Preview: Hockey Sets Stage for Favorites to Finish, Unexpected to Emerge

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

March 6, 2024

The MHSAA’s hockey championship weekend begins with expectations, as the final four teams in every division are seeded.

But we’re accustomed to a few surprises too during the Semifinals and Finals – and there are plenty of opportunities for both the anticipated and unpredicted to reign at USA Hockey Arena over the next three days.

All three divisions will welcome the top-ranked team at the end of the regular season, and two divisions will feature the No. 2 teams as well. All three divisions also have one unranked team in their respective fields – and don’t forget unranked East Grand Rapids reached the Division 3 championship game a year ago.

Similar to last winter as well, we also will have at least two new champions as last year’s Division 2 and 3 winners didn’t advance to this weekend. And while we’ll watch again some of the most accomplished champions in state history, seven of 12 teams playing this weekend are seeking to claim a title for the first time and three are seeking to make their championship game debut.

Division 1 – Friday
#1 Detroit Catholic Central (27-1) vs #4 Muskegon Reeths-Puffer (21-7) - 5 p.m.
#2 Brighton (23-4-1) vs #3 Clarkston (22-5-1) - 7:30 p.m.

Division 2 - Thursday
#1 Byron Center (25-2-1) vs #4 Saginaw Heritage (14-11) - 5 p.m.
#2 Trenton (22-4-2) vs #3 White Lake Lakeland (22-5-1) - 7:30 p.m.

Division 3 - Friday 
#1 Houghton (24-2-2) vs #4 Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood (14-13-1) - 11 a.m.
#2 East Grand Rapids (23-5) vs #3 Traverse Bay Reps (18-8-2) - 1:30 p.m.

Saturday – Finals
Division 1 – 7 p.m.
Division 2 – 11 a.m.
Division 3 – 3 p.m.

All Semifinals and Finals will be streamed live on and viewable with subscription, with free audio broadcasts via the MHSAA Radio Network. For information on tickets and more, go to the Ice Hockey page – and see below for a glance at all 12 contenders, listed by seed.

Division 1

Record/rank: 27-1, No. 1
Coach: Brandon Kaleniecki, ninth season (218-30-2)
League finish: First in Michigan Interscholastic Hockey League White, Catholic High School League Bishop
Championship history: Seventeen MHSAA titles (most recent 2023), five runner-up finishes.

Best wins: 7-1 over No. 2 Brighton, 4-2 over No. 3 Hartland, 5-3 over No. 4 Clarkston, 8-0 over No. 6 Livonia Stevenson, 3-1 over Division 2 No. 1 Byron Center, 9-2 over Division 2 No. 2 Trenton, 2-1 over Division 3 No. 1 Houghton.
Players to watch: Peter Sanin, jr. F (19 goals, 16 assists); Brooks Rogowski, soph. F (19 goals, 24 assists); Jackson Walsh, sr. F (12 goals, 27 assists).
Outlook: The Shamrocks have run their Division 1 championship streak to four (not counting 2020, when Finals were canceled due to COVID-19) and lost this season only to Lake Forest Academy of Illinois. DCC has scored five or more goals in 20 games with nine players scoring at least six goals for the season. Seniors Nolan Galda (16 goals/18 assists), Cael Rogowski (15/19) and Sebastiano Iavasile (14/7) are among leading scorers as well, with Galda and Rogowski also among 11 players with double-digit assists this winter. Senior Mathieu Chernauckas (1.35 goals-against average, .934 save %) has played the most games in goal and is lined up to lead the team into the weekend.

Record/rank: 23-4-1, No. 2
Coach: Kurt Kivisto, fourth season (77-23-5)
League finish: First in Kensington Lakes Activities Association West
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recent 2018), four runner-up finishes.

Best wins: 4-3 (SO) and 3-1 over No. 4 Clarkston, 5-4 (SO) and 3-0 over No. 3 Hartland, 4-0 and 7-1 (Regional Final) over No. 8 Northville, 4-2 and 7-2 (Quarterfinal) over No. 6 Livonia Stevenson, 4-0 over No. 5 Howell, 7-0 over No. 9 Salem.
Players to watch: Cameron Duffany, sr. F (34 goals, 34 assists); Lane Petit, sr. F (35 goals, 19 assists); Levi Pennala, sr. G (1.61 GAA, .938 save %).
Outlook: Brighton has finished runner-up the last two seasons, and surely has been eyeing another matchup with DCC since their regular-season meeting, a 7-1 Bulldogs loss Dec. 9. Pennala made the all-state first team last season for the second straight and senior defenseman Ryan Watkins (4 goals/15 assists) made the second team in front of him, and they help key a defense that’s given up one or no goals in 16 games. Duffany and Petit also made the all-state first team last season, Duffany another repeat selection, and they are joined among the team’s leading scorers by freshman forward Tim Peterson (10/5) and senior forward Charlie Burchfield (9/16).

Record/rank: 22-5-1, No. 4
Coach: Nathan Bryer, fourth season (56-36-5)
League finish: First in Oakland Activities Association Red
Championship history: Division 1 runner-up 2003.

Best wins: 5-2 over No. 3 Hartland in Regional Final, 7-4 over No. 5 Howell in Quarterfinal, 7-5 over No. 9 Salem, 4-0 over No. 6 Livonia Stevenson, 7-4 over Muskegon Reeths-Puffer.
Players to watch: Evan Adams, sr. D (2 goals, 21 assists); Ron Wade, jr. F (21 goals, 28 assists); Kyle Lynch, jr. F (14 goals, 23 assists).
Outlook: Clarkston has quickly climbed under Bryer, from sub-.500 records his first two seasons to this first trip to the Semifinals since 2008. It’s notable that all of the Wolves’ losses this season were by two goals or fewer to powerhouse teams – twice to Brighton, once to DCC and Division 2 No. 3 Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice, and once to Lake Forest Academy (Ill.). Wade made the all-state first team last season, and Adams and junior goalie Calum Hartner (1.71 GAA) made the second. Sophomore Brady Damian (1.82 GAA) has played the majority of the season in net and is expected to get the call this weekend. Senior Owen Croston (20 goals/15 assists) and sophomore Gavin Anderson (14/13) also are among top offensive contributors.

Record/rank: 21-7, unranked
Coach: Dustin Langlois, first season (21-7)
League finish: Second in Ottawa-Kent Conference Fischer
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.

Best wins: 5-2 and 6-2 (Regional Final) over No. 7 Sparta, 5-4 (OT) and 7-3 (Quarterfinal) over Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern/Eastern, 6-4 over Grand Rapids Christian.
Players to watch: Connor Stawski, sr. D (6 goals, 14 assists); Jaxon Stone, sr. F (24 goals, 29 assists); Croix Klint, sr. F (17 goals, 15 assists).
Outlook: A group of eight seniors has led Reeths-Puffer to the Semifinals for the second time and first since 2014, guided by alum and previous assistant coach Langlois. The Rockets have won 12 straight games, including as well 4-3 in double overtime over Rockford in the Regional Semifinal. Stone and Stawski both earned all-state honorable mention last season. Junior forward Tyler Tindall (17 goals, 14 assists) and sophomore forward Eli Cuti (7/34) are among other offensive pacesetters, and sophomore goalie Huck VanDyke has a 1.75 GAA and stopped 91 percent of shots he’s faced.

Division 2

Record/rank: 25-2-1, No. 1
Coach: Jordan Steger, second season (52-4-1)
League finish: First in O-K Rue
Championship history: Division 2 runner-up 2023 and 2021.

Best wins: 4-2 over No. 4 Warren De La Salle Collegiate, 4-1 over Division 1 No. 6 Livonia Stevenson, 6-2 over Division 1 No. 9 Salem, 6-1 over Division 1 No. 5 Howell, 5-3 over Division 3 No. 4 Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, 10-0 over Saginaw Heritage.
Players to watch: Jackson Froysland, sr. F (33 goals, 40 assists); Braxton McKee, jr. F (21 goals, 24 assists); Cade Pratt, sr. F (32 goals, 50 assists).
Outlook: Byron Center graduated a significant portion of its offense from last season’s runner-up team that finished 28-2 and has equaled its performance in returning to the Semifinals. The Bulldogs’ only losses were on back-to-back days at the MIHL Showcase to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s and Detroit Catholic Central, the former in a shootout and latter only 3-1. Byron Center hasn’t given up a goal during the postseason, turning to senior Brady Swanson (1.59 GAA, .933 save %) most of the time in net. Ben Passeno (16 goals/14 assists) and Luke Philo (14/15) also are double-digit scorers, and 10 players have reached 10 assists.

Record/rank: 22-4-2, No. 2
Coach: Chad Clements, 10th season (186-86-9)
League finish: First in MIHL Blue
Championship history: 14 MHSAA titles (most recent 2014), nine runner-up finishes.

Best wins: 3-2 over No. 6 White Lake Lakeland, 3-2 and 5-1 (Quarterfinal) over No. 7 Detroit U-D Jesuit, 4-0 over No. 9 Port Huron Northern, 5-2 over No. 3 Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice, 4-2 over No. 8 Allen Park, 4-3 (SO) over Division 1 No. 6 Livonia Stevenson, 3-2 (SO) over Division 3 No. 2 Marquette.
Players to watch: Will Barrett, sr. F (21 goals, 19 assists); Noah Miklos, sr. G (2.25 GAA, .920 save %); Owen McAlister, sr. D (1 goal, 11 assists).
Outlook: Trenton has won seven straight Regional championships and is back at the Semifinals after missing last year and finishing Division 2 runner-up in 2022. The Trojans are 9-0-1 over their last 10 games with six games scoring five or more goals during that streak and none giving up more than two. Junior Evan Sivi (1.32 GAA, .943 save %) has nearly split time in goal with Miklos, who made the all-state second team last season. Barrett also made the second team a year ago, and McAlister earned honorable mention. Senior defenseman Jay Cormier (11 goals/10 assists) and senior forward John Medvich (10/8) also are among leading scorers.

Record/rank: 22-5-1, No. 6
Coach: Tim Ronayne, 15th season (188-123-16)
League finish: First in Lakes Valley Conference
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.

Best wins: 4-3 (2 OT) over No. 9 Port Huron Northern in Quarterfinal, 5-4 over No. 3 Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice in Regional Final, 4-3 and 8-1 over South Lyon, 4-1 over Rochester Hills Stoney Creek in Regional Semifinal, 3-1 over Saginaw Heritage.
Players to watch: Tim Hinkle, sr. F (22 goals, 16 assists); Austin Scanlon, soph. F (15 goals, 35 assists); Brennan Grant, sr. F (21 goals, 26 assists).
Outlook: Lakeland won its first Regional title since 2012 and has reached the Semifinals for the first time, all after a 1-3 start. The team is 21-2-1 since Dec. 1 and leaped into the headlines by eliminating reigning champion Brother Rice in the Regional Final. Four of the team’s five losses were to teams ranked at the end of the regular season. Hinkle, Grant and Scanlon make up the top line, and sophomore Nate Dell (15 goals/14 assists), junior Adam Trzcinski (13/14) and junior Ryan Danielson (14/9) are among other top contributors on the offensive end. Goalie Paul Baker is another high-performing senior, carrying a 1.73 GAA and .928 save percentage into this weekend.

Record/rank: 14-11, unranked
Coach: JJ Bamberger, 16th season (277-131-11)
League finish: Second in Saginaw Valley League
Championship history: Division 1 runner-up 2019 and 2018.

Best wins: 2-1 and 2-0 (Regional Final) over No. 5 Bay City, 8-2 and 3-2 (OT – Quarterfinal) over Midland, 4-3 over Division 3 No. 10 Grand Rapids Catholic Central.
Players to watch: Owen Turner, sr. D (17 goals, 20 assists); Owen Gohm, sr. F (21 goals, 27 assists); Alec Mellon, sr. F (23 goals, 25 assists).
Outlook: Heritage is making a return trip to the Semifinals and with nearly an identical record as last season, again after playing several top teams including four among this weekend’s field. The Hawks have heated up with seven wins over their last 11 games. Turner made the all-state first team last season. Senior Nolan Drapp (9 goals/25 assists) joins Gohm and Mellon on the top line, and junior defenseman Logan Boettcher (10/17) also has been a key scorer.

Division 3

Record/rank: 24-2-2, No. 1
Coach: Micah Stipech, first season (24-2-2)
League finish: First in Great Lakes Hockey Conference
Championship history: Class B-C-D champion 1982, five runner-up finishes.

Best wins: 7-1 over No. 6 Sault Ste. Marie in Quarterfinal, 2-0 over No. 2 Marquette, 1-0, 4-1, 5-0 and 4-2 (Regional Final) over No. 5 Hancock; 4-2 over Division 1 No. 3 Hartland, 3-2 over Division 2 No. 2 Trenton, 4-3 over Division 2 No. 3 Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice, 5-1 over Division 2 No. 7 Detroit U-D Jesuit, 5-1 over Saginaw Heritage.
Players to watch: Connor Raffaelli, sr. D (9 goals, 26 assists); Bryant Lee, sr. G (1.07 GAA, .943 save %); Michael Maillette, sr. F (33 goals, 15 assists).
Outlook: By the numbers, Houghton stacks up nearly identically to when it made the trip a year ago – but is hoping for more after falling in a Semifinal to end that run. Stipech, a 1992 grad, took over the program this winter after seven seasons as an assistant and having taken part in three Finals weekends. Like last year, the Gremlins took on several of the state’s best on both peninsulas and lost only to DCC 2-1 and Green Bay Notre Dame Academy (Wis.). Raffaelli made the all-state first team last season, and Lee made the second. Connor Arko (13 goals, 28 assists), Jace DeForge (17/21) and Tanner Flachs (10/5) are others to watch in the offensive zone.

Record/rank: 23-5, No. 3
Coach: Christopher Newton, sixth season (91-57-5)
League finish: First in O-K Baum
Championship history: Division 3 runner-up 2023 and 2002.

Best wins: 5-2 over No. 9 Flint Powers Catholic, 3-1 over No. 4 Orchard Lake St. Mary’s in Quarterfinal, 2-1 over No. 10 Grand Rapids Catholic Central in Semifinal, 4-1 over Division 1 No. 6 Livonia Stevenson, 5-2 over Division 1 No. 9 Salem, 5-2 over Division 1 No. 5 Howell, 5-0 over Division 1 No. 10 Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central.
Players to watch: Ian MacKeigan, sr. F (18 goals, 15 assists); Scotty Millman, sr. F (17 goals, 13 assists); Glenn Green, sr. F (10 goals, 22 assists).
Outlook: East Grand Rapids was one of the stories of the 2023 Finals, advancing to the championship game despite entering the postseason unranked. The Pioneers have won three straight Regional titles and four over the last six seasons, and added the first league title under Newton this winter. MacKeigan also was among the team’s leading scorers last season, as was senior Charlie Hoekstra (11 goals/15 assists). Juniors Oliver Owen (17/12) and James Albers (15/10) also find the net regularly, while senior Joe Green (1.55 GAA, .921 save %) has shined defending it.

Record/rank: 18-8-2, No. 7
Coach: Mike Matteucci, sixth season (record N/A)
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Championship history: Has not played in an MHSAA Final.

Best wins: 5-2 over No. 3 East Grand Rapids, 5-0 over No. 10 Grand Rapids Catholic Central, 3-2 over Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, 4-1 over Division 1 No. 8 Northville.
Players to watch: Ethan Coleman, sr. F; Grand Lucas, sr. F; Ryan Lannen, sr. D (Statistics not submitted).
Outlook: Bay Reps are back at the Semifinals for the first time since 2019 and prepared against a loaded schedule as well, as all eight losses and two ties were to ranked teams – including a 3-3 draw with Division 2 top-ranked Byron Center. The cooperative includes players from several small schools in the northwestern Lower Peninsula, with Traverse City St. Francis the primary member. Lucas made the all-state first team last season, and Coleman and Lannen earned honorable mentions.

Record/rank: 14-13-1, unranked
Coach: John LaFontaine, fifth season (64-53-9)
League finish: Second in MIHL Blue
Championship history: 18 MHSAA titles (most recent 2021), two runner-up finishes.

Best wins: 2-0 and 3-0 over No. 3 Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, 3-2 over No. 10 Grand Rapids Catholic Central, 3-0 (Quarterfinal) and 3-2 over Riverview Gabriel Richard, 6-3 over Division 2 No. 9 Port Huron Northern.

Players to watch: Roman Cicco, sr. D (12 goals, 11 assists); Nick Timko, jr. F (13 goals, 16 assists), Michael Horton, sr. F (8 goals, 8 assists).
Outlook: One of the most successful programs in MHSAA history is back at the Semifinals after two seasons away and rebounding from a 7-18-2 finish just a year ago. Four losses this winter came to teams still playing this weekend and several of the rest to ranked opponents as the Cranes navigated a 2-4 start and have won seven of their last 10 games. Horton and Cicco are two of only four seniors on a team dominated by juniors and sophomores.

PHOTO Houghton's Wyatt Jenkins' (7) and Jace DeForge (15) celebrate winning the Great Lakes Hockey Conference title after playing Marquette to a 1-1 overtime tie on Feb. 16. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)