Preview: Hockey's Championship Chases Resume

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

March 24, 2021

Just over a year ago, the 2019-20 school sports year ended only hours before the puck was to drop for the first Semifinal of that hockey season’s championship weekend at USA Hockey Arena.

Like in other winter and spring sports, a number of teams that were set to play for championships last season have unfinished business because of COVID-19 – and now an opportunity.

This season’s championship weekend returns to Plymouth, with Division 2 Semifinals on Thursday, Divisions 3 and 1 on Friday and all three championship games Saturday.


DIVISION 1 - Friday, March 26 
Mid-Michigan (15-2) vs. Rockford (14-5-1), 4:30 p.m.
Detroit Catholic Central (16-1) vs. Brighton (10-4-3), 8 p.m.

DIVISION 2 - Thursday, March 25 
Byron Center (17-0) vs. Marquette (14-4), 4:30 p.m.
Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (13-4) vs. Trenton (13-7), 8 p.m.

DIVISION 3 - Friday, March 26 
Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood (13-4) vs. Flint Powers Catholic (14-3), 10 a.m.
Calumet (17-0-1) vs. Chelsea (17-1-1), 1:30 p.m.


Saturday, March 27 
Division 1: 7 p.m.
Division 2: 11 a.m.
Division 3: 3 p.m.

Spectator limits remain in effect, but all Semifinals and Finals will be streamed live on and viewable with subscription, with free audio broadcasts via the MHSAA Radio Network.

Below is a glance at all 12 teams contending this weekend. Click for the full program.

Division 1

10-4-3, No. 3
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recent 2018), two runner-up finishes.
Coach: Kurt Kivisto, first season (10-4-3)
League finish: Third in Kensington Lakes Activities Association Gold
Best wins: 3-2 (OT) over No. 10 Plymouth, 6-5 over No. 5 Saginaw Heritage, 5-4 over No. 2 Orchard Lake St. Mary’s.
Players to watch: Chris Wozniak, sr. G (2.63 goals-against average); Nick Baker, jr. F (9 goals, 9 assists); Nick Przysiecki, sr. F (8 goals, 10 assists); Lars Erkkila, sr. F (8 goals, 11 assists).
Outlook: Kivisto, who played at Brighton and most recently served as an assistant coach, has led one of the state’s most annually-successful programs back to the Semifinals for the seventh time in nine seasons. He inherited 11 seniors including Wozniak, who made the all-state second team last season. Defense has been a key in the team’s 6-0-2 run heading into this weekend. Brighton has outscored its three postseason opponents by a combined 16-1.

16-1, No. 1
Championship history: Fourteen MHSAA titles (most recent 2019), five runner-up finishes.
Coach: Brandon Kaleniecki, sixth season (138-24-2)
League finish: First in Michigan Interscholastic Hockey League North 
Best wins: 3-1 over No. 9 Salem in Quarterfinal, 2-1 over No. 2 Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, 5-0 over No. 4 Rockford, 5-0 over No. 3 Brighton, 3-2 over Division 2 No. 3 Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice, 2-1 over Division 2 No. 4 Livonia Stevenson.
Players to watch: William Shields, sr. F (4 goals, 14 assists); Tommy Shea, sr. F (10 goals, 3 assists); Brenden Cwiek, sr. F (7 goals, 8 assists); Bobby Masters, jr. G (1.14 goals-against average, .940 save %).
Outlook: DCC has advanced to the Semifinals for the ninth straight season, and even got some help from the junior varsity when the varsity had to quarantine during Regional week. The only loss this season was early to Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, which the Shamrocks avenged with a 3-0 win near the end of the regular season. DCC also has defeated Division 3 No. 3 Detroit Country Day (7-1), No. 5 Flint Powers Catholic (4-2), No. 2 Detroit U-D Jesuit (2-1) and had another win in its season opener over the No. 4 Cranes (2-0). Masters has split time in net with junior Nick Galda, who entered this week with a 0.74 goals-against average.

15-2, unranked
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Coach: Rob Husulak, third season (42-25-1) 
League finish: First in South Central Hockey League Central
Best wins: 5-2 over No. 5 Saginaw Heritage in Quarterfinals, 6-1 over Capital City, 5-4 (OT), 7-4 and 5-4 (Regional Final) over Okemos.
Players to watch: Brock Mason, sr. D (24 goals, 12 assists); Jadon Reimer, sr. D (14 goals, 11 assists); Eli Reimer, sr. F (27 goals, 20 assists); Carson Finney, sr. F (14 goals, 40 assists).
Outlook: Mid-Michigan includes players from Holt, Eaton Rapids, Potterville, Grand Ledge and Portland, and qualifies as arguably the surprise of the tournament after its upset of Heritage in the Quarterfinal. But the Marauders have been impressive all season; their only league loss came against a team they also beat, and the other defeat was to Division 2 quarterfinalist Muskegon Mona Shores early. Senior defenseman Danny Abdouch had added another 10 goals and seven assists entering the week.

14-5-1, No. 4
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Coach: C.J. Pobur, fifth season (75-53-4)
League finish: Tied for second in Ottawa-Kent Conference Rue 
Best wins: 4-3 (Quarterfinal) and 4-1 over No. 6 Grandville, 4-3 over No. 8 Traverse City West in Regional Final, 6-4 (Regional Semifinal) and 2-1 over No. 7 Traverse Bay Reps, 6-3 over Division 2 No. 7 Muskegon Mona Shores.
Players to watch: Carson Korte, sr. F (27 goals, 16 assists); Owen Devries, sr. F (13 goals, 22 assists); Braeden Fouchea, sr. F (3 goals, 19 assists); Will Haggerty, jr. F (13 goals, 9 assists).
Outlook: Pobur has led the Rams to three Regional titles over his five seasons, and this will be the program’s first Semifinal appearance after finishing at the Quarterfinal round seven times over the last two decades. Rockford has had one of the toughest playoff roads in any division the last two weeks and was able to avenge one of its losses – the Rams avenged another during the regular season, with the other three coming either to DCC or Division 2 top-ranked Byron Center (twice). Senior Dayton Perroud entered this week with 11 assists from his blueliner spot.

Division 2

17-0, No. 1 
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final. 
Coach: Taylor Keyworth, third season (57-16-2)
League finish: First in O-K Rue
Best wins: 2-1 over No. 2 Hartland in Semifinal, 3-2 over No. 7 Muskegon Mona Shores in Regional Final, 4-2 and 8-3 over Division 1 No. 4 Rockford, 4-0 over Division 1 No. 7 Traverse Bay Reps, 4-3 and 5-4 over Division 1 No. 6 Grandville. 
Players to watch: Logan Nickolaus, sr. F (23 goals, 25 assists); Luke Nickolaus, sr. F (10 goals, 18 assists), Trevor Davis, sr. D (7 goals, 24 assists); Josh Froysland, sr. D (1 goal, 11 assists). 
Outlook: A roster with 11 seniors has elevated Byron Center to the Semifinals for the second time – and for the first time they’ll get to play as last year’s run was halted by COVID-19 after the Quarterfinals. The Bulldogs are averaging 5.8 goals per game – even more impressive considering seven of 17 games were against teams ranked in Divisions 1 or 2 at the end of the regular season. Davis made the all-state first team last year, while Froysland made the second and Luke Nickolaus earned an honorable mention. Seven players total had scored at least seven goals heading into this week, with senior forward Mason Breit adding 16 more (with nine assists) to those mentioned above. 

13-4, No. 3
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recent 2017), two runner-up finishes.
Coach: Kenny Chaput, fifth season (89-34-8)
League finish: Second in MIHL North 
Best wins: 6-0 (Quarterfinal) and 7-2 over No. 8 Port Huron Northern, 3-2 over No. 2 Hartland, 5-1 over Division 1 No. 6 Grandville, 4-1 and 4-3 over Division 1 No. 2 Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, 3-2 over Division 1 No. 5 Saginaw Heritage, 4-2 over Division 1 No. 3 Brighton, 1-0 over Division 3 No. 2 Detroit U-D Jesuit.
Players to watch: Andrew Marone, soph. F (11 goals, 10 assists); Ryan Marone, sr. F (6 goals, 15 assists); Peter Rosa, soph. F (8 goals, 9 assists); Brett Harris, sr. F (8 goals, 12 assists).
Outlook: Brother Rice has reached the Semifinals all four seasons since its most recent championship in 2017. The Warriors enter this weekend with four shutouts over their last five games, with senior Drake Danou handling most of the time in net this season and posting a 1.77 goals-against average and .923 save percentage entering this week. Senior Alec Hamady (7 goals, 8 assists) adds more scoring punch, and junior Matthew Herb had 13 assists from the blue line coming into Tuesday.  

14-4, No. 6
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recent 2008), four runner-up finishes.
Coach: Doug Garrow, eighth season (139-60-12) 
League finish: Third in Great Lakes Hockey Conference 
Best wins: 1-0 over No. 9 Traverse City Central in Quarterfinal, 6-3 over Division 3 No. 7 Hancock, 2-0 over Division 3 No. 6 Houghton.
Players to watch: Ansel Frost, sr. F (4 goals, 12 assists); Jackson Potulny, fr. F (15 goals, 12 assists); Dylan Baldwin, sr. F (12 goals, 8 assists); Brennan Hakkola, sr. G (1.50 goals-against average, .915 save %, 5 shutouts).
Outlook: Marquette earned its third-straight Semifinal berth after prepping against all of the best from the Upper Peninsula including twice against Division 3 semifinalist Calumet. Frost earned an all-state honorable mention last season and he’s one of 10 on his team with at least 13 points. Senior Evan Kroll is another with 10 goals and six assists, and sophomore Jacob Garrow had five goals and 14 assists entering the week. Sophomore Joe DeMattia had added two goals and 15 assists from the blue line prior to the Quarterfinal.  

13-7, No. 10
Championship history: 14 MHSAA titles (most recent 2014), eight runner-up finishes.
Coach: Chad Clements, seventh season (126-61-7)
League finish: Second in MIHL South 
Best wins: 3-1 over No. 5 Novi in Quarterfinal, 2-1 over No. 9 Port Huron Northern, 9-4 over Ann Arbor Pioneer in Regional Semifinal.
Players to watch: Caleb Kneiding, sr. D (5 goals, 17 assists); Nickolas Fields, jr. F/D (12 goals, 14 assists); Brad Nemeth, sr. F (11 goals, 18 assists); Collin Preston, sr. F (12 goals, 24 assists).
Outlook: Trenton finished Division 2 runner-up in 2018 and 2019 and had reached the Semifinals again last winter before the run was cut short by COVID. Kneiding earned an all-state honorable mention last season and helps pace a lineup that has replaced four others who received some level of all-state recognition. Trenton has won seven straight and outscored its four postseason opponents by a combined 30-6. Senior defenseman/forward Ryan Stanley had added nine goals and 10 assists entering the week, and senior Brendan Shaw was among assists leaders with 15.

Division 3

13-4, No. 4
Championship history: Seventeen MHSAA titles (most recent 2015), two runner-up finishes
Coach: John LaFontaine, second season (28-13-3) 
League finish: Tied for second in MIHL North
Best wins: 1-0 over No. 2 Detroit U-D Jesuit in Quarterfinal, 2-1 over Division 1 No. 2 Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, 4-0 over Division 1 No. 1 Detroit Catholic Central, 6-1 over Division 1 No. 7 Traverse Bay Reps, 2-0 and 5-3 over Division 2 No. 10 Trenton, 4-2 over Division 2 No. 3 Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice.
Players to watch: Leyton Stenman, sr. D (4 goals, 12 assists); Jack Wineman, sr. F (5 goals, 17 assists); Alex Ceritano, sr. F (9 goals, 9 assists); Isaac Cheli, sr. F (10 goals, 12 assists).
Outlook: Cranbrook might have the most impressive list of wins of any team playing this weekend as the best came against larger-division teams including the only defeat handed to DCC. This will be the Cranes’ first Semifinal appearance since 2016. They had two shutouts during the regular season, but haven’t given up a goal over three playoff games outscoring those opponents by a combined 20-0. Stenman made the all-state second team last season, and Wineman earned an honorable mention.  

17-0-1, No. 1
Championship history: Six MHSAA titles (most recent 2008), five runner-up finishes.
Coach: Dan Giachino, sixth season (108-40-8)
League finish: First in Great Lakes Hockey Conference 
Best wins: 3-1 (Regional Final) and 3-1 over No. 6 Houghton, 4-1 and 4-2 over No. 7 Hancock, 5-3 and 2-1 over Division 2 No. 6 Marquette.
Players to watch: Dean Loukus, sr. F (25 goals, 43 assists), Nolan Sturos, jr. F (10 goals, 17 assists); Noah Jukuri, sr. F (9 goals, 17 assists); Jackson Rilei, jr. F (20 goals, 23 assists).
Outlook: The Copper Kings also would have played in last season’s Semifinals had they not been canceled, and they last played in a championship game in 2017. Only an early 3-3 tie against Houghton has kept Calumet from a perfect run so far this winter, and it avenged that loss twice. Loukus went over 200 career points this season and became the program’s all-time leader, and he made the all-state first team in 2020. Junior defenseman Tom Erkkila (4 goals, 18 assists) is another contributor to the offense, and sophomore Aksel Loukus (1.70 goals-against average) has stepped in well for a graduated all-state goalie.

17-1-1, No. 9
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Coach: Nick Vetter, third season (39-32-3)
League finish: First in Southeastern Conference White 
Best wins: 4-1 (Quarterfinal) and 2-1 over Riverview Gabriel Richard, 1-0 over Ann Arbor Skyline.
Players to watch: Tyler Valik, sr. F (17 goals, 30 assists); Devin McIntyre, soph. F (25 goals, 13 assists); Jack Capper, sr. F/D (10 goals, 18 assists); Byron Bayer, jr. G (1.33 goals-against average, .940 save %).
Outlook: Chelsea has reached at least the Quarterfinals eight of the last 12 seasons, and this will be its first Semifinal since 2016. The only loss came in the season opener to Jackson Lumen Christi, which finished the regular season No. 8 in Division 3. Valik made the all-state second team last season and is one of only six seniors on a team that should continue to impress next winter. Corbin Steele is another of those six; the defenseman had added nine goals and 11 assists entering the week.

14-3, No. 5
Championship history: Seven runner-up finishes (most recent 2010).
Coach: Travis Perry, 15th season (294-93-19) 
League finish: First in Saginaw Valley League 
Best wins: 3-1 over Grand Rapids Catholic Central in Quarterfinal, 5-1 over Division 2 No. 8 Port Huron Northern, 5-0 over Division 1 No. 5 Saginaw Heritage.
Players to watch: Nick Kurtiak, soph. G (1.17 goals-against average, .939 save %, 5 shutouts); Kyle Barbour, soph. D (1 goal, 12 assists); Tyler Lawrence, sr. F (10 goals, 22 assists), Mason Czarnecki, soph. F (16 goals, 13 assists).
Outlook: With only two seniors, this could be the start of another run for the Chargers, who will play in their first Semifinal since 2017. Barbour earned an all-state honorable mention last season, and he has reliable netminding behind him and lots of scoring in front. In addition to him, Lawrence and Czarnecki, three more players had at least 10 assists heading into this week. Junior forward Jacques Lavrack was the second-leading goal scorer with 12 heading into the Quarterfinal to go with his 10 assists. The team’s only losses came to Division 1 top-ranked Detroit Catholic Central, Division 2 No. 4 Livonia Stevenson and Division 3 No. 3 Detroit Country Day.

PHOTO: Calumet's Jackson Rilei, left, gets past an Alpena player during Wednesday’s 6-0 Division 3 Quarterfinal win. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)

Brighton Scores 1st, DCC Scores Rest to Run D1 Title Streak to 3

March 12, 2022

PLYMOUTH — Nick Galda would be the unquestioned No. 1 man in net for most high school hockey teams in Michigan.

So would Bobby Masters.

At Detroit Catholic Central, the senior goalies operate on a time share, alternating starts regardless of the importance of the upcoming game.

Last year, it was Masters whose turn came up when the Shamrocks played in the MHSAA Division 1 championship game.

On Saturday, the rotation worked out so Galda would start in the final game against Brighton.

Galda stopped 17 of 18 shots, as Catholic Central won its third straight MHSAA championship with a 5-1 victory over Brighton at USA Hockey Arena.

Of all the things Shamrocks coach Brandon Kaleniecki stresses about, goaltending isn’t one of them.

“From a coaching standpoint, I didn’t have to overthink at all,” he said. “I just had to say, ‘Hey, this is it.’ Both guys started early last year and we just kind of let them play one and one. We learned really quickly, hey, they’re both really good. I don’t need to get crazy, unless something weird happened where one of them got sick or got injured. That’s the only time we’ve changed the rotation for that.

“Outside of that, it was back and forth and let it go. When we talked about the Semifinals and Finals, the great part about it is neither one of them questioned it. They’re just, ‘OK, Coach.’ They knew the routine, and they were all in.”

Detroit Catholic Central hockeyGalda played in 14 games this season, going 11-1. Masters played in 17 games, going 13-2.

The two have a working relationship that is mutually beneficial.

“Me and Bob, all we want to do is win and do what’s best for the team,” Galda said. “At the end of the day, as long as we win, that’s all that matters.

“Bob pushes me every day to get better. So, I wouldn’t be where I am today without him at practice pushing me to keep going.”

It was the 16th MHSAA championship for the Shamrocks, but the feeling of winning remains fresh in the program. There are always players who won for the first time or who are ending their careers on the highest possible note.

“The seniors who win a state title and go out on top, it’s an unbelievable feeling for us as coaches to see them go out that way,” Kaleniecki said. “It means so much.”

Brighton opened the scoring on a goal by Cameron Duffany at 3:11 of the second period, but that only seemed to light a fire under the Shamrocks.

They stormed back, getting a goal from Parker Jamieson less than three minutes later. Brian Apple’s goal at 11:52 of the second put the Shamrocks ahead, 2-1, entering the third period.

Catholic Central broke it open with goals by Jack Swamba at 2:11, Justin Hubenschmidt at 4:44 and Landon West at 12:11.

“Our response to it was huge,” Kaleniecki said. “They were playing really well. You’ve got to give them a lot of credit the first half of the game. We had some chances in the first and couldn’t quite find pucks around the net. They had some chances in the first. Maybe the goal was a bit of a wake-up call.”

Brighton came into the game with a 13-game winning streak since losing 2-1 to Division 2 champion Hartland on Jan. 15. The Bulldogs were playing in their first Final since winning back-to-back championships in 2017 and 2018.

“We left everything out there,” Brighton coach Kurt Kivisto said. “It’s not like we didn’t try. We competed. We blocked shots. We wore a lot of pucks. The effort was there. They were the better team tonight.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Detroit Catholic Central celebrates its third-straight Division 1 championship Saturday night. (Middle) Brian Apple scores what ends up being the game-winning goal during the final minutes of the second period. (Click for more for Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)