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Coaches in MIHL say both divisions are there for the taking

By: Mike Moore | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published December 10, 2015

 Steven Cope is pictured during a recent practice. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s coach Brian Klanow said the North Division is more up for grabs than it has been in the past.

Steven Cope is pictured during a recent practice. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s coach Brian Klanow said the North Division is more up for grabs than it has been in the past.

Photo by Donna Agusti

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When the 2015 hockey postseason came to a close, three teams from the same conference were celebrating state titles.

Three teams from the same division, to be more accurate.

The Michigan Interscholastic Hockey League enjoyed another dominant year last winter, capped as member teams Novi Detroit Catholic Central (Division 1), Birmingham Brother Rice (D-2) and Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood (D-3), all from the MIHL North Division, took home the top spot in their respective state playoff brackets.

A year later, the league remains as strong as ever, and just maybe as even as ever.

“It’s definitely nice to be in a league where every single night, you have to be competitive,” Cranbrook coach and league president Andy Weidenbach said. “It’s such great preparation for the state playoffs.”

“There’s a lot more parity this season,” Rice coach Lou Schmidt Jr. said. “But that’s a good thing for everyone. As tough as this league is, the goal is to prepare yourself for the state playoffs. And that’s what (the schedule and parity) does.”

North Division
Cranbrook took the top spot in the North Division last year, finishing 10-0-1-1 and three points ahead of Catholic Central and its 9-2-1-0 mark.

Rice (8-4-0-0), Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (5-6-0-1) and Port Huron Northern (2-10-0-0) rounded out the group.

Early returns this year suggest that Catholic Central — two wins in two division games so far — may be the team to beat.

“But I think it’s a little more wide open than it has been in years past,” St. Mary’s coach Brian Klanow said. “Like a lot of teams, we graduated a lot of guys and had to kind of regroup this year. … The team looks good, though. We’re a bit younger, but we think we’ll compete in all our games.”

Cranbrook graduated 16 players from its title team. The Cranes have just two seniors with varsity experience and seven total.

That includes two goalies who combined to play two games, total, last year.

“I think this division is wide open. I don’t have a great sense of the other teams just yet, but we think this is wide open, which is good,” Weidenbach said. “We’ve had years where the top spot and the last-place team were just a few points apart. That’s what you like to see.”

“It’s going to be a battle,” Schmidt Jr. said. Rice graduated 13 players from its 2015 title team, including its entire top line. “It’s a matter of hanging around long enough in the standings to find your way to the top. I think every single game against one another is going to be a toss-up. I don’t think anyone’s going undefeated or anything like that.”

Division play is getting into full swing now before the entire conference takes a nearly two-week break at Christmas.

Since the MIHL split into two divisions three years ago, Cranbrook is the only team that’s won a North title.

South Division
Parity has been a way of life in the South Division, with three different teams — University of Detroit Jesuit, Trenton High and Grosse Pointe North — finishing atop the standings since the split.

Expect more of the same this year.

“I think the familiarity every team has with one another is the biggest reason,” Grosse Pointe North coach Mike Maltese said. “The level of play and the style of play for the teams in our division are very similar. It’s like you’re trying to beat a mirror image of yourself.”

U of D won the South last year with an 8-3-0-0 mark, while Trenton (6-5-0-0), Warren De La Salle (2-8-0-1) and North (1-10-0-0) rounded out the group.

“The guys understand our style and system,” Maltese said. “We lost a lot of one-goal games last year. We have that familiarity this season that should help us contend.”

The Cubs are poised to be the team to beat for a second year in a row, but the other three teams will likely be improved.

“There’s a new attitude around here,” De La Salle coach Dan Barry said. “The kids are working very hard. We have some very good goaltending that we will rely on. We’re going to be good on the back end, and we can score.”

The Pilots were 4-0-0-0 at press time after winning just nine games all of last season.

“This is the kind of team you really like,” Barry added. “They have a never-quit attitude. We’re having fun and expect to be better.”

Maltese said the team that gets off to the best start — nobody had played more than one division game at press time — will have the best shot at taking the South title.

And speaking of South, all four teams in the division are set to face Grosse Pointe South this season, and the games will count toward their division standings.

South, a member of the Michigan Metro Hockey League, is operating as a probationary member of the MIHL and the South Division this winter.

The Blue Devils are expected to officially join the conference for the 2016-17 season.

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