The Favorite: Everyone’s chasing Rockford in this seven-team region. The Rams are a top-ten team in D-I and the highest-ranked team west of Lansing. They mounted a nine-game win streak in the first half of the season with three players averaging nearly two points per game with Kevin Healy, Dan Sokol and Cade Baumgardner all north of 40 points. However, their heavy-hitters have cooled off a bit down the stretch and February hasn’t been the kindest to Rockford, just 3-3-1 down the stretch.
Under The Radar: The Bay Reps have shown well on big stages like the North-South Showcase and the MIHL Showcase. If there’s a team in this region capable of playing up when the pressure is on, it’s the Reps. Led by Jacob Stevenson, expect the Reps to skate with any opponent they’d face in this region with a good chance of coming out victorious.
The Dark Horse: They may have the toughest path in the region to get to a Saturday finale but Traverse City West has an outside shot of getting to the championship. The Titans haven’t fared well against some of the top teams on their schedule but that experience playing against Salem, Stevenson and De La Salle have prepared them for the speed and intensity of this time of year.
The Favorite: They’ve beaten four-of-the-five other teams in the region during the regular season, so Byron Center has already proved themselves to be a better team… but can they do it when it counts most? It’s a long road for BC to get to the championship but they’ve played a ton of close games this season so the playoff pressure should not phase the Bulldogs.
Under The Radar: A bonafide dark horse in last year’s regional championship with a 2-1 overtime thriller to upset Grandville in 2018, West Ottawa shouldn’t surprise anyone this time around. Their record isn’t sexy and there’s a couple tough L’s on the schedule but the program has a chance to solidify itself on the west side and prove last season wasn’t a flash in the pan.
The Dark Horse: Jenison landed a first-round bye and will likely play West Ottawa in Round 2 — a team that the Wildcats have already lost to earlier in the year — but that makes them a perfect wolf in sheep’s clothing here. I am a big Anthony Mollica fan but Jenison has a talented squad outside of the defenseman who leads the team in scoring, with three others averaging a point per game.
The Favorite: In their first year as a co-op, the Cap City Capitals have been the catalyst in the Lansing area. The Caps rattled off an impressive 13-game win streak in the middle of the year but haven’t played their best hockey down the stretch. With a 5-0-1 record against region opponents, Cap City is the clear-cut favorite but limp into the playoffs with their last five games being decided by just one goal. Senior Ryan Gilmore has quietly won 18 games between the pipes this season and is easily one of the top netminders in the state.
Under The Radar: Their overall record might be cause to look past Lowell/Caledonia, but the bracket is pretty lopsided with the top three teams on one half of the bracket and Lo-Cal on the other half. A spot in the Saturday showdown is almost inevitable, and Lo-Cal has plenty of experience making deep playoff runs, give them a 50/50 shot with a title on the line and who knows what can happen.
The Dark Horse: After early exits in the past two playoffs, Jackson United finally gets away from their dreaded first-round matchups with powerhouse Brighton. The Vikings are so close to turning the corner — losing six of the last seven games by two goals or less — maybe with the season on the line, they flip the switch and finally make a long overdue playoff run.
The Favorite: No surprise here with the No. 2-ranked and last year’s D-I runner-up in Saginaw Heritage. The Hawks have played like a team on a mission in 2018-19, motivated by last year’s title run and looking to make a return trip to USA Hockey Arena. Their approach to the season has been business-like — show up, win, repeat — and I expect the first week of the playoffs to be no different. High-powered offense? Check. Shut-down goaltending? Check. Strong special teams? Check and check. They’ve got all the tools a championship team needs come playoff time.
Under The Radar: It might not be a great chance, but of the five other teams in the region Midland has the best odds of knocking off Heritage. Problem is, they’re gonna have to win two tough games just to get that opportunity on Saturday. Sophomore Luke Buza has six 40-save performances this year and a seventh could be the key to a regional final upset.
The Dark Horse: One win puts Swartz Creek/Clio/Flushing in the title game. It may seem insurmountable but a Saturday matchup would be Heritage’s third of the week and SCF would have fresh legs; a significant advantage this time of year. No stats for the boys on the Hub, though, so we’re flying blind with this longshot here.
The Favorite: The top-ranked team in the region properly drew a first-round bye but Orchard Lake St. Mary’s reward will be a regional semifinal matchup with defending state champion Brighton. The season began with an opening-night 2-0 loss to the Bulldogs at St. Mary’s Ice Arena but the Eaglets’ will be fresh for the rematch, looking to keep their season from ending the way it started. Bryce Kallen is one of the most dangerous scorers in the MIHL and the senior looks to lead OLSM back to a regional final.
Under The Radar: Their worst season in 22 years by overall record standards has caused everyone to overlook the reigning champs. I’m concerned they won’t have enough firepower to combat OLSM in a second-round rematch, with just two skaters averaging a point per game. It’s been a rough campaign for Brighton but not being the favorite is just the way they like it. No one thrives in an underdog role more than Paul Moggach, Kurt Kivisto and the Bulldogs. Go ahead, sleep on ‘em, I dare ya.
The Dark Horse: In a region with two of the top five teams in D-I, Clarkston drew a first-round bye and only has to play Brighton OR OLSM, not both. That’s pretty fortuitous. The Wolves average more than five goals per game and while the strength of schedule may pale in comparison to their regional final counterpart, maybe a little puck luck continues in Clarkston’s favor.
The Favorite: This region is wide open. There’s as many as four of the six teams with a legitimate shot at winning this regional but if I’ve gotta pick just one as the frontrunner I’m going with Macomb Dakota. Problem is, those four teams are all pitted against each other in the first round and contenders will be whittled down to two by Tuesday. If the Cougars survive and make it to the title, confidence will be at an all-time high when they face a team — Eisenhower or Rochester United — that Dakota has already proved it can beat.
Under The Radar: Utica Eisenhower doesn’t have the firepower like they did last year but this squad is far more balanced than 2018’s top-heavy lineup. The start of the year was rough for the Eagles going winless in their first eight games but this has been an entirely different team since Christmas. Seven players reached double-digits in points and Ike is trending in the right direction at the right time of year.
The Dark Horse: If Dakota is the favorite… and L’anse Creuse Unified has beaten the favorite not once, but TWICE this season... I’ve gotta think that they’re confident and fully capable of an upset here. If they flip the region upside down on day one, look out because LCU took Ike to overtime earlier in the year as well and can skate with anyone in this region despite being ranked fourth out of the six by MyHockey.
The Favorite: They’re the favorite in Region 7. They’re the favorite in D-I. They’re the favorite in the state. I thought last year’s Detroit Catholic Central squad was the best high school team I’d ever seen in Michigan… until I saw this year’s lineup. Not only are they top dogs but they’re playing like hungry dogs on a mission to avenge last year’s early exit at the hands of eventual state champion Brighton. They’ve got 14 players in double-digits for points and a goaltender in Zach Allan with a sub-2.00 goals-against average, nobody’s figured out how to beat them yet this year and I don’t think anyone will.
Under The Radar: Birmingham Unified is doing everything an up-and-coming program should do. Achieve success one year, challenge yourself the next year, repeat. It’s been a long road climbing from 117th in the state in ‘15-16 all the way up to 39th at one point this season. Each year, they schedule tougher and tougher teams from all over the state — and out-of-state — in Lo-Cal on the west side and Marquette in the U.P. as well as St. John Jesuit and Toledo St. Francis of Ohio. Getting to a regional final would be huge for the direction this program is heading.
The Dark Horse: I think it would be the biggest upset in state playoff history if it happens, but maybe Troy catches CC napping in round one? If they load up on a line of forwards with Bigelow-Ricketts-Toton — the team’s three leading scorers — maybe Troy can surprise the Shamrocks with a couple early scoring chances and survive an impending storm for 40+ minutes.
The Favorite: Few public schools play a tougher slate than Salem. The win-loss record won’t overwhelm you but the two games they need to win en route to the championship will seem like lightwork compared to the first 25 games they played in ‘18-19. Coach Ryan Ossenmacher has been putting pieces in place for years specifically for a run like this and the dominoes are falling into place, can they take care of business though?
Under The Radar: They’ve won games I expected them to win and lost games I anticipated they lose. That has allowed Northville to remain relatively overlooked in metro Detroit and if they get another shot at Salem in the Regional Final — a potential rematch of when the Rocks edged out the Mustangs 3-2 in January — it may be the perfect time for Northville to turn some heads and grab the attention of the state.
The Dark Horse: Farmington United has one of the highest goal differentials in the state at plus-2.65 and while it hasn’t been the toughest schedule, it’s a confident group that has won a lot of games and scored a lot of goals. Six players have hit double-digits in goals and average a point per game, so if you let them hang around, a bonafide goal scorer like Ben McColl just might make you pay.
Are you ready? Are you hyped? Did I provide enough bulletin-board material for you playoff teams? It’s the best time of year with playoff games across the state all week long, so keep your Twitter feeds refreshed and update those scores people! Every game matters and I wish all teams nothing but the best in the playoff race. Enjoy the ride because it will be over all too quick.