It is that time of year again. The high school football season is coming to a close, and the greatest time of year is just around the corner. High school hockey. It is no lie, hockey is king for the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Texas has football, Indiana has its hoops, and Yoopers have their high school hockey. Now don’t get me wrong, the other sports matter too. Football, volleyball, and basketball are great, but hockey is on a different level up there.
Before you read any further, I went to Calumet. So my heart will favor them when it comes down to it. But, I will do my best to set my bias aside.
It is always tough to predict who will come out of the Western U.P. and is almost impossible to say who will win the regional tournament. But, let’s look at who is coming back, and has the best chance to win. In the Copper Country, it basically comes down to three teams: Hancock, Calumet, and Houghton. No offense to Jeffers or L’Anse, it is just a fact that those three teams outmatch them year in and year out. Out of those three (Hancock, Calumet, and Houghton), here is where I have ranked for the preseason:
I can already hear Gremlin fans chewing me out for putting them behind Calumet. This was a toss up quite honestly, but when I made this decision to put Houghton at #3, it made sense. Houghton has a good team, don’t let that #3 fool you. Dawson McKay is as talented as they come. McKay is a big boy who can skate well and handle the puck even better. He will be their work horse this year no doubt. My only concern is defense for the Gremlins, along with goaltending. Kevin Bostwick is their best defensemen, and other than that they are still relatively young on the backside. Will Stire will be in the pipes for his senior season with the Gremlins. In the few games I’ve watched him, I have been somewhat impressed. But, when you have two other goalies locally who are the same age, and have played in the state finals, you have to give the other two the benefit of the doubt. Then add on the loss of Kruse, it will be interesting to see how the Gremlins fare this season.
Record prediction: (16-8-1)
Listen, you have no idea how upset I was when Calumet lost to Warren De La Salle in the Division 3 Finals last year. To beat Flint Powers in the semi-finals, a team who looked like no one could beat. Then to lose to De La Salle how they did just killed me. But, now the returning players will have that experience to grow from, which honestly is why I think Calumet has the slight advantage over Houghton. Overall, the team is young. Davin Lehto and Nick Voelker are the only two returning seniors on the team, and the third senior Tyler Johnson is a rookie. Losing Rory Anderson will be tough, the kid was a flat out talented hockey player. No one will be able to replace him. Players like Brent Loukus, Sam Erkkila, and Josh VanDenburg will have to step up big time this season. The younger players like Tanner Rowe, Lincoln Beiring, and Alex Mattila I like. They were dominant players all through youth hockey. But, high school hockey is a different monster. Let me tell you, I still remember my first game in high school hockey. It was terrifying, and I was a senior. Can’t image what it is like being a freshman or sophomore.
Another reason why I gave Calumet the upper hand on Houghton is goaltending. Voelker is now coming into his third and final season. We saw in the playoffs he could come up big for the team, and he will need to this season. Getting a chance to play in a state finals will help him tremendously I feel, even though they lost. The first couple of games will be tough for Calumet. Playing Hancock and Cranbrook will be a tough test for those younger players, but it could pay large dividends in the end when it counts.
Record prediction: (17-8)
Without a doubt in my mind, Hancock is the team to beat this year. I watched Ted Randell, Alex Nordstrom, and Dawson Kero with Team Copper Country last season during their National Championship run. All I could think is, “These guys still come back next year and play high school?” I was utterly impressed with them last season, and could have very easily beat Calumet when it counted last season. First, with Randell and Nordstrom, these two are talented as it comes offensively. Along with that, they can skate, pass, and handle the puck extremely well. Oh, and don’t forget Colton Salani, and then Teddy Perrault on the back end. Second, they have Kero in the pipes. He has a state championship, and now a National Championship. Kero is the top goaltender in the area, and with a team that will be high scoring. Those two are a lethal combination. I truly think Hancock could win its second state championship in three years. They have the formula to do so.
Great offense with some depth, sturdy experienced blue line, and probably what is the biggest component to a championship run, a great goaltender. All the pieces are there for Hancock to win, so we will see if they live up to expectations.
Record Prediction: (22-3)