The Favorite: Oh man. If there’s one team in D-II I don’t wanna play against right now its Marquette. The Redmen have lost just two games since Dec. 11th, and every year, it seems like a U.P. team makes the trek to USA Hockey Arena with the support of an entire peninsula behind them. Escanaba, Hancock, Calumet in recent years past but 2019 may be Marquette’s march to Plymouth.
Under The Radar: Marquette needed a third-period goal to beat Kingsford 5-4, when these two teams met at Mountain View Ice Arena back in December. The Flivvers play host to this four-team region and being given a rematch, in their own backyard, for the first round is definitely a formula for a potential upset. I love Marquette but if Kingsford conquers this early hill, it could just as easily be them making the trip down I-75.
The Dark Horse: They automatically start playoffs with a win, being that Escanaba only has to face one or the other in Marquette/Kingsford as opposed to going through both to survive this region. Cross fingers and hope they knock the snot out of each other in Round 1 so that you’ve just got to clean up the scraps. While the Eskymos held their own against both opponents in their regular-season matchups, that was way back in November when football players are still trying to regain their bearings on skates. If Escanaba pulls it off and represents Region 9 in Quarters, though, they would instantly become the underdog story of the year.
The Favorite: I think this one is close, but the nod has gotta go to Petoskey, especially given the fact they’ve already beaten Traverse City Central not once, but twice this year. Making it a three-peat won’t be easy though and the Northmen will have a major test in the first round. Kyle Hebner and Andrew VanAntwerp provide plenty of firepower, as they’ve combined for six goals against the Trojans already.
Under The Radar: If they’ve already got your number, dopes like me completely look past you as a front-runner to win the region. Traverse City Central has been a very different team in the second half of the season and much improved from their 6-1 loss in the first meeting with Petoskey. If the Trojans can stop — or even contain — Petoskey’s top line, they’ve got a real good chance at upsetting the top-ranked team in the region.
The Dark Horse: I would be pleasantly surprised if the winner of TCC/Petoskey doesn’t take the championship here, but if the upset is to happen, it will come courtesy of Mona Shores. They’d only won two games before February but they’ve doulbed their win total in the final month of the season. You want to be playing your best hockey this time of year and the Sailors are doing just that. If they make the title game like I expect, a perfect game from Mona may be enough for a big upset.
The Favorite: This is another tough call and I don’t like that they’ve got to win three games to get it done, but if you’re labeled a favorite it shouldn’t matter whether you’ve got to win six or two, Grand Rapids Christian just has to take care of business. With impressive wins over Flint Powers, Hancock and regional foe FHNE as well as admirable losses — yes, it’s a thing — to Hartland, Cranbrook and Alpena, I like the Eagles’ chances to survive Week 1 of the playoffs.
Under The Radar: They lost a lot off of last year’s squad and I think people around the state consider Forest Hills Northern-Eastern to have lost a bit of its luster after three consecutive trips to USA Hockey Arena. Goals are hard to come by with this squad — both for and against — so if it turns into a shootout, their chances will decrease significantly with just a 2-4-2 record in games with six-or-more goals scored. If they can keep games a low-scoring affair, I really like their odds of surprising a team or two.
The Dark Horse: They’re the lowest seed in the region, but I’m giving Grand Rapid West Catholic a chance here. They’ve been mercied a couple times this year which concerns me if they fall behind early, but I just don’t see a real dominant force in this region and with a first-round bye, the Falcons can sit idle with just one game to win to reach the finale on Saturday.
The Favorite: There may not be a more talented team in the entire division than defending state champion Hartland. If you simply compared hockey resumes, the region would go to the Eagles in a landslide, who rightfully rank No. 1 in D-II by MyHockey. But this is the fullest sectional Hartland has seen in a couple years — albeit with just six teams in total — and they’ve got to win three games to advance to Week 2. With names like Larson, Anderson, Tulpa, Carlile, a pair of Pietila’s and Tome in net, I fully expect the Eagles take the region handedly.
Under The Radar: Hartland has made a habit of breezing through regionals with scores like 12-0 and 13-1. I think that stops this year with the addition of a legitimate threat in Davison. The Cardinals have the leading scorer in the state with senior Gage Thrall and he’s surrounded by some heavy-hitting playmakers. Hartland has earned the title of top dog but Davison has the tools to take down goliath, should the Eagles expect a cakewalk in 2019.
The Dark Horse: I don’t think Hartland will overlook Davison but Davison could very easily overlook their first-round matchup with Fenton/Linden. The Cardinals rolled the Griffins 7-2 earlier in the year and I’m sure they’re licking their chops for a potential regional final showdown with the defending champs. But don’t take coach Kyle Marchand’s squad lightly in Round 1 or YOU may end up on the wrong side of an upset and out of it before ever getting a shot at Hartland.
The Favorite: The highest-ranked team in the region, with a first-round bye, home-ice advantage as regional host and a long history of deep playoff success. Brother Rice is the easy and obvious choice for front-runner of the section. Of all my D-II favorites, the Warriors are the ones I’m most confident in advancing to Week 2 because 1. They’re that good and 2. I just don’t see a viable threat to knock them off.
Under The Radar: New to D-II, Lake Orion drops down a division and should give Rice a good run in Round 2. However, I think this group is a year or two away from a serious playoff run and inexperience could play a big role in the regional semifinal. The Dragons are young, with four of their top five scorers being underclassmen — including sophomores Kade Manzo and Andrew Potyk — and are subject to being outclassed by the seasoned Warriors. If the Dragons hang around late in this one though, they could fast-track that playoff run to here-and-now.
The Dark Horse: Nobody talks about this team during playoff time and I can’t figure out why. White Lake Lakeland routinely has one good, solid line that can compete with some of the top tournament contenders. They didn’t play the toughest schedule in ‘18-19 but with a solid win over Byron Center and a respectable loss to Rockford, among some other outings, the Eagles can make a game ugly and too close for comfort. They’ll be in the the Regional Final, ready and waiting to play the role of underdog.
The Favorite: It’s tough to pick a front-runner out of this pack because they’re all so close. Region 14 could be absolute chaos but I really like Port Huron Northern to win its first Regional title in five years. The team’s leading scorer Brendan Dickinson averages a goal per game and has 11 points in-conference. With a little help from his counterparts, the Huskies should pull away from the group to advance out of the regional.
Under The Radar: I really like Rochester Stoney Creek’s chances of getting to the final. They’re the best team on their half of the bracket by a long shot and they’ve only gotta win one game to get there. I like SC’s leadership group and its a senior-laden lineup — more than half the roster — that’ll be prepped and ready to make their final season last as long as possible.
The Dark Horse: It’d be a longshot and they’d have to go through BOTH of the above teams, but Romeo has been a different team in the last month-and-a-half of the season. They’ve shocked the playoff landscape before and while the 6-18-0 record isn’t overwhelming, four of those wins have come in the past seven games. The Bulldogs’ other three losses in February have been by a combined four goals, so they’re a tough out even in defeat, exactly what you’d hope for from an underdog in early March.
The Favorite: They’ve been to six consecutive regional finals in an area of the state that is rich with talented teams, that alone makes Livonia Stevenson the favorite until someone proves otherwise. The ‘18-19 Spartans are much different that past squads, though, absent of a heavy-hitting top line. Without a clear No. 1, though, I don’t know who you key on with this group, as coach Dave Mitchell has 14 — yes, FOURTEEN — players with at least ten points this season. Sounds like a matchup nightmare to me.
Under The Radar: Having lost eight straight games, and 11 of the last 13, people will easily start writing of the Plymouth Wildcats. Let’s not forget, though, this is the same team that has beaten the likes of Brighton, FHNE, Salem and Saline! Four teams that could very easily end up winning their respective regionals. The Cats have some dangerous goal scorers in Ian Smith and Jack VanDenBeurgeury along with a talented Adam Rebecca on the back-end; I know the results haven’t gone in their favor lately but this is a team fully capable of getting to a regional final.
The Dark Horse: While Plymouth may be trending in the wrong direction, Novi is very much moving in the opposite. A 7-3-0 record since Jan. 18th, with wins over KLAA foes Howell and Brighton as well as westsider Rockford, Mark Vallucci has done a complete 180 with this young team. The Wildcats have 15 underclassmen on the roster that needed the first half of the season to find their sea legs, but now they’re the ones rocking the ship and with a first-round bye, will be itching to surprise someone for a championship on home ice.
The Favorite: Trenton has been the class of this region for a long, long time. However, I think that dominance has forced others in the area to elevate their game because I don’t see the Trojans as the runaway favorite like years past. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a damn good Trenton squad, very balanced top to bottom with stellar goaltending and experience after going to the D-II finale last year. Six guys average a point per game and 15 with 10-or-more, I’ve never seen anything like it. Oh, B-T-W, goalies are pretty good too, with a combined 1.22 goals-against average, so the region may be getting tough, but Trenton is getting tougher.
Under The Radar: They beat Detroit Country Day not once, but twice… Any other region in any division, Brownstown Woodhaven would probably be the favorite with those two notches on their belt. Trenton cast a 6-2 shadow over the Warriors in the first game of the season and the potential rematch could be an absolute battle in the championship on Saturday. Senior Zach Robinson is one of the leading scorers in the state but has never beaten Trenton in his four-year career; he and the rest of the Warriors will be itching to conquer that mountaintop with their season on the line.
The Dark Horse: Fun fact, Saline has lost just one game by more than two goals all season long. “Funner” fact — I know, it’s not a word — the Hornets haven’t really lost all year… and they’re a dark horse?! Yes, because Trenton and Woodhaven are just that good and Saline would have to go through both en route to a championship. Keep in mind, Saline actually beat Woodhaven 1-0 earlier this month, but it would be tough sledding to try and keep both Trenton and Woodhaven’s high-powered offenses at bay in consecutive games.
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.