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January 7, 2014

High school hockey took over Comerica Park in run up to Winter Classic

By Mike Moore and Thomas Franz
C & G Sports Writers

» click to enlarge «
Players on the Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood and Birmingham Brother Rice hockey teams got to play at Comerica last month as the venue prepared for the Hockeytown Winter Festival.

DETROIT — From Dec. 16-23, high school teams from southeast Michigan and as far north as Traverse City made the journey to Comerica Park to take part in what was truly a historical set of circumstances.

Locally, boys and girls teams from the MIHL, OAA and MAC had the good fortune of being part of the warm up, so to speak, of the Hockeytown Winter Festival and as a teaser for the 2014 NHL Winter Classic.

Coaches called it “cool” and “fantastic”; players used terms like “awesome” and “unbelievable.”

Battle in the MIHL
Like any good rivalry, this is one built on success, respect and a yearly competitive balance.

“It’s not like dog-eat-dog,” Cranbrook coach Andy Weidenbach said with a laugh. “It’s spirited, but were not out for blood.”

But they were outdoors, which put a whole new spin on things between the Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood and Birmingham Brother Rice hockey teams.

“This was pretty cool,” Weidenbach said after his team beat Rice 4-3 in a Dec. 19 afternoon battle at Comerica Park in a Michigan Interscholastic Hockey League showdown.

“Just fantastic,” Rice coach Lou Schmidt Jr. said. “Who knows if you ever get a chance to do something like this again.”

It’s not likely, which is why making the most of this was so important.

The MIHL website had an official countdown clock going.

Both coaches spoke the week before the game, saying how they knew they’d be part of something historic.

It’s not every year Comerica Park is transformed to a hockey haven.

And here, literally in center field, were two of the state’s premiere programs taking center stage.

“It was awesome — one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” said Rice forward Blake Bazzi. “This was an something to always remember.”

Bazzi beamed as he spoke, and he was on the team that lost.

“The backdrop of the city behind us, to be on the field at Comerica Park,” Weidenbach began, “it’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.”

OAA teams take center stage
“Awesome,” Rochester United’s Max Harper said with a smile after scoring the lone goal in a shootout during a 5-4 victory against Rochester Hills Stoney Creek. He officially ended the first-ever high school hockey game played at Comerica Park. “I’ve never done anything like that.”

“An experience everybody here will never forget,” Stoney coach Ian Smith said. “For these kids to be down here and with their families, and playing against guys they know and are friends with, it’s something pretty special.”

Grosse Pointe girls teams battle
On Dec. 18, the Grosse Pointe South and Grosse Pointe North girls teams got in on the outdoor action, battling out what turned into a 5-4 South victory.

“It was absolutely unbelievable,” South coach Joe Provenzano said. “The girls were excited just to be a part of coming down here with the Winter Classic, and for the girls to play as hard and play a great team in North was just an awesome experience.”

“About half of the girls on both of these teams have played together since they were 5 or 6, so to be involved in the Winter Classic was a wonderful experience,” North coach Joe Lucchese said. “The girls had a great time. … You can’t say enough, to have both Grosse Pointe schools here. It’s fantastic.”

Ike stings Yellowjackets
On Dec. 19, Utica Eisenhower’s boys team stormed back from a 3-1 deficit to force overtime against Beverly Hills Detroit Country Day and eventually left Comerica with a 4-3 victory to cherish.

“I saw the opening, saw the puck come up, and moved my feet and fired as hard as I could,” Andrew Barbara said after scoring the overtime winner. “It’s crazy, and it was fun. It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and that’s all there is to it. It was a great experience, and I’m glad we won.”

“I think we’re going to take away a lot of good memories from this,” Ike coach Bob Hall said.

“There really wasn’t that big of a crowd, but the sound just echoes in here. The magnitude of this is just beyond belief. It’s just an awesome experience.”

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

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Thomas Franz at tfranz@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1040.