The 2019 Junior Club World Cup is underway this week in Sochi, Russia, featuring eight of the top amateur junior leagues in the world, including the North American Hockey League (NAHL) and Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL). Representatives from Russia, Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, Switzerland and Austria round out the eight-team tournament.
Last Friday, the NAHL announced its three captains for the All-Star Team assembled with players representing the top Tier-II junior league in the United States. The 24-man roster consists of players from nine different states, but the three chosen to lead the team had one very interesting characteristic in common: Jake Beaune (Livonia Stevenson, 2018), Austin McCarthy (Manistee, 2017) and Nick Trela (Trenton, 2017) are all alumni of Michigan high school hockey.
Amidst all the vast differences, unique skill sets and diverse personalities of an all-star team compiled of players representing all 24 NAHL organizations from the previous season; the one constant in all the chaos is an amazing coincidence. A significant badge of honor for the players, but also for the world of MI-HS hockey that they continue to represent.
Beaune was a three-year lettermen at Stevenson, recording 35 goals and 71 points from the blue line, and a captain for the Spartans as a senior. The 6-foot-3 defenseman finished his rookie season of juniors with the 2019 Robertson Cup champion Aberdeen Wings.
Entering his second NAHL season, McCarthy is slated to be the Topeka Pilots’ captain in 19-20 as well. The Ludington native was a captain for Manistee during his junior season, where he scored 64 goals and 137 points in three seasons.
A 99-born forward, Trela played his sophomore and junior seasons for Trenton, and scored 10 goals and 20 points in his first season of juniors for the Amarillo Bulls.
What an unbelievable opportunity for the players to travel to Russia for an international tournament and an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Having three former players move on in their careers and earn that opportunity is impressive enough. The story could end right there and it would be a great headline. I don’t know what the odds of having all three of them be named captains is, but I think it’s safe to say they’re pretty slim. What an awesome moment for the players and for high school hockey.
That’s the best thing I’ve seen this week.
What’s the best thing you’ve seen in high school hockey? Continue the conversation with me on Twitter, would love to hear your thoughts, comments, questions and feedback!
Ah, what an exciting and action-packed opening week of playoffs! From starting with 138 teams, to only having eight remain in each Division as we enter the State Tournament on Tuesday. Be sure to check out this year’s Regional Champs HERE.
FULL DISCLOSURE follow-up to last week’s Regional Playoff Predictions…
The Favorites: 17 Champions
Under The Radar: Four Champions
The Darkhorses: One Champion
Total Misses: Two Champions
All-in-all, a great week of worthy champions; some mainstays like DCC, Hartland, Stevenson, Trenton, Big Rapids and FHNE as well as some first timers in Petoskey, Cap City and the Bay Reps. Big shoutouts to Rochester United and Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard; two teams that proved me wrong and made us all pay for looking past them in Regionals, congrats on your well-deserved Wooden Mittens.
As we shift focus to the eight-team State Tournament, I wanted to change things up a bit and introduce Confidence Picks to the playoff projections. With so many great teams still remaining, it would be virtually impossible to limit potential contenders to just three teams in a Favorite, Under The Radar and Dark Horse format like last week. So this time around, I’ll rank teams in each division not by talent, skill or program history but by their likelihood of winning the entire tournament, given the potential matchups and path to a championship. Eight points to the ones I’m most confident in and one point to the longest shot of the division. Let’s get started…
Rochester United: They’ve got a major challenge in the Quarterfinals and an even bigger giant in the semis, should they survive OLSM on Wednesday. RU has had a tremendous run at 25-3-0 overall but I just don’t think there’s enough fight left to run with the big dogs.
Cap City: The Cinderella of D-I, Heritage (No. 4) will be the toughest team the Capitals will have faced all year long. Jenison (No. 47) was their biggest test thus far, and that was a 5-1 loss back in December, however, if they shock the world in the Quarters there’s a chance CCC could qualify for the D-I Final.
Orchard Lake St. Mary’s: I could be overvaluing the Eaglets here, as I don’t know that this is one of the stronger OLSM teams we’ve seen in recent history. However, I’m confident in their ability to get to the semis with a chance to play CC and of the eight teams in D-I, I think they’ve got the best shot — albeit a small one — to take down the favorite.
Byron Center: They’ve never been “out” of a game this season. At 22-5-1, the Bulldogs have been one of the best west-side teams in ‘18-19 and all of their losses are by two-goals-or-less, so I’m confident they’ll compete with anyone they take the ice with. It’s not an easy road but a winnable game in the Quarters and another one in the semis, so look out for BC.
Bay Reps: I said Byron Center could win at Ewigleben Ice Arena and they can, but I’d definitely lean towards the Bay Raps in the Wednesday matchup. I really like this Reps team and I think they’d give Heritage a better fight in a potential semifinal matchup than they did when the Hawks handled them 6-1 back in December.
Saginaw Heritage: I fully expect them to be one-half of the D-I finale for a second consecutive season. I don’t think the outcome will be different than 2018 but hey, get to the title game and anything can happen! With three skilled lines, they’ll get up and down the ice with anyone left in the tournament.
Detroit Catholic Central: There’s really no reason why the Shamrocks shouldn’t win the D-I title. Honestly, I think they’re three goals better than the other seven teams remaining. No disrespect meant to the field, this CC team is just that good. No team in the state has solved the Shamrocks this season and I don’t believe anyone will.
Forest Hills Northern-Eastern: They’ve been living on the edge! Back-to-back overtime thrillers in the Regional semis and championship game but I think the well runs dry on Tuesday against Hartland. There’s plenty of offensive firepower in D-II and I highly doubt FHNE has the guns to go up and down the ice with the likes of Hartland, Rice and others.
Port Huron Northern: Like the Husky-Hawks (is that what FHNE calls themselves?), I don’t know if PHN can score on Rice in their Quarterfinal matchup, let alone a Hartland or Trenton. It’s been a great run for Northern but a road to the finale gets real rocky here in the Elite Eight.
Petoskey: They’re in unchartered waters. By my count, the program hasn’t reached this stage of the tournament in more than 20 years so they’re gonna have to elevate their game if they want to compete with the blue bloods. I think they have a small chance against Marquette in the Quarters, but they’ll need some more postseason magic to get to a title.
Trenton: On paper, they’re intimidating but after watching their Regional Final I think talented squads like the ones below can out-class the Trojans. The 6-0 loss to Stevenson a month ago raises a red flag, even though I expect a closer game in the Quarterfinal rematch. Trenton is certainly capable of winning the whole thing but they could just as easily be eliminated by Tuesday.
Brother Rice: I fully anticipate a rematch in the semis from the MIHL-KLAA Showcase when Hartland defeated Rice 5-1 in December. However, I expect that rematch in Plymouth to be much, much closer the second time around. If the Warriors are to make a serious run at a title, they’ll need next-level goaltending to give themselves a chance against the firepower they’d face in Elite Eight action.
Livonia Stevenson: It’s gonna be boom-or-bust with the Spartans. Another team with a legitimate chance at the D-II title but could just as easily be knocked out by Trenton on Tuesday. They’ve already beaten the Trojans and Hartland — twice — but throw that out the window in playoff rematches. I like their chances a lot but it’ll require three intense games to get it done; a much tougher grind than I think other contenders would have.
Marquette: I said before the tournament started, if there’s one team in D-II I don’t want to face, it’s the Redmen and I’m sticking to it. They’re “U.P. tough” with a stingy defensive effort that allows less than two goals against per game and will bring the support of an entire peninsula with them to Plymouth. They’re not the best team in the division but Marquette may be the hungriest, most balanced team in the field with a great path to the title.
Hartland: Maybe they shouldn’t be the favorite. Losses to Trenton and Stevenson, I don’t know… Literally 4 through 8 could be interchangeable in D-II but the Eagles are the most talented of the group, with the best goalie among the eight, arguably the easiest road and a title to defend in a fourth straight trip to Plymouth. Why WOULDN’T they be the favorite?
East Grand Rapids: It’s not so much their Quarterfinal matchup that hinders their chances but the potential Semifinal draw that has me concerned about the Pioneers’ title hopes. Big Rapids will be a tall task on Wednesday and the winner of Country Day/U-D at Plymouth would be monumental. I just don’t know if East has enough gas left to get to a title, let alone bring it home.
Big Rapids: Same concerns as above, but the Cardinals won me over with their Regional Championship run so much so that I’m looking at them to knock off EGR in the Quarters. I didn’t think they had enough firepower to make it this far… and then they hung a six-spot on Dow and an eight-spot on Powers. Their top is really good but depth may be what holds them back in Plymouth.
Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard: Their path isn’t as rough as some others in D-III, and the Irish have played stellar in the playoffs so far. The Quarterfinal matchup is pretty balanced and could go either way but if they survive the Battle of Gabriel Richards, coach Clint Robert will have to push his kids to the next level if they’re going to hold their own with the competition at USA Hockey Arena.
Riverview Gabriel Richard: I’m giving the Pioneers a slight edge in that Quarterfinal, as they’ve played a tougher slate in ‘18-19, priming them for this time of year. I still don’t think there’s enough steam to get over the next hump but GR has played Alpena and Country Day — twice — tough enough to prove they can skate with everyone remaining in the D-III playoffs.
U-D Jesuit: I like the Cubs a lot. I hate their Quarterfinal matchup more though. This is another boom-or-bust as U-D could potentially win it all or they could be cut out of the playoff picture by Wednesday. I do believe whoever wins that tilt will be one-half of the D-III finale and most likely be the favorite to win against whoever comes from the other half of the bracket.
Houghton: Their top is really good and may be the best among the eight teams remaining but a path to a title would involve going through the two best goalies in high school hockey. This time of year in a matchup between high-powered offenses and stingy goaltending, I’m giving the nod to the netminders here but you could swap 5-6-7-8 and wouldn’t get an argument from me.
Alpena: I’ll admit, I’m picking with my heart on this one. They’ve been a great story all year long but they have certainly earned every bit of it on the ice, building up an impressive resume. If the Wildcats get to the D-III final, we could end up playing all night long because I don’t know if anyone’s scoring in a Cooper Black v. Sam Evola showdown.
Detroit Country Day: If there’s a reason why they shouldn’t be the favorite, please let me know. For starters, they don’t have to play Woodhaven, a team that’s handed the Yellowjackets two of their four losses, so that’s a big plus! In all seriousness though, I think they’re one of the most complete teams I’ve seen this season playing in front of the best goalie in the state. That U-D matchup is certainly the biggest concern but I think that game could be quite similar to DCD’s’ low-scoring affair with Cranbrook earlier in the playoffs.
Well, this is it folks! Whether you win or lose, it’s the final week of the season for everyone remaining. I wish all teams nothing but the best down the stretch here. Take some time to truly enjoy the little moments this week and appreciate what you’ve accomplished. Only three teams earn the privilege of ending their seasons — and in some instances, careers — with a victory, so make the most of final practices, bus rides and memories with the boys while you can!
Feel free to connect with me on Twitter and argue my picks 140 characters at a time!
The 2019 MI-HS state playoffs are scheduled to begin next week, with 138 high school programs set to chase the ultimate dream of a state championship. Games get started on Monday, February 25th, and by the end of the week, the pool will be whittled down to just eight schools remaining in each division.
With that, I’ve got a case as to how 72 teams — yes, over half the field! — have a shot at winning their respective sectional. I know it’s long and you really only care about YOUR region, but let’s take a closer look at three teams in each region with a chance to survive the first week of the tournament breaking them down into three categories:
The Favorite. The front-runners, the top seeds, the class of the region who just needs to take care of business.
Under The Radar. They’ve got a chance, a real good chance and nobody's talking about them.
The Dark Horse. It’s a longshot, but they can make some noise if all goes right and they play their best hockey.
Check out the three divisions below for complete Regional Final Previews.