Michigan high school hockey continues to grow in popularity as a hotbed for moving players on to various junior levels. Schools like Brighton, Detroit Catholic Central and Brother Rice have produced Tier-I and Tier-II junior players with great regularity, but when alums like Matt Schaumburger (Salem, 2017) and Connor Smith (Pinckney, 2016) sign NAHL tenders, it shows just how deep the MI-HS talent pool truly is.
This week, two high school programs saw former players commit to play Tier-II junior hockey for the first time. Smith -- who played his first season of juniors in the SIJHL before making the jump to the SJHL this season -- signed a tender agreement with Corpus Christi and Schaumburger -- who played the majority of the 2017-18 season in the NA3HL -- signed with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Salem High School has had a hockey program for 19 seasons, and Schaumburger -- a three-year forward for coach Ryan Ossenmacher -- is the first player ever to sign an NAHL tender.
“Schaum is one of the hardest-working players we have had at Salem,” said Ossenmacher. “He bought in, stuck to the process and his development over three seasons at Salem was off the charts.”
The 6-foot, 175-pound forward scored 45 goals and 106 points in his 82-game high school career. After graduation, Schaumburger spent a portion of the 2017-18 hockey season in the Tier-III, USPHL-Elite league with the Syracuse Stars before returning to Michigan and playing for the Metro Jets in the NA3HL. There, he scored 19 goals and 30 points in 20 games with the Jets and earned a tender contract from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
“Not only is he a great example of the quality of player being produced at the high school level but he is also a fantastic young man,” said Ossenmacher.
Similarly, Smith spent time in multiple leagues after graduation before earning a tender from Corpus Christi. The 6-foot-4, 181-pound forward was a four-year letter-winner with the Pinckney Pirates, playing in more than 100 career games and posting back-to-back 40-goal seasons as a junior and senior.
Smith totaled 114 goals and 183 points in his high school career and played his way into the Junior-A, SIJHL with Thief River Falls for the 2016-17 season. There, he led the Norskies in scoring with 24 goals and helped the organization qualify for the postseason for the first time in its young history. Smith shifted to a different Junior-A Canadian league in 2017-18, the SJHL, where he again led his team in scoring with 21 goals and 31 points in 55 games with the La Ronge Ice Wolves, before tendering with Corpus Christi.
The powerhouse programs in MI-HS have continually produced next-level prospects. But as players like Schaumburger and Smith make their mark and climb the junior hockey ladder, it goes to show just how deep the talent pool truly is at the high school level. In the past five months, a record 10 MI-HS seniors and alums have tendered with NAHL teams for the upcoming 2018-19 season.
“This is a trend that cannot be ignored and should be celebrated by everyone interested and concerned in our development model for Michigan hockey players,” said Ossenmacher. “The number of players that are moving on from high school hockey continues to grow every year.”