The Favorite: Man, I swear a four-team U.P. regional is tougher than some seven- and eight-team regions down-state. Truthfully, the next three teams are interchangeable, take your pick. I’m throwing a dart at the Upper Peninsula and taking Calumet here. I love the way Brent Loukus plays and the Copper Kings’ power play is lethal. What scares me is when they play Houghton in the regional final, it will be their FOURTH meeting of the season — 2-1-0 record in favor of Calumet — and with that much history on each other, it’ll resemble more of an NHL playoff series than a one-off, single-elimination regional championship.
Under The Radar: They upset Calumet once this year, can Houghton do it a second time? They’ll have three days off between games to prepare but as I mentioned, having played the Copper Kings three times this year, I highly doubt the Gremlins can prep any more than they already have for this regional final showdown. Brad Gauthier had a monster performance in that lone win, does the senior have some more magic left or will someone else answer the call for Houghton with the season on the line?
The Dark Horse: They are 0-6 this season against the above mentioned teams with just three goals scored in those games, meaning Hancock would have to do something they haven’t done all year long in the second round… and then do it again in the championship in order to win the sectional. I’m not completely writing off the Bulldogs but they’d need a lot to go their way as an upset candidate in Region 17.
The Favorite: No secret here, I along with the rest of the state LOVE Alpena this year. What an awesome job Chris Limback has done and while outsiders will only focus on the 2018-19 season, the Wildcats’ 20-4-1 record is the product of years of hard work building this program up. Cooper Black is one of the best goalies in the state with a 0.962 save percent and a goals-against average BELOW 1.00. Tell me if you’ve heard this headline before: Goalie ____ paves his team’s way to Plymouth. John Lethemon in 2014, Sam Evola in 2018… Cooper Black in 2019?
Under The Radar: They haven’t won a game since before Christmas but Sault Ste. Marie has played one of the more challenging schedules in D-III. The Blue Devils have taken their lumps from heavy-hitters around the state like GRCC, Country Day, Marquette and Plymouth and while the outcomes weren’t enjoyable, the hope is that there’s a lesson in how you need to play to win games this time of year. SSM’s first-round matchup with Alpena will be a rematch of a 5-1 thumping on Jan. 19th, but it was a 1-1 game going into the third period in Alpena. Can the Blue Devils survive in the rematch at a neutral site?
The Dark Horse: Gaylord doesn’t get held off the scoreboard very often. One might expect them to lose to teams like Flint Powers, Petoskey and Alpena but the Blue Devils have a knack for hanging around til the very end. Not to mention the fact they’ve already upset the Wildcats once this year, with a 4-1 win in the very building that a potential rematch would take place in for Round 2. Senior Jon Allen has three goals and an assist in two games against Alpena this year, could he be enough to get past Black and the Wildcats?
The Favorite: They’re limping into the playoffs a little bit here, as I don’t think Flint Powers is playing its best hockey of the season at the moment. I don’t like the commute either — over two hours from campus to host site Ewigleben Sports Complex — but I think they’re talented enough to survive any opponent in the region. It may not be pretty but senior Luke Evo who is fifth in the state in goals (32) and fourth in points (67), could play hero hockey and single-handedly be enough for the Chargers to take the championship.
Under The Radar: They almost upended Powers in Flint on Feb. 13th, and Midland Dow could put up another solid fight, should they advance to that second-round matchup next Wednesday. Dow has impressive victories over Alpena, FHNE and Livonia Churchill where they basically dominated a quite talented opponent. They’re a pretty top-heavy team but it’s a really solid top that can hold their own with anyone they’ll see in D-III and if Powers doesn’t have its A-game, it could be a different Charger advancing to the Region 19 championship.
The Dark Horse: It’s tough sledding on the bottom half of this bracket, with arguably the three toughest teams on the same side of the six-team region. Big Rapids had a shot at both of the above teams during the regular season and it didn’t go well, so I don’t love them as the longshot here but maybe, just maybe coach Tim Blashill will have picked up on a few keys from their earlier matchups.
The Favorite: After a tough ‘17-18 campaign, Forest Hills Central bounced back this year in a big way. Ranked 10th in D-III, the Rangers have gone 12-4-1 against Grand Rapids-area opponents and returned to form in ‘18-19. They’re still young with just six seniors on the roster and may be a year away from really making some noise in March but I like their chances of taking the championship. FHC has already beaten pretty much everyone they could face here and they’ve never really been “out” of a game this season; that adds up to a lot of confidence for a young group.
Under The Radar: East Grand Rapids might even be better than FHC, especially given the fact they beat the Rangers 2-1 earlier in the year. It was tight though, and EGR needed overtime to pull it off, I just think the rematch could be even more intense and the Pioneers have a rougher road to get there. EGR throttled Grand Rapids Catholic Central 8-0 in December but I expect that second-round matchup to be much closer the second time around. Still, I give the edge to East because Colin Stecco and Jacob Adams are special players with a scoring touch.
The Dark Horse: Because they got mercied by East, I don’t think anyone outside of GRCC’s locker room would give them much of a chance in that Wednesday night matchup. The Cougars have been a much different team since then, thanks in large part to the performances of Danny Nelson and Jake Onstott who have combined for 36 points since that game. GRCC is in much better shape for this rematch and if they upend EGR, the Cougars could snowball that momentum into an Elite Eight spot.
The Favorite: Much like everyone else in D-III last year, I was stricken with the “Evola” virus during Detroit Country Day’s run to a state title. The 2018 Mr. Hockey, Sam Evola, returned for his senior season this year and the Yellowjackets have gone from loveable, unsung hero to dreaded, evil empire with a giant target on their backs. Their title defense will start with a major challenge in Cranbrook, but if Country Day survives their first test it could be a return trip to Plymouth in pursuit of a repeat.
Under The Radar: The magic number for Cranbrook is four. If they can score four goals on Country Day, they’ll upset the D-III applecart. The Cranes a 9-1-1 when reaching the four-goal plateau and I just don’t know if they’re sound enough to hold Country Day to less than three goals. Getting four pucks behind Evola is almost impossible, as it’s only happened twice in two years, but seniors Kamryn Hellman and Connor McGrath are going to have to be creative if Cranbrook is to knock off the defending champ.
The Dark Horse: The other half of the bracket consists of three teams ranked in the bottom 10 of the Division. It would be a tall task for Notre Dame Prep to pull off an upset but with a first-round bye, I fully expect them to be the other half of this regional final matchup. Load up on a line with Lindsey-Anderson-Caton, and you’ve got three forwards who have combined for 58 goals — exactly half of ND’s offense — an equation that would be boom-or-bust but David’s gotta take his shot at Goliath.
The Favorite: I fully expect U-D Jesuit to be one-half of this regional final with a very good chance to knock off whoever stands in their way. They’ve gotten stellar goaltending all season long and have elite goal scorers in Ben Charboneau, Mark Lauro and Jake Gumbel but there is one area of concern for the Cubs. Stay. Out. Of. The Box! They average 10 PIMs per game and you just can’t afford costly penalties this time of year. The other caveat, a majority of those penalty minutes come from their top guys and this time of year, your best players need to be on the ice, not the box.
Under The Radar: Warren De La Salle got bounced out of the playoffs far too early last year, eliminated in overtime in their first-round matchup with University Liggett. The Pilots have yet another tough test in Round 1 this year with Grosse Pointe South and getting eliminated in the first round again would be an absolute shame. DLS has plenty of talent to make a deep run this year but the playoff draw doesn’t do them any favors. Coach Sean Clark has his work cut out for him but a regional championship here would be a monumental achievement in his second season behind the bench.
The Dark Horse: University Liggett has its work cut out for them here. They got a first-round bye but the two games they’ll have to win to claim a regional title will be against the two toughest opponents they’ve seen in six weeks. Their leading scorer, Doug Wood, is a freshman and he has points in 16 of their last 19 games including a three-point night against Country Day. I’m not saying it’s impossible for them to pull off consecutive upsets but it would certainly be a D-III surprise.
The Favorite: Be still, my heart. An eight-team region! Next week at the Arctic Coliseum will be jam-packed with playoff acton and I love it! Not only that but it’s pretty close top to bottom and I’m gonna put Allen Park out in front of the pack. This is a program that has been on the cusp for a long time now, just itching to get over the hump. I like the Jags in low-scoring games; they tied Country Day in a bizarre 0-0 mid-week game and Trenton needed a late third-period goal to beat them 1-0. I just think Allen Park is good enough to limit opportunities and if they can keep games tight, a deep playoff run is certainly attainable.
Under The Radar: There’s nothing pretty about Livonia Churchill but I think that’s by design. The dirty, ugly, grind-em-out kind of hockey that the Chargers play is exactly what got them to the Division-III state championship game last year and if teams aren’t careful, it could get them there again. Averaging just two goals per game won’t turn a lot of heads and has allowed Churchill to remain relatively stealthy, but they’ve rattled off five consecutive wins in February and if you try looking past these guys in an elimination game, they’re gonna blindside you hard.
The Dark Horse: They’re one of my lowest-seeded picks but there’s something about this Chelsea squad, I just can’t write them off. A first-round matchup with Churchill is gonna be TOUGH, but the Bulldogs have been playing much better hockey since January and leading scorer Brad Sullivan has 14 goals in their last 12 games. I’d be very cautious of the host team, playing in front of the home crowd with a senior sniper looking to keep his season alive as long as possible.
The Favorite: A tale of two halves this season for Riverview Gabriel Richard. In the first 11 games, the Pioneers went a mere 3-8-0 but something clicked over winter break. Since December 28th, GR is 10-1-1 and primed for a playoff run next week thanks in part to its top goal scorers in Nathan Vazquez, Chance DeSana and Austin Harrison. Their toughest test is Monday night, right out of the gate but if the boys can take care of business it could be smooth sailing to a regional championship.
Under The Radar: I couldn’t make Grosse Ile the favorite here for two reasons. First, they’ve already lost to the favorite back in January and they’ve played one of the weaker schedules amongst D-III teams. HOWEVER, I don’t care who you play, if you put up numbers like Chris Mihai — 43 goals and 75 points — and his supporting cast of Cody Keenan, Chase Havens and Brennan Karn, you’ve got something brewing for a possible playoff run. The Red Devils are on a pretty weak side of the bracket and should fully expect to be in the final. With firepower like that and a spot in the title game, they’ll be salivating over a chance to play spoiler.
The Dark Horse: They’ve already lost to every team they’d face in a potential run to a regional championship, which makes Monroe St. Mary CC a huge underdog in this sectional but they’re talented enough to put doubt in their opponents. Don’t take penalties against the Falcons, because they’ve got plenty of firepower to make you pay. Willie McGuire and Bryce Iott average a goal per game and Cameron Valente and Cole Zalewski add a very talented secondary scoring dimension. SMCC will have to push the pace and hope to outscore opponents in a track meet kind of game, not totally impossible for a team with more than 100 goals on the season.
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.