HOUGHTON — One might be tempted to say the Houghton Gremlins are living the dream this hockey season.
The Gremlins remained undefeated through 12 games, earning a 7-3 victory over neighboring Hancock in the Dec. 28 championship game of the John MacInnes Holiday tournament to finish their calendar year 2022 schedule.
“This is an awesome tournament, and we’re proud to be part of it,” said Houghton coach Corey Markham. “This is something we always end the first half of our season with. It provides a real good atmosphere.”
Houghton is coming off a 15-12 season that ended with an overtime Regional Final loss to Calumet, which went on to reach the Division 3 Semifinals. The Gremlins have downed Calumet twice already this winter, including 8-0 in a Dec. 27 MacInnes opener.
“Our top line is super skilled and fast,” said Markham. “Our depth is really strong for a high school team. We returned our top two scoring lines, and our top four scorers are seniors. They’re physically strong. This is a real strong group. This is my 24th year and I’ve had few teams that could skate as well as this team.”
The MacInnes title contest against Hancock was tied at 3-3 after the first period before the Gremlins added two goals in each of the next two periods.
“Hancock came ready to play,” said Markham. “Our top defensive player was injured, and they took advantage of it. We had kids playing in different positions, which tends to break up your chemistry. We keep coming and score a lot of goals and don’t give up many goals. It’s unusual for us to give up three goals in one period.”
Senior Landon Stevens was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, and senior Camden Markham scored four goals to go with two assists against Hancock.
“This feels really good,” said Stevens. “We played good the whole tournament. Hancock played really good in the first period. We just worked real hard in our defensive zone.”
On Dec. 20, the Gremlins overcame a two-goal deficit after two periods to defeat Calumet 4-2.
“Calumet is young, but has a real good program,” said Camden Markham. “Being down 2-0 was scary, but once we scored our first goal the momentum changed. We ran into a hot goaltender, but found a way to score on him.”
Another highlight took place three days earlier when the Gremlins defeated Division 1 power Hartland 5-1.
“They were the top-ranked team in the state,” said Stevens. “They’re really good. We had never beaten them before, but were excited to play them. They have a super skilled team.”
That victory also gave Corey Markham his 379th coaching victory, breaking the school record of longtime coach Don Miller, who led the program from 1969-76 and 1978-99. Markham is up to 12th in MHSAA hockey coaching history with a record of 382-213-22 since his start with the 1999-2000 season.
Camden Markham, an all-state first-team forward last season, has 20 goals and a team-high 43 points this season. Stevens has scored a team-high 21 goals, with 15 assists, and junior Mike Maillette has 12 goals. Senior Gaborik Carlson, an all-state second-team forward last winter, has 22 assists with seven goals, and junior goalie Bryant Lee is giving up 1.12 goals per game with a .941 save percentage over eight games.
“They (Houghton) have a super team,” said Hancock coach Scott Mikesch. “They’re a real gifted offensive team. They’re well coached and they play hard. They can play any type of game. We had to play everybody tonight just to stay with them. There’s no shame in losing to Houghton. It’s nice to score on a team with that much horsepower.”
The Gremlins are No. 1 in the latest Division 3 rankings and next host Division 1 No. 3 Brighton on Friday at Dee Stadium.
Despite their success, Coach Markham knows the Gremlins still have work to do.
“We have to keep getting better,” he said. “We’re going to get everybody’s best game. They’re going to be coming after us. Hancock has a good defensive team. They tried to slow us down and it worked.”
John Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.
PHOTOS (Top) Houghton captains Sully Rajala (4), Camden Markham (9), Gaborik Carlson (8) and Landon Stevens (13) hold up the John McInnes Memorial Tournament trophy Dec. 28. (Middle) This season's Houghton team celebrates with a photo after the historic Hartland win. (Photos courtesy of the Houghton hockey program.)
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 email@example.com 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.