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January 29, 2013

Even after winning D-2, Schmidt has team aiming for D-1 title in 2013

By Mike Moore
C & G Sports Writer

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Even after winning D-2, Schmidt has team aiming for D-1 title in 2013
Rice forward Russell Cicerone (7) has been one of the team’s top offensive contributors.

BIRMINGHAM — There are so few guarantees in high school athletics, and even fewer in the sport of hockey, where one bad bounce, one iffy call or even one goaltender with a career night, can overturn the complexion of a playoff race.

So why in the world would Lou Schmidt Jr. take his defending Division 2 champion Birmingham Brother Rice squad out of D-2 — where it would be a prohibitive favorite to repeat — and move it to Division 1 for the 2013 state playoffs?

Well, he’ll start with an admitted cliché.

“To be the best, you have to beat the best, don’t you?” Schmidt said with a laugh last week. “I mean, we wanted to compete at the highest level. I think being in Division 1 helps with the program we have. Truthfully, I always thought D-2 had more depth than D-1, but we wanted to be with the best teams in the state, and I think we’ll have that this year.”

Rice rolled to 25-4-1 record last year, eventually capping things with a 4-1 victory against Grosse Pointe South at Compuware in the final.

Then the Warriors bid farewell to a host of dynamic seniors, including Mackenzie MacEachern, the 2012 Mr. Hockey recipient.

You’d hardly know it.

At press time, Rice was 13-0-2.

The Warriors opened the season with a 7-3 victory against South in a final’s rematch and haven’t looked back since.

They beat Warren De La Salle 9-1 in the second game, then Novi Detroit Catholic Central 7-4 in the third.

Rice is averaging six goals per game, yet, as Schmidt explained, it’s their lack of a Mr. Hockey caliber player that may be the biggest strength this winter.

“If you look at the scoring leaders in the (Michigan Interscholastic Hockey League), you’re not going to see a bunch of our guys up there,” he explained. “It’s been such a group effort for us. We’re getting contributions from every line. We’ve got one of the best defensemen in the state in Andrew Roye, and we’ve had the younger guys mix in perfect with the veterans.”

Asked about being unbeaten 15 games, Schmidt said he was “proud, but not surprised.”

He was also quick to point out what the bigger picture is all about.

“Our toughest stretch of the schedule is probably in front of us, and I think all of this is prep for the playoffs,” Schmidt said. “It’s nice what we’ve done so far, but what we want is six wins come playoff time. That’s how you’re ultimately judged.”

The road to Compuware will be difficult to maneuver, to put it mildly.

Rice is part of the Farmington Unified pre-regional, which means the guys in orange and black will face the host team, Birmingham Unified or Orchard Lake St. Mary’s to open the D-1 postseason.

The winner of that bunch will likely be rewarded with a regional-final date against Catholic Central, the No. 2-ranked team in D-1.

And that’s all just for a chance to move on to the quarterfinals.

“What can you do? At the end of the day, we felt like we’d end up in the St. Mary’s regional because of location,” Schmidt said. “To win it all, we’d probably have to play those teams anyway. So that’s what we’re faced with.”

Rice will be a favorite to reach, and win, the D-1 title.

The Warriors have been ranked No. 1 in D-1 since the year started.

But with so few guarantees in high school hockey, is this a team that can actually repeat as state champs, in different divisions, nonetheless?

“We have a team that can win, for sure,” Schmidt said simply. “But here’s the other cliché. For us to win, we need health, luck and to be playing our best hockey at the right time. There’s no guarantee for any of that.”

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Mike Moore at mmoore@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1038. Twitter Follow Mike on Twitter.