The Michigan Developmental Hockey League (MDHL) capped off its fall programming with one final event at the International Invitational Tournament (IIT) hosted by the Minnesota Elite League. A huge 6-3 win over Elite League-White would start the weekend off with a bang, as the MDHL flexed its muscles against some of the best that the State of Hockey has to offer.
The 2019 IIT featured eight teams including the MDHL, two all-star teams from the MN Elite League, Shattuck St. Mary’s, Culver Academy and Chicago Mission as well as Stanstead College and Northwood School.
The Elite League is Minnesota’s version of the MDHL, or rather, the MDHL is Michigan’s version of the Elite League as Bill Burns and the MI-HS fall league have modeled their structure and format to resemble Minny’s programming. Opening up the tournament with an impressive 6-3 decision over their Minnesota counterpart should perk up some ears back home in The Mitten.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… The gap between Minnesota high school hockey and Michigan is not as steep as people think.
There’s a gap, no question about it. One that may never be closed. Football in Texas, basketball in Indiana and hockey in Minnesota. It’s just different there. It’s up on a pedestal for good reason and I don’t think that will ever change. But this perception that they’re lightyears ahead of what’s going on in the rest of the country, particularly here in Michigan, is just asinine.
I love pretty much everything I hear about the Minnesota youth hockey landscape. I envy it. I’d give up just about anything to be able to hit the reset button on Michigan youth hockey so we could mimic their model and start over. There’s no putting the genie back in the AAA hockey bottle, however, so we’re left with what we have and constantly battling preconceived notions of hockey in this state.
Performances like this weekend won’t change opinions overnight but should certainly help move the needle in the right direction.
The nine-team Elite League pooled its players to construct two 20-man all-star teams for the 2019 IIT this weekend. Elite League-White’s roster consisted of five players with current Division-I commitments and two more USHL Draft picks. In their Friday evening matchup, the MDHL jumped out to a commanding 4-0 lead through the first half of the game thanks to back-to-back goals by Brenden Heard (Livonia Stevenson, 2021) as well as strikes from Jacob Onstott (Grand Rapids Catholic Central, 2020) and Jacob Kornoelje (Woodhaven, 2020).
In a game not short on action, the two teams combined to produce 83 shots on goal and nine total goals scored. Joey Cormier (Trenton, 2020) was stellar in net, stopping 40-of-43 shots faced and the backbone behind the MDHL’s impressive opening win of the tournament.
Who would be waiting for them in the second round? Elite League-Red and all 11 of their Division-I commitments.
A significantly stronger opponent, at least on the surface, the game played out in a much more challenging way as well. Elite League-Red ripped off three goals in the first 10 minutes of game action and was able to keep the MDHL at bay after that, skating to a 1-1 tie through the next 50 minutes and resulting in a 4-1 finish.
The weekend concluded with a 4-3 defeat at the hands of Stanstead College, thanks to a late third-period goal but the bigger message had already been delivered. In settings like these tournaments and other showcases, players are measured more by how they compete at a high level than it is necessarily the wins and losses. For the MDHL to go out and hang a six-spot en route to a win over one MN Elite team and then contend with a second MN Elite team the next day, speaks volumes about the status of high school hockey in this state. We’re right there. We’re in the mix. Best against best, we’re contending with some of the top high school programs and players in the country.
And really, that “best” for Michigan in this instance should probably have an asterisk next to it because while the MDHL does include several of the top high school players in the state, it does not include anyone from the U.P. — and there’s some pretty good ones — or players from MHA’s Top 80 program. So the argument could be made that there’s still room for improvement when putting our best on display.
Minnesota is, was and probably always will be the catalyst. Comparing the two states isn’t apples to apples but let’s not lose sight of the little steps Michigan has taken in recent years.
Prospects like Jake Crespi (Brighton, 2017), Brendan Hill (Detroit Catholic Central, 2019) and Sam Brennan (Brighton, 2018) making Division-I NCAA commitments in recent years and playing out their respective senior seasons. Other prospects like Alex Nordstrom (Hancock, 2019) and Daunte Fortner (Kingsford, 2019) among others, foregoing their senior seasons completely to start their junior careers in the AJHL and SJHL respectively. Other instances like Cooper Black (Alpena, 2019) playing his way into the NAHL or Logan Jenuwine (Romeo, 2016) and Sam Knoblauch (U-D Jesuit, 2016) earning roster spots for top NCAA programs like Arizona State and UMass-Lowell. There's dozens of individual examples just in the last five years.
All those little steps are starting to add up. Michigan high school hockey is developing players, gaining traction and becoming a serious resource for scouts in search of their next prospect. Whether it be through Team Michigan, fall programming or some of the top schools around the state, there’s more here and weekends like this past one in Minnesota are evidence of that. It’s a true testament of the persistent efforts from coaches as well as the motivated players that continue to seek ways of improving their game.
That is the best thing I saw this past week, what do you think? Share your thoughts with me on Twitter on where you see high school hockey heading.