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Cranes confident they’re the team to beat in Division 3 playoffs

By: Mike Moore | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published February 15, 2011

 Cranbrook sophomore Alex Alger moves up the ice during a game against Grosse Pointe North earlier this month. Though their record may not be as flashy as years past, the Cranes remain the favored team in Division 3.

Cranbrook sophomore Alex Alger moves up the ice during a game against Grosse Pointe North earlier this month. Though their record may not be as flashy as years past, the Cranes remain the favored team in Division 3.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


BLOOMFIELD HILLS — This, quite simply, is their time of year.

When the calendar begins its much-anticipated transition from February to March is when the Cranes’ dominance is defined.

The 2011 state hockey playoffs are set to begin in a little less than two weeks, and when it comes to the Division 3 tournament over the past two years, there’s been a certain bit of consistency regarding the team to beat.

But now, with just a handful of regular-season games remaining, many would be justified in wondering if the ship has sailed on the Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood’s reign at the top.

As he laced up his skates prior to a Feb. 9 practice, coach Andy Weidenbach could only smile at that notion.

“We could lose the last five games of the season,” he said. “I’d still believe this is a very good hockey team.”

At press time, the Cranes were just 11-6-2, a record most teams would take in a heartbeat but one that carries an all-to-human feel to it for a program that’s won five state titles since 2004.

But the numbers in the win-loss column have little to do with the type of team the Cranes have and more to do with the quality of opponents they’ve faced.

“The best way to get better is by playing the types of teams we do,” senior defenseman Spencer Tamler said. “We love it. It prepares you for everything you want and hope to do by the time the season ends.”

The schedule the Cranes have embarked on during the 2010-11 season isn’t a far cry from years past, but the skill of teams they’ve played, highlighted by the parity within the Michigan Interscholastic Hockey League, is something few have ever seen.

Over the course of the year, the Cranes have faced the top-ranked team in the state, Warren De Salle, twice. They’ve faced Novi Detroit Catholic Central (No. 2) three times, Calumet High (No. 4), Birmingham Brother Rice (No. 5) and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (No. 13), twice each, and Marquette High (No. 6) and Trenton High (No. 12) once, never losing by more than two goals.

Given the schedule, the 11 wins doesn’t look too shabby. Cranbrook won 16, 15 and 18 regular-season games in the past three seasons, respectively.

“Not concerned at all,” senior Jarett Friedland said. “We know what this schedule is all about, and we understand why we’re playing the teams we are.”

Weidenbach is rarely one to speak of the playoffs, much less state championships, during the season. But this is the time of year when the Cranes slip on that “favored” jersey, and with the first drop of the first postseason puck, instantly become the team to beat.

So how does this year’s squad stack up compared to the past two?

“I guess we don’t have that super, high-profile player on this roster like we have the past few years,” Weidenbach said. “But the chemistry of this team, and the senior leadership and the character is a great mix. It’s a very unselfish group, one that’s in it for the right reasons. And that’s a team that can win just like the past couple have.”

“Honestly, I think this group may be even more tightly knit than the last two,” said Tamler, who’s been on varsity for three years. “We just love playing hockey together. I mean, we come here to work every day, have fun and keep our focus on that objective of winning.”

While a quick glance at the finals over the past few years would suggest relative ease for the Cranes in capturing so many titles, it’s a misleading representation.

Cranbrook has had plenty of close calls, including a number of overtime wins.

This year, however, the tough regular-season schedule has prepped the guys for what is shaping up to be a favorable path back to Compuware. The Cranes are in a pre-regional at home against Auburn Hills Avondale and Pontiac Notre Dame Prep.

Should they avoid any upset there, they would have to face Goodrich High, Fenton High or Ortonville-Brandon in the regional final before heading to a quarterfinal round where they’d be a significant favorite over any of the eight possible teams they’d see.

“It shapes up nicely for us, and we know that,” Weidenbach said with a cautioning tone. “But nobody’s going to hand us anything. We understand we’re a marked team, and we know every time we step on the ice we’re going to get the other team’s best game. With that said, if we can stay healthy, get a few bounces to go our way and continue to play the way we have all year, I like the chances of a long playoff run.”

“We’re very capable,” Tamler said, smiling. “Everyone in this locker room wants another title. I mean, that’s what you dream about, isn’t it? But we’re going to have to earn it, and we know that.”

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes