By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
This weekend’s MHSAA Hockey Finals should provide an intriguing blend of familiar and new for fans packing Plymouth’s USA Hockey Arena.
Reigning champions Brighton and Birmingham Brother Rice are back in Divisions 1 and 2, respectively, with the Bulldogs and Detroit Catholic Central meeting in a Semifinal rematch of last year’s championship game.
On the other side of Division 1, however, Saginaw Heritage and Traverse City West will meet with the victor earning its first appearance in an MHSAA title game in this sport. They are two of six teams this weekend seeking their first Hockey Finals championship.
The pairings are as follows:
Division 2 – Thursday
Hartland (22-6-1) vs Forest Hills Northern/Eastern (18-10-1), 5 p.m.
Trenton (19-8-2) vs Birmingham Brother Rice (17-12-1), 7:30 p.m.
Division 3 - Friday
Riverview Gabriel Richard (18-11) vs Livonia Churchill (15-11-3), 11 a.m.
Hancock (23-6) vs Detroit Country Day (26-2-1), 1:30 p.m.
Division 1 – Friday
Saginaw Heritage (21-4-3) vs Traverse City West (17-9-3), 5 p.m.
Detroit Catholic Central (25-3-1) vs Brighton (22-6-1), 7:30 p.m.
FINALS – Saturday
Division 2 - 10 a.m.
Division 3 - 2 p.m.
Division 1 - 6 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.
Record/rank: 22-6-1, No. 3
Championship history: Four MHSAA titles (most recent 2017), two runner-up finishes.
Coach: Paul Moggach, 23rd season (435-150-17)
League finish: Second in Kensington Lakes Activities Association Gold.
Best wins: 3-1 (Regional Final) and 3-2 over No. 2 Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, 5-4 over No. 6 Utica Eisenhower, 5-3 over No. 8 Detroit U-D Jesuit, 7-2 over No. 10 Salem, 3-2 over Division 2 No. 1 Livonia Stevenson, 2-0 over Division 2 No. 4 Birmingham Brother Rice, 3-2 over Division 2 No. 2 Plymouth, 3-2 over Division 3 No. 1 Hancock.
Players to watch: Tim Erkkila, sr. D (6 goals, 28 assists); Adam Conquest, sr. F (24 goals, 16 assists); Mathew Kahra, sr. F (19 goals, 20 assists); Will Jentz, soph. F (11 goals, 20 assists).
Outlook: Brighton will be up to six Semifinals in seven seasons and has played in three of the last four championship games, finishing runner-up to Detroit Catholic Central in 2014 and 2016. Those two see each other in the Semifinal this time, and Brighton is one of few that gave the Shamrocks a game losing their Dec. 16 meeting 3-0. Erkkila made the all-state first team last season and Conquest was among the top scorers last year as well. Sam Brennan (19 G/28 A) is another offensive threat from the defense, and senior Robert Pegrum and junior Harrison Fleming have combined to give up only 48 goals while seeing nearly 90 percent of the action in net.
DETROIT CATHOLIC CENTRAL
Record/rank: 25-3-1, No. 1
Championship history: 13 MHSAA titles (most recent 2016), five runner-up finishes.
Coach: Brandon Kaleniecki, third season (68-16-2)
League finish: First in Michigan Interscholastic Hockey League North.
Best wins: 7-0 (Quarterfinal), 6-3 and 5-1 over No. 5 Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood; 2-0, 7-2 and 6-5 over No. 2 Orchard Lake St. Mary’s; 8-0 over No. 10 Salem in Pre-Regional Final, 6-2 over No. 8 Detroit U-D Jesuit, 7-2 over No. 4 Grandville, 3-0 over No. 3 Brighton, 6-1 and 4-2 over Division 2 No. 5 Trenton, 4-1 and 3-2 over Division 2 No. 4 Birmingham Brother Rice, 8-0 over Division 2 No. 3 Hartland, 2-0 over Division 2 No. 1 Livonia Stevenson.
Players to watch: Brendan West, sr. F (21 goals, 38 assists); Dylan Montie, sr. F (17 goals, 30 assists); Joe Borthwick, jr. D (6 goals, 24 assists); Jared Lee, sr. F (15 goals, 21 assists).
Outlook: After finishing runner-up to Brighton a year ago, DCC is seeking to add a fourth Division 1 title in five seasons. The Shamrocks’ three losses all came to Indiana power Culver Academy. DCC hasn’t given up a goal in its last six games, and junior goalies Zach Allan and Steven Slava have combined for 13 shutouts total. West made the all-state first team last season and is one of seven players who had at least 10 goals entering this week. Juniors Mitch Morris (16 G/13 A), Rylan Clemons (9 G/16 A), Zach Borchardt (12 G/8 A), and Carter Korpi (11 G/8 A) and sophomore Kyle Gaffney (10 G/10 A) are among other scoring threats, while junior Brendan Hill (5 G/10 A) and sophomore Brendan Miles (4 G/14 A) are among other offensively-productive blueliners.
Record/rank: 21-4-3, No. 7
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Coach: J.J. Bamberger, 10th season (175-83-10)
League finish: Second in Saginaw Valley League.
Best wins: 7-5 over No. 10 Salem, 3-0 over Traverse City West, 5-1 over Division 2 No. 10 Grand Rapids Christian, 5-0 over Division 3 No. 6 Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett, 4-1 over Division 3 No. 10 Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central.
Players to watch: Parker Severson, jr. F (23 goals, 21 assists); Brady Rappuhn, soph. F (18 goals, 30 assists); David Helpap, jr. F (21 goals, 25 assists); Jacob Best, jr. F (17 goals, 22 assists).
Outlook: Heritage has won Regional titles four of the last five seasons and is back at the Semifinals for the first time since 2012-13 when it was in Division 2. The Hawks have outscored their four playoffs opponents by a combined 29-4. Sophomore forward Matt Cole (6 G/13 assists) and junior forward Eddie Symons (14 G/24 A) also add to the attack. Heritage should be excited for next season as well as its top six scorers and three goalies are either juniors or sophomores – the team has only three seniors and only one on defense.
TRAVERSE CITY WEST
Record/rank: 17-9-3, unranked
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Coach: Jeremy Rintala, 11th season (152-122-12)
League finish: First in Big North Conference.
Best wins: 1-0 over Holland West Ottawa in the Quarterfinal, 8-3 over Traverse City Central, 2-1 over Division 2 No. 7 Marquette, 3-2 over Division 3 No. 5 Warren DeLaSalle.
Players to watch: Mark Alekseykov, sr. F (22 goals, 28 assists); Sam Tirrell, sr. D (9 goals, 16 assists); Zach VanAntwerp, sr. F (21 goals, 17 assists); Evan Wilson, sr. F (10 goals, 18 assists).
Outlook: A team with 11 seniors conquered its first Quarterfinal since 2015 to make its first Semifinal since 2010. West is 8-2-1 over its last 11 games and familiar with its Semifinal opponent, losing to Heritage early but then tying the Hawks in the regular-season finale. Senior Elliott Sitkins carries a 2.51 goals-against average and has played about 75 percent of the time, and forward Joel Cerny (8 G/11 assists) is another senior among team scoring leaders.
BIRMINGHAM BROTHER RICE
Record/rank: 17-12-1, No. 4
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recent 2017), two runner-up finishes.
Coach: Kenny Chaput, second season (41-16-2)
League finish: Third in MIHL North.
Best wins: 3-2 (2OT) over No. 8 Davison in Quarterfinal, 4-1 over No. 3 Hartland, 3-1 over No. 5 Trenton, 4-3 over No. 2 Plymouth, 5-2 over Division 1 No. 8 Detroit U-D Jesuit, 5-2 over Division 1 No. 5 Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, 6-1 over Division 3 No. 5 Warren DeLaSalle.
Players to watch: Ethan Nystrom, jr. D (14 goals, 19 assists); Dominic DiPonio, sr. F/D (14 goals, 16 assists); Nick Marone, soph. F (7 goals, 17 assists); Garrett Moore, sr. F (10 goals, 11 assists).
Outlook: Brother Rice has won nine of its last 12 games to push back over .500 and all the way to the Semifinals. The Warriors started 2-6 but have since avenged one of those defeats, to tonight’s opponent Trenton. Nystrom earned an all-state honorable mention last season and is one of a number of offensive threats. Juniors Luke Kafati (7 G/14 A), Keaton Vogel (8 G/12 A) and Chris Andoni (8 G/11 A) all had at least 19 points entering the week.
GRAND RAPIDS FOREST HILLS NORTHERN/EASTERN
Record/rank: 18-10-1, No. 9
Championship history: Division 2 runner-up 2017.
Coach: Tom Bissett, seventh season (107-79-12)
League finish: First in O-K Conference Tier 2.
Best wins: 6-2 (Regional Final), 3-2 and 4-1 over No. 10 Grand Rapids Christian, 6-2 and 4-3 over Division 3 No. 10 Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, 1-0 over Division 1 No. 9 Northville.
Players to watch: Joshua Boverhof, sr. D (8 goals, 29 assists); Gabriel Gunneson, jr. F (17 goals, 16 assists); Ian Famulak, sr. F (14 goals, 36 assists); Nathan Nickelson, sr. F (26 goals, 25 assists).
Outlook: Northern/Eastern continues to build and will now make its third straight Semifinal appearance after advancing to the championship game last season for the first time. The team is riding an eight-game winning streak and scored five or more goals in seven of those victories – a great finish after a 4-6 start. Boverhof made the all-state first team last season, and Famulak and Nickelson both made the second team. Senior Joel Brandinger (9 G/26 A) also continues to be a key offensive cog.
Record/rank: 22-6-1, No. 3
Championship history: Division 2 runner-up 2013 and 2014.
Coach: Rick Gadwa, seventh season (144-49-10)
League finish: First in KLAA Gold.
Best wins: 6-5 over No. 1 Livonia Stevenson, 3-2 over No. 5 Trenton, 6-4 over Division 1 No. 7 Saginaw Heritage, 2-1 over Division 1 No. 8 Detroit U-D Jesuit, 4-3 over Division 1 No. 2 Orchard Lake St. Mary, 2-1 and 4-2 over Division 1 No. 3 Brighton, 5-3 over Division 1 No. 10 Salem, 2-1 over Division 3 No. 1 Hancock.
Players to watch: Jake Behnke, sr. F (22 goals, 16 assists); Brendan Tulpa, jr. F (22 goals, 16 assists); Josh Albring, sr. F (7 goals, 32 assists); Joey Larson, jr. F (19 goals, 18 assists).
Outlook: Hartland has reached the Semifinals five of the last six seasons and this time despite a couple of tough losses before the start of the playoffs. The Eagles quickly bounced back with plenty of firepower. Albring made the all-state Dream Team last season (and has more than 100 points combined over the last two), with Behnke earning a Division 2 honorable mention and junior Gabe Anderson adding another 12 goals to those mentioned above. In addition to the notable wins above, Hartland also downed Division 3 No. 3 Houghton and No. 8 Grand Rapids Catholic Central this winter.
Record/rank: 19-8-2, No. 5
Championship history: Fourteen MHSAA titles (most recent 2014), six runner-up finishes.
Coach: Chad Clements, fourth season (65-42-5)
League finish: First in MIHL South.
Best wins: 3-1 over No. 1 Livonia Stevenson in Quarterfinal, 4-0 over No. 6 Saline in Pre-Regional Final, 2-1 over No. 2 Plymouth, 4-1 over No. 4 Birmingham Brother Rice, 4-2 and 4-1 over Division 1 No. 8 Detroit U-D Jesuit, 6-4 over Division 1 No. 10 Salem, 3-2 over Division 3 No. 5 Warren DeLaSalle.
Players to watch: Nolan Szczepaniak, jr. F (16 goals, 12 assists); Drew Welsch, sr. F (32 goals, 20 assists); Cam Blanton, jr. D (8 goals, 15 assists); Joey Cormier, soph. G (1.70 GAA, 9 shutouts).
Outlook: After a first-round tournament exit a year ago, Trenton is back among the final teams playing for the first time since that championship season of 2013-14. Stevenson in the Quarterfinal, with one goal, was the only team to score on Trenton over four postseason games. Ten players total have at least 15 points, with junior Devin Dunn (9 G/17 A) and senior Patrick Bazner (8 G/12 A) also topping 20 heading into the week.
DETROIT COUNTRY DAY
Record/rank: 26-2-1, No. 4
Championship history: Class B-C-D champion 1981, two runner-up finishes.
Coach: Frank Novock, seventh season (131-52-8)
League finish: First in Michigan Metro Hockey League East.
Best wins: 3-2 OT over No. 8 Grand Rapids Catholic Central in Quarterfinal, 2-0 over No. 7 Flint Powers Catholic in Regional Final, 4-1 over No. 6 Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett, 7-2 and 3-1 over Riverview Gabriel Richard, 1-0 over Division 1 No. 6 Utica Eisenhower.
Players to watch: Lucas Krol, freshman F (17 goals, 10 assists), Tim Stebbins, sr. F (18 goals, 8 assists), Harrison Dunbar, sr. F (13 goals, 12 assists), Sam Evola, jr. G (0.97 GAA, 7 shutouts).
Outlook: After losses in two straight Quarterfinals, Country Day is returning to the Semifinal for the first time since its most recent runner-up season of 1988-89. The Yellowjackets haven’t lost since Dec. 16, and avenged that most recent defeat to University Liggett two months later. Ten players entered the week with at least 10 points this season; senior forward Carter Elrod (8 goals, 13 assists) was another of four with at least 20.
Record/rank: 23-6, No. 1
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 2016), two runner-up finishes.
Coach: Dan Rouleau, 14th season (247-120-9)
League finish: First in Great Lakes Hockey Conference.
Best wins: 4-0 (Regional Final), 3-1, 5-4, 4-3 and 8-5 over No. 2 Calumet; 3-2 (Pre-Regional Semifinal) and 4-2 over No. 3 Houghton, 5-2 and 2-1 over Division 2 No. 7 Marquette, 6-4 over Division 2 No. 4 Birmingham Brother Rice.
Players to watch: Alex Nordstrom, jr. F (38 goals, 33 assists); Teddy Randell, sr. F (27 goals, 32 assists); Austin Salani, fr. F (19 goals, 25 assists); Dawson Kero, sr. G (2.12 GAA, 4 shutouts).
Outlook: The top three ranked teams in Division 3 all hail from the Keweenaw Peninsula, so emerging from that group is an accomplishment in itself for Hancock – and after falling to Calumet in a first-round game a year ago. The Bulldogs have seen plenty of downstate competition too, also taking one-goal losses to Hartland, Brighton, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s and Plymouth during the regular season. Nordstrom and Kero made the all-state first team last season and Randell made the second. Kero remains outstanding in net, and Hancock can strike in a number of ways. Four more players had 19 or more points entering the week – sophomore forwards Colton Salani (15 G/28 A) and Petr Anderson (7 G/13 A) and junior forwards Bryce Randell (9 G/10 A) and Trevor Tchida (15 G/10 A).
Record/rank: 15-11-3, No. 9
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Coach: Jason Reynolds, sixth season (83-71-11)
League finish: Third in KLAA Black.
Best wins: 3-0 over No. 6 Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett in Quarterfinal, 4-3 over Allen Park in Regional Final, 3-2 over Division 1 No. 10 Salem.
Players to watch: Josh Friend, sr. F (21 goals, 14 assists); Carter Swider, sr. F (12 goals, 17 assists); Zack Vendittelli, jr. F (12 goals, 16 assists); Seth Kucharczyk, sr. D (10 goals, 15 assists).
Outlook: Churchill missed the Semifinals with an overtime Quarterfinal loss in Division 2 last season, but broke through to the final weekend for the first time this winter now in Division 3. Playing as one of the smallest schools in the KLAA, Churchill saw a number of contenders in Divisions 1 and 2 during the regular season and tied Hartland and also Division 2 No. 7 Marquette. Seniors Conor Burnette (9 G/14 A) and Adam Sinclair (8 G/6 A) are among additional offensive options.
RIVERVIEW GABRIEL RICHARD
Record/rank: 18-11, unranked
Championship history: Two MHSAA runner-up finishes (most recent 2003).
Coach: Rick Desana, 13th season (172-151-14)
League finishes: Tied for second in Detroit Catholic League Division 1 Group B, fifth in Michigan Metro Hockey League East.
Best wins: 1-0 over No. 5 Warren DeLaSalle, 7-5 over Chelsea in Quarterfinal, 1-0 (Regional Final) and 6-4 over Brownstown Woodhaven.
Players to watch: Josh Wiseman, jr. F (19 goals, 17 assists); Chance Desana, jr. F (8 goals, 15 assists); Nathan Vazquez, soph. F (16 goals, 7 assists); Jake Emery, soph. D (4 goals, 15 assists).
Outlook: Gabriel Richard narrowly missed making the Semifinals in 2010 and 2014, but returns this weekend for the first time since the runner-up season of 2002-03. This run is especially impressive as the Pioneers finished 8-18-2 a year ago, but despite taking losses saw some of the Catholic League’s best during this regular season and were well prepared for the playoffs. They could be building for a big 2018-19 as well – of 20 players, only five are seniors.
PHOTO: Detroit Catholic Central goalie Zach Allan turns away a shot against Orchard Lake St. Mary's this season. (Photo by Hockey Weekly Action Photo.)
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.”
Galda 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.”
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.)