one matchup the rest of the way (No. 1 Detroit Catholic Central). The Bay Reps share plenty of similarities with Clarkston, oozing with talent from their top lines. Plus, both programs have young goaltending situations in sophomores Brady Damian for Clarkston and Tyler Boynton-Fisher for the Reps.

The trio of MIHL teams Trenton, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s and U of D Jesuit will sort themselves out with matchups over the next month. I’d expect the Cubs to pull away from the pack here, given the amount of pure skill they have in their lineup. I do worry that guys like Carter Cate, Aidan Charron and Paul Therriault can be a bit streaky; when things are good, they’re amazing and when things are bad, they’re awful. Ultimately, I think U of D may be U of D’s biggest hurdle.

For Trenton, the team’s strength puts them in a great spot. Ask any coach if they could be strong in one area, where would it be? It’s goaltending, and the Trojans have that in spades with Noah Miklos and Evan Sivi. Okay, but after that, where would you want to be strong? It’s defense, and Trenton has an embarrassment of riches there as well. Jay Cormier leads the D in scoring with six points; he’s a real good skater and comfortable with the puck. I also thought sophomore Landon Leone was sneaky smooth and very fluid with the puck. Senior Caleb Kidd is a tall drink of water too, at 6-foot-3. He provides a giant presence on the back end. Those are just a few of the multitude of options Trenton has defensively. 

Orchard Lake St. Mary’s is a bit of a wild card thus far. The Eaglets have been good enough to defeat No. 4 Brighton but I thought they actually got out-played by No. 14 Howell, despite beating the Highlanders in a shootout. 

GRCC and East Grand Rapids settled their rivalry, at least for now. The 6-1-0 Cougars shut out EGR 2-0, and could threaten Byron Center for the top spot on the west side when the two teams play this weekend. Trent Goheen and his 0.40 goals-against average will certainly give GRCC a chance to do so, even in the face of the Bulldogs’ offensive firepower. 

Contenders: A youth movement for Stevenson, Forest Hills Central

This group of Contenders is interesting because most are extremely young. But, if the game starts to click for any of these teams, they could stun just about anyone ahead of them in the rankings.

The youngest team in the state, Livonia Stevenson may not have defeated the likes of No. 3 Byron Center, No. 10 Trenton or No. 12 East Grand Rapids, but they definitely competed well. Junior Owen Hall is buying in, with six goals already, and if more young guys start to ‘get it’ the Spartans could be very scary. Forest Hills Central is in a similar situation, with seven of its top eight scorers being underclassmen. The slight difference being the Rangers are already starting to see results, with a 2-1 win over EGR.

Howell’s best defenseman may be sophomore Chad Pietila. He’s displayed nice skating ability and good patience with the puck, contributing five assists from the back end. Hancock’s Todd Kilpela is in a similar role for the Bulldogs. When the two teams went head-to-head earlier this month, they showed they were every bit as close with a 3-2 game in favor of Howell. Both teams have opportunities on the horizon too. The Highlanders get ranked opponents Brighton, Flint Powers, Hartland and Stevenson leading up to the MIHL Showcase. Hancock will see Marquette and Brighton in the next month as well.

Juniors Roman Villaire on the front end and Cameron George on the back end look like budding, next-level prospects for Brother Rice. As much as I like their potential, the team has struggled a bit with top-notch competition. They play the fourth-toughest schedule in the state and everyone knows how difficult the MIHL will be. So the Warriors will have plenty of opportunity to sharpen their skills against the best as the season wears on. A real-life sink or swim.

De La Salle’s top line is very talented, but the depth will certainly be tested against the likes of non-conference ranked opponents like Clarkston, Byron Center and GRCC. That’s on top of the remaining MIHL slate that includes OLSM twice, Brother Rice and DCC. Plus, a pair of games against unranked Port Huron Northern may be quite the challenge as well.

While Marquette may have the least amount of pure talent among the group of Contenders, they more than make up for it with their relentless style of play. I don’t mean that as an insult by any means. But instead of dipsy-doers and flashy finishers, Marquette has the go-to-workers and blue-collar guys that are gonna grind you down and force you into submission. I’m not sure anyone else in the state successfully plays this way. That makes Marquette a tough matchup and a dangerous team to play against. 

Long Shots: Bay City showed its comfortable being the underdog

They’ll likely be considered underdogs in all of the major matchups on the calendar, but that doesn’t mean the Long Shots don’t have a chance at pulling the upset. Hell, Bay City did just that last weekend against the Bay Reps. Senior Gunnar Weber has put the team on his back, with 10 goals and 14 points. He put up a four-point night in that 5-2 win over the Reps, and has at least one point in every game this season.

Charlie Price carries a similar responsibility for M-1 United. He leads the undefeated Griffins in scoring as well, and put together a four-goal game in a 6-0 win against unranked Novi. I like Price’s supporting cast a little bit more than Bay City, but the Wolves certainly have the most notable win in the group of Long Shots.

Flint Powers is probably the deepest of the teams in this tier. Let’s not forget, this is the defending D-III state champion who’s only losses are a one-goal game to No. 6 Clarkston and a two-goal game to No. 8 GRCC. Seven skaters average a point per game thus far, and goaltenders Blake Zloto and Gavin Stutts-Miller have compiled a team goals-against of 1.57 per game. The Chargers could jump as many as two full tiers with four games remaining against ranked opponents.

They’re much better than their face-value 4-4-0 record would suggest. Plymouth’s losses have come at the hands of three ranked opponents, and a fourth that probably could be in the Top 25 as well. And, all of those losses for the Wildcats have been close games. If all breaks right for Jackson Warzecha and crew, this could be a 15-16 win team; something they haven’t done in six years. 

Allen Park’s got a goalie, which means they’ve got a puncher’s chance against most teams ranked ahead of them. Jack Miller has a 1.43 goals-against average and .947 save percentage against some pretty respectable opponents. They’ll be tested against the likes of Trenton, Plymouth and U of D Jesuit down the stretch.

Sault Ste. Marie is a lite version of Houghton. They’re hard to get eyes on and the only ones who know about the Blue Devils are themselves and the handful of teams that play them. We may not really know what The Soo is capable of until the MIHL Showcase. They’ve got two serviceable net minders in Michael Bontrager and Cam LaBadie. Plus, as many as eight skaters have scored multiple goals this season. SSM plays teams tough — like Marquette, twice — and if they keep progressing, they’ll go from competing with top teams to beating top teams. 

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