By Rob Kaminski
MHSAA benchmarks editor
Next season’s three-week playoff format for the MHSAA Ice Hockey Tournament will fall more closely in line with similar postseasons for state associations around the country which sponsor the sport.
According to 2017-18 National Federation of State High School Associations participation statistics, 18 states sponsor boys ice hockey.
Michigan ranked third in number of schools involved with 240, behind Minnesota (282) and Massachusetts (278). In terms of overall participants, the MHSAA was fourth with 3,353, trailing Massachusetts (7,377), Minnesota (5,751) and New Jersey (3,492) and just ahead of New York (3,088). Wisconsin and Ohio boast more than 2,000 participants annually.
So, how do the tournaments compare among those states similar to Michigan? Most use longer tournament calendars than the two-week span previously employed by the MHSAA.
The timeframe for the season just past in the Minnesota tournament had most play beginning Feb. 21 and ending the same day as the MHSAA Finals, March 9. Some teams started on Feb. 19. The MHSAA dropped the puck for its first games on Monday, Feb. 25. It should be noted that Minnesota crowns just two champions annually, compared to the MHSAA’s three divisions.
Meanwhile, in Wisconsin and Ohio, just one school takes the statewide title each year, so it stands to reason that the postseason is spread out even further. Both states began the 2019 playoffs on Monday, Feb. 11.
Wisconsin’s tourney culminated on March 2 at Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum in Madison as teams played the Quarterfinals, Semifinals and Final over three consecutive days.
Ohio, meanwhile, took a week-long break following District Finals on March 1 or 2, then played the Semifinals and Final at Nationwide Arena in Columbus during March 8-9. This is similar to the rest period the MHSAA will enjoy moving forward from its Quarterfinals to the Semifinals and Finals in 2020.
Just as the season was reaching its pinnacle in Wisconsin, the postseason title chase was merely beginning in Massachusetts, where this year it opened Feb. 25.
Massachusetts is tied for the most divisions of the states studied here with four, but the top division is created with a different twist.
“The top division is often called the ‘Super 8’ or 1A. This tournament is set up differently than the other divisions,” said Massachusetts Ice Hockey Coaches Association President Dan Connolly. “The Super 8 is a double-elimination tournament. The seedlings for this tournament are done by power seeding via a committee using strength of schedule, record, team vs. teams under consideration and win-loss record down the stretch.”
Connolly said just 10 teams are chosen for the Super 8, and seed Nos. 7 through 10 must face off in a play-in game to join the top six. The two teams losing the play-in game return to their respective pre-assigned state divisions and can still win those tournaments. Such was the case in 2019, when Duxbury High lost in its bid to join the Super 8 field, but then won the Division 1 Final.
Like Michigan, those three divisions are based on enrollment, but unlike Michigan, the divisions are seeded based on winning percentage.
The Finals take place on a Sunday at the TD Garden in Boston, a celebration of hockey that features six games (four boys and two girls finals). This year’s event took place March 17, and nearly went into March 18. The Division 1 Final began at 9:59 p.m. as the previous contest, the Super 8 Final, went to four overtimes.
As mentioned, Minnesota’s tournament ended the same day as the MHSAA’s in 2019, and featured one overtime game among its two Finals at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul as Edina took the top class over Eden Prairie, 3-2.
The Sunday finales in Boston might seem foreign to followers of MHSAA tournaments, but New York also features a Sunday as the stage for its two state Finals, following Semifinals on Saturday. This year’s playoffs went from Feb. 20-March 10, culminating at the Harborcenter in Buffalo.
Neighboring New Jersey comes closest in length to the old MHSAA format with four divisions – three public and one non-public – taking just 14 days to determine winners at the Prudential Center in Newark. The 2019 titles were determined on Monday, March 4, with Semifinals the Wednesday prior.
PHOTO: Duxbury celebrated Massachusetts’ Division 1 championship this past season after missing out on making the “Super 8” bracket.
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.