By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
A year ago, Detroit Country Day won its first MHSAA hockey championship since 1981 – and a year later, Houghton may have to go through the Yellowjackets to win its first title on the ice since 1982.
But two others will challenge the past champions recent and old. East Grand Rapids and Riverview Gabriel Richard are seeking their first Finals hockey title – making for plenty of historic opportunities in the Division 3 bracket.
This weekend’s pairings are as follows:
Division 3 – Friday
Riverview Gabriel Richard (17-10-1) vs. Houghton (22-5-1), 11 a.m.
Detroit Country Day (22-4-2) vs. East Grand Rapids (22-5-1), 1:30 p.m.
FINALS – Saturday
Division 3 - 2 p.m.
Click for a full schedule of this weekend's games plus full results as they come in. Player statistics below are through the Regional round.
DETROIT COUNTRY DAY
Record/rank: 22-4-2, No. 6
Championship history: Division 3 champion 2018, Class B-C-D champion 1981, two runner-up finishes.
Coach: Frank Novock, eighth season (154-56-10)
League finish: Second in Michigan Metro Hockey League East.
Best wins: 6-1 over No. 1 Detroit U-D Jesuit in Quarterfinal, 3-1 over No. 3 Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood in Regional Semifinal, 4-1 over No. 4 Warren DeLaSalle, 5-3 over No. 10 Grosse Pointe South, 4-1 over No. 12 Allen Park, 2-0 over No. 8 Flint Powers Catholic, 4-0 over Riverview Gabriel Richard, 4-3 over Division 2 No. 3 Livonia Stevenson, 4-0 over Division 1 No. 12 Utica Eisenhower.
Players to watch: Lucas Krol, soph. F (11 goals, 23 assists), Mickey VanAntwerp, sr. F (20 goals, 28 assists); Dallas Hood, jr. F (14 goals, 12 assists); Sam Evola, sr. G (1.15 goals-against average, 6 shutouts).
Outlook: Country Day is 8-1-1 over its last 10 games, and Wednesday’s big win over top-ranked Jesuit avenged one of the Yellowjackets’ few losses. Evola was Mr. Hockey last season after leading the team to its first championship in nearly four decades, and the defense is clicking again as Country Day has given up three goals total over the last seven games. Five players had at least 20 points entering the week – juniors Gino Sessa (7 goals/17 assists) and Logan Gotinsky (12 goals/15 assists) also have been among top offensive contributors.
EAST GRAND RAPIDS
Record/rank: 22-5-1, No. 11
Championship history: Division 3 runner-up 2002.
Coach: Christopher Newton, first season (22-5-1)
League finish: Second in Ottawa-Kent Conference Baum.
Best wins: 5-4 (Regional Semifinal) and 8-0 over No. 14 Grand Rapids Catholic Central, 2-0 over No. 12 Allen Park, 2-1 over No. 7 Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, 7-6 over Division 1 No. 7 Byron Center, 4-1 over Division 1 No. 9 Macomb Dakota, 5-3 over Division 2 No. 12 Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern/Eastern.
Players to watch: Jake Adams, sr. F (33 goals, 15 assists); Nate Milanowski, soph. F (11 goals, 24 assists); Reily O’Connor, sr. F (12 goals, eight assists); Colin Stecco, sr. F (23 goals, 29 assists).
Outlook: Newton, formerly an assistant for Farmington who helped lead that team to the 2014 Division 3 title, has East Grand Rapids headed to the Semifinals for the first time since its runner-up finish in 2002. The Pioneers won their first Regional title since 2012-13 and are 8-1-1 over their last 10 games. They scored at least five goals in 11 games this season – including all three of the MHSAA Tournament. Junior forward Ryley Sikkenga added 10 goals heading into this week, and junior defenseman Robbie Stuursma had six goals and 15 assists to round out the team’s 20-point scorers.
Record/rank: 22-5-1, No. 5
Championship history: Class B-C-D champion 1982, four runner-up finishes.
Coach: Corey Markham, 20th season (324-187-21)
League finish: Second in Great Lakes Hockey Conference.
Best wins: 4-1 over No. 9 Alpena in the Quarterfinal, 3-2 (Regional Final) and 4-2 over No. 2 Calumet, 5-1 over No. 4 Warren DeLaSalle, 3-2 over No. 3 Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, 3-1 over Division 2 No. 4 Birmingham Brother Rice, 6-1 and 3-0 over Division 2 No. 9 Marquette, 6-0 over Division 1 No. 12 Utica Eisenhower, 4-2 over Division 1 No. 5 Rochester United.
Players to watch: Kevin Bostwick, sr. D (5 goals, 28 assists); Brad Gauthier, sr. F (15 goals, 19 assists); PJ Donnelly, sr. F (16 goals, 22 assists); Brendan Erickson, sr. F/D (17 goals, 19 assists).
Outlook: Houghton most recently was the Division 3 runner-up in 2012 and 2015, and has prepped for this weekend against top competition from all three divisions this season. The Gremlins have won nine of their last 10 games and avenged two of their losses by beating Calumet at the Regional. Bostwick made the all-state first team last season, while Donnelly made the second and Erickson earned honorable mention. Sophomore Jimmy Pietila has done most of the work in goal and carried a 1.80 goals-against average with six shutouts into this week.
RIVERVIEW GABRIEL RICHARD
Record/rank: 17-10-1, unranked
Championship history: Two MHSAA runner-up finishes (most recent 2003).
Coach: Rick Desana, 14th season (188-161-15)
League finishes: Tied for second in Detroit Catholic League Division II, fifth in Michigan Metro Hockey League East.
Best wins: 2-1 over No. 1 Detroit U-D Jesuit, 4-3 over Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard/Greenhills in Quarterfinal, 4-2 over Port Huron Northern.
Players to watch: Chance Desana, sr. F (18 goals, 15 assists); Nathan Vazquez, jr. F (23 goals, 19 assists); Jake Emery, jr. D (6 goals, 24 assists); Austin Harrison, jr. F (12 goals, 13 assists).
Outlook: Gabriel Richard has made the Semifinals for the second season in a row, while unranked entering the playoffs for both runs, and with many of the top contributors from a year ago leading the surge. The Pioneers are 14-2-1 over their last 17 games, and consider that three of the losses came to reigning champion Detroit Country Day and nine total against opponents ranked in the final poll. Senior forward Frank Klamerus is another key offensive contributor with 10 goals and 10 assists entering this week.
PHOTO: Houghton celebrates a 3-0 victory over Marquette this season (Photo by Cara Kamps.)
If the Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice hockey team ends up winning the Division 2 championship in March, it could be said that the journey to that title started in August with an offer he wasn't ready to accept.
That’s when senior Peter Rosa — who was coming off an all-state season last year as a junior — went to Louisiana to train for a few days with the Shreveport Mudbugs, a team in the North American Hockey League.
Rosa said at that point he was already wanting to come back to Brother Rice for his senior season, but given how he impressed the Mudbugs coaching staff during that camp, it didn’t stop Shreveport coaches from trying to change Rosa’s mind after they informed him he had a roster spot if he wanted it.
“They wanted me there,” Rosa said. “They said, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to come develop here?’"
But Rosa stuck with his original intentions, saying thanks, but no thanks, so he could play one final year of high school hockey.
As a result, Rosa is already going down in the history books as one of the best to ever play for a storied Brother Rice program.
Following Tuesday’s win against Warren De La Salle Collegiate, Rosa has 22 goals and 25 assists in 17 games for the Warriors this winter.
He is No. 2 on the school’s all-time points list with 116, although he likely won’t be able to catch leader Mackenzie MacEachern, who had 154 points during his time at Brother Rice.
However, odds are good that Rosa will be able to overtake MacEachern’s record of 65 goals scored in a career, since Rosa currently is at 59.
Rosa is a versatile 5-foot-10, 175-pound offensive stalwart who can play center and both wing positions.
When Brother Rice lost to Trenton in a Division 2 Semifinal last year, Brother Rice head coach Kenny Chaput said odds were good at the time that it would be the last time he would coach Rosa.
“I was fully planning on that being his final game with us,” he said.
Rosa went to Shreveport following the season to practice and meet the team in what was his first encounter with the Mudbugs before going back in August.
But throughout the summer, Chaput, through conversations with Peter’s dad and Brother Rice assistant coach Todd Rosa, had an inkling that Peter preferred to play at Brother Rice for his senior year.
Once the official word came from Peter at the beginning of the school year that he was coming back, there was a challenge for Chaput.
Given Rosa was good enough to play at junior level, it was tempting for coaches to feel they didn’t have anything left to teach Rosa in high school.
“I had to make sure I went above to push him so he doesn’t get stale with things,” Chaput said. “It’s still a challenge because he gets things done that a lot of other kids don’t. But there’s tweaks in his game that he still needs to do, so we’ll continue to push him the best we can. Obviously, we didn’t want him to have a year where he didn’t get pushed and he didn’t progress.”
With Rosa in the fold, Brother Rice is an obvious contender to win its second Division 2 title in three years.
“I don’t think there’s anything like playing for your school and for your classmates,” said Rosa, who said he’s not sure yet if he’ll play in Shreveport or for another junior team after he finishes high school. “Having the benefit of hanging out with kids in school all day, and then coming to practice with them and playing with them, I’ve built relationships with many kids on the team that I wouldn’t trade anything for. I’ve had a great experience.”
Even worse for opponents is that after the loss to Trenton in that Semifinal, Rosa is motivated for redemption.
“That’ll leave a pretty bad taste in your mouth,” Rosa said. “I just felt like I had some unfinished business.”
If that business ends up being finished, opponents will sure wish those Shreveport coaches could’ve changed Rosa’s mind in August.
Keith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Brother Rice's Peter Rosa gains steam on a rush during last season's Division 2 Semifinal against Trenton at USA Hockey Arena. (Middle) Rosa raises his stick in celebration after scoring Rice's first goal in the eventual 4-2 loss.