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Portage Central News

Standouts From The MDHL

By Craig Peterson 09/16/2019, 11:30am EDT

Players off to a hot start from the first half of the fall season

The Michigan Developmental Hockey League (MDHL) breached the halfway point of its fall regular season this past weekend. The six-team league is as talented as it has been in recent memory and the parody in the standings is evidence of that. Team Black sits in first place at 4-2-0 with the next four teams in the standings tied with a 3-3-0 record.

More than 130 players representing 47 different schools comprise of the league’s makeup this year, from every corner of the lower peninsula. The MDHL is extremely diverse with representatives spanning everywhere from Traverse City, Alpena, Portage, Hudsonville and of course, metro Detroit. 

The league-style format of the MDHL is something I personally enjoy and it maintains that prep-like atmosphere with teams, and players, developing over the course of a season. With games on the weekends, the overall structure lends itself to players from all over the state to participate and the league makeup definitely supports that theory. I also think the addition of a four-team showcase that the organization hosted at Plymouth Cultural Center last week — featuring Toronto area’s St. Michael’s as well as Lake Forest Academy from Illinois — is a fantastic concept, adding even more competition and exposure to the fold.

At the halfway point of league-play, I wanted to highlight some of the standouts and noteworthy tidbits as the season progresses and we creep closer and closer to November.

Let’s start at the top. 

There are two individuals who have really separated themselves from the rest of the state as far as prospects are concerned. A pair of seniors from Detroit Catholic Central, forward Kyle Gaffney and defenseman Brendan Miles, appear to be 1a and 1b by my estimation, both with a ton of potential. 

Gaffney makes the easy plays look effortless and the hard plays look easy. He just looks so smooth. Nothing rattles the kid. He doesn’t seem to get too high or too low, just a machine on the ice that constantly produces and makes plays happen all over the ice. 

On the backend, Miles is everything you look for in a D-man. The 5-foot-10 right-hand shot absolutely wires passes all around the rink, snapping ‘em tape-to-tape and threading the puck through windows few can even see, let alone fit a pass into. 

I know it’s probably a bit predictable to say the best program in the state has the best players in the state, but these two are special and coach Brandon Kaleniecki will have plenty of weapons at his disposal to make another run this winter. 

Luke Blasy (Midland Dow, 2020) is a fun watch. His motor never stops running and he’s in the mix all over the ice. I think every young hockey player is told “keep your feet moving” on more than one occasion but few can ever truly do it. Blasy is one of the special ones in that regard and it helps him create a lot of opportunities. One under-appreciated asset of his game: his head is always up, constantly surveying the ice with and without the puck.

Livonia Stevenson had a lot of good, young forwards last year and depth up front was a real big strength for them having four evenly-balanced lines. But some of those young guys have now developed into thriving, dangerous offensive threats this fall with the emergence of Brenden Heard (2021) and Seth Lause (2020). 

Heard leads the league in scoring with 11 points in six games and is lethal on the offensive rush. He just has a knack for finishing, with a wicked wrist shot and a nose for the net. He’s not the biggest but he doesn’t need to be with his speed and scorer’s touch around the crease. 

His fourth season in the MDHL as he enters his fourth year for the Spartans. Lause’s wealth of experience is a rarity in metro Detroit and is putting all the tools together for his final lap around the high school calendar. He’s always had the hockey smarts but now his game on the ice is catching up to his mind and he’s playing as fast as he’s thinking. 

I don’t know what they’re feeding defensemen on the west side but I sure wish I could’ve been served a few plates of it when I played. From 6-foot-3 David Breazeale (Grandville, 2018) to 6-foot-3 Anthony Mollica (Jenison, 2019) to 6-foot-3 Kavanaugh Kane (GR Christian, 2019), doesn’t matter the school, west Michigan just produces big, graceful, puck-moving defensemen by the carload. 

Team Green — the West-Michigan representative of the league and defending champion from 2018 — continues the trend of towering defenders with 6-foot-4 Ashton Bol (GR Christian, 2020), 6-foot-2 Justin Hayward (Portage Central, 2020) and 6-foot-2 Trevor Davis (Byron Center, 2021). I’d hate to be a forward in Grand Rapids trying to get around these guys on a line rush this winter. They’re big, good on puck retrievals and do a nice job of keeping things simple in their own end, making quality outlet passes and moving the puck in the right direction. 

Players from Brighton are so nice, they name ‘em twice, I guess. Whether it’s Will Jentz (2020) — James Jentz depending on the source — or Logan Mitchell-Petitta (2021), these guys have enough game to fill two sets of skates, so they just get two names. 

LMP began league play like a bat outta Hell, scoring six points in the first weekend of action and looking like one of the best players in the MDHL. He’s cooled off a bit since then and I’d like to see him get back to where he started but he’s certainly showed an ability to produce at an impressive clip. I’m excited to see where his game goes moving forward. 

Jentz is another one of those rare four-year guys on the east side who’s done it all, seen it all and is well-known in the high school circles. Between the MDHL and winter season, he’s averaged a point per game for the last three years. That’s no simple task, given the competitiveness of the fall league and grueling schedule that the Bulldogs play, but Jentz is as steady as they come.

As far as goalies, it seems like a real close race amongst several and I’m waiting to see how the rest of the season plays out. There’s reputable names like Joey Cormier (Trenton, 2020), Caden Fisher (Grandville, 2020) Drew Adams (Gabriel Richard, 2020) and Tate Potteiger (East Grand Rapids, 2020) who are three-year guys in the thick of things with new names such as Brenden Stroble (Livonia Stevenson, 2021) and Adam Blust (Detroit Catholic Central, 2020).

With an average of 8.6 total goals scored per game, this star-studded league makes it a challenge on the goalies, but give it a few more games to let the dust settle and you really might see a few separate themselves from the herd. 

Who’s caught your eye this fall? Continue the discussion with me on Twitter as we get closer and closer to the regular season!