This week, the Michigan High School Athletic Coaches Association (MHSCA) selected Cranbrook's John Lafontaine as the 2021 Coach of the year. This selection is based on the performance of the program over the years and/or their contribution to the sport, school and community. The MHSCA is a 66-year-old association with nearly 35,000 members serving as athletic administrators and all levels of coaches in numerous high schools, junior high and middle schools throughout the state of Michigan.
In his first season behind the bench, Lafontaine led Cranbrook to its first state championship since 2015. The Cranes went 15-4-0 during the 2020-21 season and finished first in the MIHL North Division for the first time in six seasons.
Lafontaine has also served as head coach at Shattuck-St. Mary's, as well as organizations in the North American Hockey League (NAHL), United States Hockey League (USHL) and Lake Superior State before coaching at Cranbrook last season.
He will be presented with the award on November 7th, in Lansing at the MHSCA Winter Awards Luncheon with more than 28 coaches and athletic directors in attendance.
The North American Hockey League (NAHL) hosted its 2021 Entry Draft on Wednesday afternoon, where all 29 member organizations participated virtually. During the 17-round event, nine Michigan High School Hockey players past and present were selected. Four of those players were chosen following the conclusion of their senior seasons and four after playing a full season of lower-level junior hockey.
First, to recap the eight players who signed NAHL tender agreements prior to the entry draft:
The first MI-HS alum off the board was Jakob Peterson (Marquette, 2020) who was selected 32nd overall in the second round to the Amarillo Wranglers. He played his junior and senior seasons for the Red Men, totalling 15 goals and 57 points in 56 career games. After graduation, Peterson spent his first season of junior hockey playing for the Drayton Valley Thunder in the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL).
Parker Anderson (U-D Jesuit, 2021) was the first player from the Class of 2021 to be selected, after he joined Peterson in the second round. El Paso doubled up on MI-HS defensemen, adding Anderson along with Stevenson’s Justice to its D corps. Anderson left Meijer AAA to play for the Cubs during his senior season and had a breakout campaign during the team’s run to a Division-III regional championship, with nine goals and 12 points in 17 games.
Hunter Allen (Trenton, 2021) was chosen 20 picks later by Kenai River. He played his sophomore and junior seasons for the Trojans, making back-to-back Division-II Frozen Four runs. Allen scored 28 goals and 64 points in 56 career games before playing for the 18U Oakland Jr. Grizzlies in ‘20-21.
The 2021 Robertson Cup champion Shreveport Mudbugs have been a very popular destination for Michigan players, as the current roster sported four MI-HS alumni. With the 85th overall pick, Shreveport would maintain that pipeline with its selection of forward Logan Gotinsky (Detroit Country Day, 2020). Gotinsky was a four-year letterman for the Yellowjackets, winning back-to-back Division-III state titles in 2018 and 2019.
Max Marquette (U-D Jesuit, 2021) was one of the best players in all of high school hockey last season. He scored 10 goals and 18 points in 17 games for the No. 10-ranked Cubs. The three-year letterman was selected 101st overall by Kenai River in the fourth round, joining two other MI-HS alumni heading to Alaska.
Dylan Gajewski (Woodhaven, 2019) played two full seasons of junior hockey, first with the Powassan VooDoos in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League (NOJHL) and then in the North American 3 Hockey League (NA3HL) with the Willmar WarHawks. On Tuesday, he was chosen in the seventh round by Austin, and after climbing the junior hockey ladder, sets his sights on playing his final year of juniors in the NA.
In his second season of high school hockey, Alec Hamady (Brother Rice, 2021) anchored the Warriors’ offensive attack and helped win the program’s sixth state title. Now after graduating, the right-hand shot forward goes in the eleventh round to Amarillo. Hamady scored 15 goals and 33 points in 43 career games for Brother Rice.
The very next pick, fellow Warrior alum Ryan Murphy (Brother Rice, 2020) was selected by Jamestown with pick number 294. After playing two seasons with Rice, Murphy graduated and played his first season of junior hockey in the National Collegiate Development Conference (NCDC) with the Islanders Hockey Club.
Matthew Cole (Saginaw Heritage, 2020) was a top forward in high school hockey his senior season, and after graduation, he played for in-state United State Premier Hockey League-Premier (USPHL-Premier) organization, the Metro Jets. In three seasons with Heritage, Cole scored 47 goals and 134 points in 78 career games. In his first season of junior hockey with the Jets, he produced 47 points in 47 games and was second on the team in scoring. He was chosen in the 12th round on Tuesday by the Jamestown Rebels.
Four seniors selected following graduation, and four more chosen after earning their stripes in another junior league the prior season. There’s lots of ways to ‘get to the next level’ and that can get lost in the shuffle a bit when prospects set their sights on the NAHL as a destination. It may take a stop in the AJHL or NCDC first, or two-or-three stops between the NOJHL and NA3HL and USPHL before finally making the jump. Nonetheless, now that 17 more MI-HS alumni turn their attention to the NAHL, the real work starts. Attending main camps in the fall and earning a roster spot will be the next hurdle to climb if they expect to join the 26 other alumni who played in the league last season.
Craig Peterson’s comments and opinions are that of his own, and are in no way directly tied to that of the Michigan High School Hockey Coaches’ Association (MHSHCA), its member coaches, or board members. Any questions, comments or concerns regarding his work can be addressed directly to the author of the article.
The United States Hockey League (USHL) conducts its annual entry draft in two phases. First, there’s a 10-round “futures” draft where teams select players following the conclusion of their 15O youth hockey seasons. Then, a 15-round Phase-II Draft where all players of junior-eligible ages are available to be selected. In total, four former Michigan High School Hockey players were selected throughout the 2021 USHL Draft proceedings, none higher than recently-graduated defenseman Leyton Stenman (Cranbrook, 2021).
A member of the 2021 Michigan High School Hockey Coaches’ Association (MHSHCA) Dream Team, Stenman was one of the most steady and impressive players in the state. Sioux Falls selected the 6-foot-1 defender with the 23rd overall pick in the second round. As a senior, he scored five goals and 16 points in 18 games, leading the Cranes to their first state title since 2015. He also signed a North American Hockey League (NAHL) tender agreement with the Aberdeen Wings last November, so Stenman is one that could have a couple junior options this fall.
Joey Larson (Hartland, 2019) completed his second full season of junior hockey, splitting time between the NAHL and USHL throughout 2020-21. He’s slated to join Northern Michigan University in the fall, but that didn’t prevent Muskegon from using its second-round pick on the former Mr. Hockey, giving Larson another option for the fall.
Fellow member of the 2021 graduating class, Tanner Rowe (Calumet, 2021) was selected by Omaha in the 12th round. Rowe forgoed his senior season to begin his junior career with the NAHL’s Maryland Black Bears. He scored six goals and 13 points in 46 games this season and will have the opportunity to continue climbing the junior ladder to the USHL in the fall.
Muskegon selected a second MI-HS alum in the 14th round with 16-year-old Landon MacDonald (Brighton, 2023). After playing his freshman season with the Bulldogs, scoring eight goals and 13 points in 19 games, and getting drafted by the Mississauga Steelheads in the 2020 OHL Draft, MacDonald played his 16U season with Little Caesars.
The USHL is a highly-sought-after path for high school players, but is not a very common “route” to the next level for kids from the state of Michigan.
There are roughly 24 AAA-level teams when considering the 15O, 16U and 18U age groups, and 138 MI-HS teams this season. All those teams and organizations combined to produce 19 total players — including Stenman and MacDonald — selected during last week’s Phase-I and Phase-II Drafts. That, by no means is a knock to any entity, but simply illustrates just how difficult it is to be drafted into the league out of Michigan amatuer hockey, and even more challenging to make a roster in the USHL the following season. Other junior leagues like the NAHL, BCHL and NCDC have grown in popularity as “stepping stones” to the USHL as well as producing hundreds of Division-I NCAA prospects of their own.