Michigan Hockey Advancement’s (MHA) Top 80 Showcase took place over the weekend at Farmington Hills Ice Arena. Two 18U teams and two 16U teams squared off in respective three-game series, vying for spots on the program’s tournament team for the upcoming fall season.
Some stood out from the crowd this weekend, making an immediate impact while others continue to knock off the rust from the summer months, shaping up for the quickly approaching winter season.
A couple players jumped out to me, having great showings at the showcase and making their names known as we inch closer to puck drop in November. We will certainly take a closer look at many of them as the fall progresses but I wanted to share some thoughts on a few guys that stood out to me in particular, following the Top 80.
Starting with the 16s, I really liked Max Marquette (U-D Jesuit, 2021). The junior forward looked like he was in mid-season form and it’s only August. He was the fastest guy on the ice Friday night and at times, he downright dominated play, controlling the flow of the game with every shift. He’s fast, he’s flashy, has great hockey smarts and a really high motor.
Bret Beale (Detroit Catholic Central, 2021) was a nice surprise and another forward that impacted play on several occasions in a short period of time. Whether it was on the fly during an odd-man rush or stationary in-zone, Beale’s ability to distribute the puck and find open teammates was on full display as he facilitated multiple scoring opportunities. At the end of the game on Friday, he buried a long put-back on a rebound to seal the victory for Team White, showing he can finish plays as well as he can set them up.
Too many times, the puck carrier enters the offensive zone, hugs the half-wall and skates themselves below the goal line and into trouble, ultimately turning the puck over and losing possession. But Houck on multiple occasions showed a knack for creating opportunities for himself, cutting across the top of the slot and putting himself in a position to generate a quality shot or scoring opportunity for his team.
Tyler Lawrence (Flint Powers, 2021) is fun to watch. He didn’t overwhelm with his speed and looked a little light for being listed at 5-foot-11 and 160 pounds, but anything he may lack in size or strength he more than makes up for with an aggressiveness on loose pucks. Constantly in the mix on scrums along the boards, he came away with a ton of 50-50 pucks and absolutely snapped off some high-level passes during 2-on-1 chances for Team Red on multiple occasions.
I’m not a goalie guy, so I can’t get too technical breaking down the position. But when I see a guy deny what I perceived as slam-dunk, no-doubt scoring opportunities three, four and five times in one period, it’s safe to say a guy like Blake Nowak (U-D Jesuit, 2022) is the real deal.
He’s just a sophomore, but the 5-foot-10 netminder played like a seasoned veteran in the 16U series. After stealing not one, but two scoring opportunities away from Team Red, Nowak cemented his performance on Friday with a beautiful right-leg pad save moving from left to right — as the puck moved from below the goal line left of the net across the crease to the right post — eliminating an almost empty-net look from the back door on a would-be goal scorer, and suffocating any chance at a rebound.
If forwards like Marquette, Beale, Houck and Lawrence were the bright spot among the 16s, defensemen were the ones who definitely stole the show in the 18U series.
At 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds, it was very easy to notice Jacob Thomas (Detroit Country Day, 2020). Aside from his size, though, he’s got the skills to go along with it and can definitely be one of the top D in the state this season. He’s cool and calm under pressure, quick on retrievals, showed some nice deceptiveness and escapability, and moved pucks effortlessly. For as big as he is, he gets up and down the ice really well and can engage in an offensive rush, turn around and recover in time to defend an oncoming attack.
Dakota Kott (Hartland, 2020) is quite possibly the polar opposite of Thomas, listed at nearly a full foot shorter than his fellow D-man. Kott is 5-foot-5, but has a huge impact on the game despite his smaller stature. He’s got some fantastic footwork and jumps north in the offensive attack quicker than a hiccup. I really appreciate his understanding of shooting lanes, first in the offensive zone as a shooter, putting pucks into the funnel and finding ways to get it to the net. Defensively, he’s just as good obstructing lanes and forcing opponents to alter their shot selections.
A good defenseman is like a quarterback, seeing plays as they develop and thinking it out two or three steps ahead of the action. The way Enzo Tarducci (Detroit Catholic Central, 2020) plays, you can almost see his thought process through his actions on the ice. A left-hand shot from the blue line, Tarducci always anticipates the puck coming his way and knows exactly what he’s going to do with it before it comes to him. He was aggressive holding the blue line, making timely and effective decisions with the puck as soon as he corralled it, distributing to an open man or throwing it to the net for a quick scoring opportunity.
Nick Marone (Brother Rice, 2020) must be a big HGTV fan, because he is a big-time DIYer. There is definitely an art in being able to create scoring opportunities on your own, whether it be beating a defender 1-on-1 or out-muscling opponents to get to the net in-zone. He is a slippery player with some fancy dekes, toe-draggin’ between-the-legs and going top cheddar, and I can definitely appreciate the ability to generate on your own. I do believe he should simplify a bit at times, utilize his linemates some more and create opportunities without the puck — which can be corrected — but his next-level skillset is hard to teach and certainly sets him apart from others.
I’ve got a soft spot for players like Brendan Finn (Lake Orion, 2021). He’s not the prettiest player, no fancy moves or eye-catching size but he’s got an absolute motor that does not stop.
Calling him a bull in a china shop may be an understatement and I mean that as a sincere compliment. From the moment he comes over the boards, his feet don’t stop moving until he returns to the bench. Finn came streaming into the offensive zone as F-1 on a forecheck like a heat-seeking missile. He came down the slot, flushed out the opposing defenseman from behind the net so fast that he overskated the puck carrier, kept going, caught back up to the puck carrier and picked his pocket clean before the tops of the circles, changed direction 180 degrees and came 1-on-1 in tight with the goalie. He may not have capitalized on that particular opportunity but a guy with that much energy can play on my team any day.
These are just a couple players that jumped out to me this weekend. Certainly, other names including Alex Blankenship, Dylan McMullen, Logan Gotinsky and Brady Rappuhn among others, were some of the standouts to watch as well. As the fall season progresses and we see more leading up to the winter, I’ll be sure to point them out as well.
Got any returning players ripe for a breakout season or new names that are sure to have an impact? Gimme a heads up on Twitter and discuss some ones to watch with November right around the corner!
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!
Jake Willets announced his verbal commitment to NCAA Ferris State on Wednesday. The 6-foot-2 defenseman is a three-year letterwinner at St. Mary Catholic Central, where he played during his freshman through junior years.
I’m proud to announce my commitment to play D1 college hockey and further my academics at Ferris State University. I’d like to thank my parents, coaches, teammates, and everyone that’s helped along the way! #Bulldogs pic.twitter.com/1dNh5C6W5j— Jake Willets (@Willets14) June 6, 2019
During his time in high school, Willets played in the MDHL for two Fall seasons while also scoring 98 goals and 159 points in 80 games for the Falcons. Most recently, the Erie native has spent the past two seasons in the NAHL, one with Fairbanks and one with Amarillo. During his junior career, Willets scored 22 goals and 53 points in 103 games while also picking up a robust 223 penalty minutes.
His commitment sets him up with the Bulldogs this Fall for the ‘19-20 season, where he’ll join fellow MI-HS alumni Jason Brancheau (Wyandotte Roosevelt, 2017) and Blake Evennou (Utica Eisenhower, 2017) as part of the incoming freshmen class. Livonia Stevenson alum Dominic Lutz was recently named a captain for Ferris State next season as well.