One year ago, Anthony Mollica was leading Jenison to back-to-back wins over East Kentwood and Northview, compiling a four-point weekend along the way. Over the next 12 months, the Wildcats’ alum racked up 21 goals and 37 points during the course of his senior season, played his way into Team Michigan’s Senior squad — after being cut from the HP-18 Team the previous year — for the 2019 CCM NIT, signed a tender agreement with the NAHL’s Maryland Black Bears shortly after that and played the first 21 games of the 2019-20 season with them.
Last Thursday, Mollica’s rights were acquired by the Lincoln Stars of the USHL and the 6-foot-2 defender was immediately inserted into the lineup.
Let me repeat myself in case you missed it.
Anthony Mollica. A two-year letterman from Jenison High School. Six months removed from graduation. Got called up to the USHL after playing just 21 games of junior hockey.
Now look, he’s not the first MI-HS alum to ever play in the USHL. Dozens of former players have gone on in their junior careers to reach the highest level of amateur hockey in the United States. Hell, there were two other alumni already playing in the league, including fellow 2019 graduate Alex Nordstrom (Hancock, 2019), before Mollica made his debut over the weekend.
What makes this so special and such a significant step for MI-HS, is the “route” in which Mollica navigated and how fast he streamlined the process from the OK Conference to the USHL.
When a kid from Detroit Catholic Central goes on to make a Division-I commitment or a Brother Rice alum gets drafted into the NHL, they are certainly exceptional accomplishments for high school hockey to hang its hat on. However, I think we can all agree that the CC’s and Rice’s of the world are not your ordinary high school program. There are only three or four programs in the state like DCC: Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, U-D Jesuit, Cranbrook… Jenison, however, is the epitome of your standard team. There are 40 to 50 programs in the state like Jenison.
I mean no disrespect by this, but when I think of the top schools in Michigan, even the west-side elites, Jenison is not exactly at the forefront of my mind. Now, with program builders and accomplishments like Mollica making such a significant jump, it becomes a monumental step for the Wildcats program, the OK Conference and all of high school hockey.
For years, the bulk of players advancing from MI-HS to high-level juniors and on to NCAA Division-I were the Catholic school kids. DCC, Rice, OLSM, Cranbrook, etc., accounted for the vast majority of high school products we touted as “our guys.” But then the Trenton’s and Brighton’s and Livonia Stevenson’s of the world elevated to the level of the Catholic schools and cranked out guys like Quinn Preston, Dom Lutz, Tyler Irvine, Adam Conquest and Jake Crespi, and the hockey world’s ears perked up. Then there were guys like Sam Brennan and Adam Pitters who were playing out their senior years with current Division-I commitments. After that, guys like Griffen Sanom, Jordan Venegoni and Gabe Potyk proved to be capable enough, they were leaving high school a year early and foregoing their senior years to begin junior careers. Again, the hockey world’s ears perked up again. Then, guys like Dean Loukus and Jackson Kocur were getting selected in the OHL Draft. All of this, and so much more, has happened in the last six years.
If you are that good, it doesn’t matter where you play, they will find you. High school hockey as a whole, has never done a better job of promoting those players to the next level, than they are right now. They’re only getting better, and improving, and pushing more, and more, and more players to higher levels. I don’t know how else to say it.
There are almost 50 alumni active in the NAHL right now, 30 more playing Junior-A in Canada and more than 40 playing NCAA Division-I hockey.
Hello? Is this thing on…? There has never been a better time to be playing Michigan High School hockey than right now! And we’re only going up from here.
Mollica is not the first, but he’s definitely an important one. You don’t have to play for a powerhouse program. You don’t have to play in a premier market. You don’t have to have amazing success, put up a million points or win state titles. But you do have to be that good of a player and you do need to take advantage of the opportunities that are at your disposal.
Seniors making Division-I commitments
Increasing number of NAHL tenders
Alumni reaching every significant amateur junior league in North America
USHL Draft picks, OHL Draft picks
Guys getting drafted into the NHL each of the last two years
They’re all steps. They’re all adding up. Momentum is building, it’s growing and moves like Mollica just adds more fuel to the fire because #TheresMoreHere. Don’t believe me? How about senior Brendan Miles (Detroit Catholic Central, 2020) who also made his USHL debut over the weekend with Omaha? While I’m sure the Shamrocks would love to have their top D-man back on the blue line, they were busy getting revenge against Brother Rice with a 4-0 win on Saturday night while Miles sported a number 19 jersey for the third-place Lancers.
Catholic schools are the pace car for the rest of the state to try and keep up with. They were the first to make D-I commitments and now schools from across the state have moved guys on to the NCAA. They accounted for almost all of our NAHL tenders and USHL Draft picks, now guys from Midland Dow are signing agreements and Jenison kids are getting called up. They were getting selected in the NHL Draft back in 2013, and now Logan Neaton is getting his name called in 2019, just two seasons removed from his state championship with Brighton.
The train is picking up speed and these amazing things that players and programs have achieved through high school hockey are just the start. There is still so much more here and that’s why Mollica's call-up is the best thing I saw this week. Connect with me on Twitter and let’s talk about it.
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