PREMIUM: No. 5 Calumet (19-5-1)
They’re 6-1-0 against teams in their region and I think the Copper Kings are one of the most talented teams in all of MI-HS. They’re an obvious pick for favorites to win the Region but some pause for concern after losing to Houghton in the final week of the regular season. Loukus, Loukus, Rowe, Mattila, Coppo… The list is pretty long and talented up front and Alex Studebaker has things locked down in net. Four losses in their last seven games could be a blessing in disguise, as this group comes back down to Earth a bit and comes into the postseason with something to prove.
POTENTIAL: No. 14 Houghton (16-9-0)
Read into that 3-2 victory over the Copper Kings last Tuesday as much or as little as you want. A win’s a win, which is big because through the first half of the season Calumet seemed unbeatable. Now the Gremlins know they can take down the top team in the Region. Jimmy Pietila could carry Houghton on a deep playoff run, as he’s been stellar in net against some top teams. Couple that with 10 skaters in double figures and they’ve got the depth to go along with the goaltending, making for a scary combination this time of year.
POSSIBLE: No. 43 Hancock (12-12-0)
They’re young, especially in between the pipes, and those types of groups usually take time to gel. After beginning the season 1-8-0, the Bulldogs have settled into a groove and are competing now in time for playoffs. They’ve still got to take a pretty significant jump to pull off an upset in the Regional Final, but I won’t count them out with offensive studs like Austin Salani and Mason Mikesch leading the way. Colton Salani and Petr Anderson offer a reliable change of pace as well, so the weapons are there, Hancock will just have to play its best game of the year on the biggest stage.
PREMIUM: No. 77 Alpena (10-12-2)
Calling the Wildcats’ start to the season “rough” might be an understatement going 1-8-2 through the first two months. That feels like a distant memory though, as they’re 9-3-0 heading into the playoffs with huge wins over Midland Dow, Mona Shores and Midland. Coach Chris Limback is at it again and he’s gotten big performances from Jimmy Bolanowski and Collin Lightfoot in net. Offensive production is a bit of a concern for me here, but a good game plan can put kids in the right spots to succeed and that may be Alpena’s biggest advantage in this Region.
POTENTIAL: No. 73 Gaylord (12-11-0)
The Blue Devils beat Cheboygan and skated with Alpena twice earlier in the year. They definitely won’t be overmatched by whoever they get in the Semifinals, and I’m pretty confident the Regional Champ will come from this half of the bracket. Gaylord has five guys averaging a point per game, four of which hit double-digits in goals. They’ve got options, and maybe more scoring depth than any of the other four teams they could face, but the Blue Devils will need a good effort in goal as well in order to win the championship.
POSSIBLE: No. 115 Cheboygan (8-14-0)
They actually survived a 4-3 win over Alpena earlier this month, but do the Chiefs have enough magic to do it again? Ethan Lindle has scored 14 points in the last two weeks and will have to stay white hot if Cheboygan is going to survive the long route to a Regional. Their top line will keep pace with any team they’ll face at this stage of the playoffs, but depth is still a concern. The third period is the Chiefs’ most challenging, getting outscored 47-32 in the final frame. If they can avoid running out of gas late in the game, they could make a push to the Regional Final.
PREMIUM: No. 23 Midland Dow (19-6-0)
I’ve loved the Chargers this season but I’m a little worried about them as of late. Two losses at the MIHL Showcase and they just haven’t quite looked as dominant since then, going 2-4-0 in their last six games. Luke Blasy is electric and is the key to success for Dow. He’s been held off the scoreboard three times — they lost all three games — and out of the lineup two more times — they lost both games. Billy VanSumeren, Lucas Churchfield and Alec Newton are solid, and when they play with confidence, the Chargers are dangerous. If Dow can put together a complete team effort, they could breeze through this Region.
POTENTIAL: No. 30 Flint Powers (15-7-2)
Their road to a Regional Championship will be a rough one. A potential Semifinal matchup against FNV and a finale most likely against Dow; it’s not impossible but it damn sure won’t be easy. Seven skaters average a point per game and both goalies have a goals-against average below 2.00, but all that changes when they play the top teams. Powers is just 2-6-1 against the top-ranked opponents on their schedule, so like I said, it’d be tough sledding to a Wooden Mitten. If they bring their best game to the table in high-pressure situations, the Chargers will definitely have a shot at an upset.
POSSIBLE: No. 54 Big Rapids (13-10-0)
The Cards have won three straight Regional Championships; I’m not counting out coach Tim Blashill’s squad until the clock hits zeroes. They’ve got a deep history of winning and Big Rapids ain’t going down without a fight. I don’t think they’ll shy away from Dow or Powers or anyone in this Region for that matter, and Thomas Crandell and Ben Carroll play with a high level of confidence. Cards will keep it close and I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if they pulled multiple upsets in a deep playoff run.
PREMIUM: No. 21 Forest Hills Central (20-4-0)
They’ve weathered some rough waters this season battling injuries, tough opponents and a grind of a schedule to get to an impressive 20-win plateau. Mason Kelly and Ryan Jeffreys are sensational together and senior Cole Beaufait adds another dimension to this team. With 11 guys in double figures, the Rangers have plenty of options offensively and Gavin Brady has won 14 of his last 15 starts with a 1.78 goals-against average and .926 save percentage. They’ll face two tough challenges in order to win a Regional, but they’re primed and ready to take on anyone at this point.
POTENTIAL: No. 28 Grand Rapids Catholic Central (11-9-3)
I had the Cougars as one of the best teams on the west side through the first half of the season, but things have cooled off a bit since then. I still think they’re a legitimate threat to win the Region because Jacob Onstott is that special of a player. He makes others around him better, and guys like Ryan Rollins, Ben Clay and Nathan Rublein have really elevated their game throughout the course of the season. Depth is a concern for me here, but the top line is so good that they could just muscle their way through Regionals.
POSSIBLE: No. 33 Lumen Christi (21-3-0)
The Titans’ path to a Regional Championship will go through three of the toughest opponents they’ve played all season. I don’t like their chances, but I’m also not counting them out either. Lumen has been a team of destiny, winning in impressive fashion, and even their losses are just one-goal defeats. With three guys reaching 40 points and six north of 30, they’ve got tons of options up front to provide offense and two stellar goaltenders in net. Gavin Warner and Lucas Henderson both rank in the top 10 in the state in goals-against average and can be the difference maker in a Lumen Christi playoff run.
PREMIUM: No. 9 Country Day (21-3-0)
There’s some great — I mean GREAT — teams in Division-III this year. When I look at this bracket though, I just hear Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in Wolf of Wall Street screaming, “They’re gonna need a wrecking ball to get me outta here!” The Yellowjackets are ripe for a three-peat, even if it’s a tough road ahead. The defensive group is amazing, and Lukas Krol and Logan Gotinsky have dominated offensively. They’re the back-to-back, reigning, defending champs and they’re not giving up that title without a knock-down, drag-out fight first.
POTENTIAL: No. 15 Cranbrook (12-9-1)
I’ve been a fan of the Cranes since the Alphabet Showcase in December. Leyton Stenman is one of the best junior defensemen in the state and he’s constantly in control of the play. Jack Wineman, Daniel Juzych and Edward Agamov lead an aggressive forecheck that, when it’s at its best, can smother anybody. If they bring their best effort into a Semifinal matchup, CK can definitely get up and down the ice with Country Day. Cranbrook will get the first legitimate crack at knocking off the defending champs, and I wouldn’t flinch if it went in favor of first-year coach John LaFontaine’s squad.
POSSIBLE: No. 69 Walled Lake Western (16-7-0)
The good news: they only have to play Cranbrook OR Country Day to win a Region and not both. The bad news: no matter who comes out of the opposite side of the bracket, it’ll be the toughest opponent Western has seen all season. What they do have going for them is depth. It may be a different level than the Cranes or Yellowjackets, but the Warriors have 14 — yes, FOURTEEN — players in double figures, which by my count is the most on any one team in the state. They outscore opponents 123-55 on the season and the first period is by far their best with a 4:1 ratio. Maybe they jump out early and hang onto a lead for two more periods.
PREMIUM: No. 4 Grosse Pointe South (19-5-0)
The job Paul Moretz has done in his first year behind the bench for the Blue Devils has been nothing short of miraculous. This squad shows up to compete every single night and not only do they work hard, there’s some fantastic talent in this bunch. Keegan Spitz, Adam Strehlke and Dean Therriault are buzzsaws on the forecheck and then you sprinkle in Aaron Vyletel, Alex Miciuda and Jacob Spitz for good measure. They’re talented enough, have the structure and the work ethic to win much more than just a Regional and if William Strickler has a strong postseason, 2020 could end with a ‘W’ for GPS.
POTENTIAL: No. 11 U-D Jesuit (14-10-1)
Cubs have been a little hot-and-cold to me this season. One day, they’re losing to Gabriel Richard and narrowly escaping an upset attempt by De La Salle. The next day, they’re beating Trenton, Salem and Brighton. It’s looking like a U-D vs. GPS matchup in the Regional Final, and the Cubs just beat them 2-1 to conclude the regular season. Brendan Zemke, Jimmy Gormley and Max Marquette proved they have what it takes to upset the top-ranked Blue Devils, but can they do it again when it matters most?
POSSIBLE: No. 79 Grosse Pointe North (9-15-0)
This is where playing a tough regular season can pay dividends. I’m not saying GPN WILL WIN but they definitely CAN WIN given the daunting MIHL schedule they’ve weathered. For the Norsemen to claim a Regional Championship, they’ll have to go through both of the teams above; teams that beat GPN 5-2 in their respective regular-season meetings. Ethan McCormick was a major factor keeping his team in the mix of both of those games, and if coach Rob Blum gets strong performances from Evan Berger and Will Weiss, it could be just enough to pull a pair of upsets.
PREMIUM: No. 34 Allen Park (13-10-0)
The top-ranked team in the Region by a pretty wide margin but I don’t think it’ll be smooth sailing. The Jags will have to face three pretty challenging matchups to survive the seven-team bracket, and finishing the season on a 2-5-0 run doesn’t instill much confidence. Joe Mocnik and Brendan Rachfal are really good playmakers for Allen Park, and they could have a field day with some of these matchups if they get loose. For a deep playoff run though, I think junior Ioannis Moutzalias needs to be at his best and be as sound between the pipes as he’s been all year. Little room for error in this Region.
POTENTIAL: No. 71 Chelsea (12-11-2)
A month ago, they weren’t even on my radar for postseason hardware. However, a 3-3 tie with Dexter on the road three weeks ago showed me this team’s compete level and they just might have enough to grind their way out of this Region. They’ll most likely draw the Dreadnaughts in a Semifinal rematch that I think the Chiefs will come out strong in and then a chance to let it all hang out in the championship. Tyler Valik and Gabe Vowles combine for 18 points in Chelsea’s last three games; they’re en fuego right now and good enough to burn a couple higher-ranked teams.
POSSIBLE: No. 91 Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard (12-11-2)
They’ve been out-manned and out-matched all season long but the Irish just keep getting lucky! Not really “luck” but it fits the theme. Coach Clint Robert has done an amazing job with this group and coached his ass off getting them ready to play in games against some tough opponents. The top line is pretty good and I really like Quinton Gove from the back end. Jack Lapinski is a goal-per-game guy while Jack Waldo and J.T. Hazard flirted with 50-point seasons. If the depth guys can play responsible in the defensive zone, they’ll have a real good shot at being the biggest surprise of Regionals.
PREMIUM: No. 60 Riverview (19-5-1)
I flip-flopped. I had RGR the favorites up to the eleventh hour but I’ve just got a feeling here. The Pirates have been consistently getting better all season long and I think they could peak at the right time. Ryan Herzog is a really effective two-way player and Gavin Holmes has a goal-scorer’s touch around the net. Sophomore Josiah Dembrosky could take a huge step in his development with a strong showing in the postseason and Riverview is 8-1-0 this season against opponents in their Region. The finale is gonna be an exciting one, as the two other meetings with Gabriel Richard were 3-2 finishes.
POTENTIAL: No. 22 Riverview Gabriel Richard (15-9-0)
They’re a Top-25 team and SHOULD win the Region, but I’m not crazy about the way the regular season ended. They’ve lost to Riverview twice already this season, and every time I play this one out, it ends with the Pioneers and Pirates meeting for a third time. I believe they’re a better team when you factor in Nathan Vazquez’ speed and play-making ability along with Austin Harrison as a change of pace. My confidence in them has taken a bit of a hit over the last few weeks, but If they get back on track, this is a team capable of a trip to the State Final.
POSSIBLE: No. 83 Grosse Ile (16-7-1)
It’s tough to beat the same team three times in a row. Riverview has topped Grosse Ile twice already this season but the third one might be the toughest. The Red Devils played inspired hockey in both games despite 2-0 and 3-2 losses. There’s some serious potential for the third time being the charm, with Dylan Pattenaude and Brennan Karn getting Grosse Ile over the hump. If they pull off a Semifinal stunner, I see no reason why they couldn’t steal another one in the Regional Championship.
I've given you Premium, Potential and Possible Picks for Regional Champions! I've given you 10 Potential First-Round Upsets! I'll be submitting my officially unofficial, COMPLETE playoff brackets for all three Divisions on Sunday, prior to playoffs starting. Give me your picks and share your brackets with me on Twitter before playoffs start. As always, feel free to call me out on any of these projections!
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