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MIHL teams gear up for contested division title races

By: Mike Moore | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published January 5, 2017


METRO DETROIT — It’s a bold statement, but one that’s been made before and likely will be made again.

This year, it was one echoed by Birmingham Brother Rice hockey coach Kenny Chaput.

Asked to assess what it’s like to battle for a Michigan Interscholastic Hockey League division title, the first-year Warriors general summed it up like this.

“I’ve heard coaches say it before me, but I really believe playing for, and winning, a title in this league can be more difficult than winning a state title,” Chaput said. “That’s not a knock on any other league or any team we may face in the playoffs, but to successfully go through these divisions twice is tough to do.”

To add some credence to Chaput’s opinion, the Warriors have never won an MIHL title since the league began play in 1999.

Over that same span, the Warriors have three Division 2 state championships and had a 2014 Mr. Hockey winner.

Needless to say, nothing comes easy.

So, with the new year come and gone and divisional play about to ramp up in the North and South, here’s a quick look at where the teams stand at press time, and some thoughts as to what it may take to win it all.

Before the playoffs begin, that is.

North Division
While the Warriors are still searching for that elusive division title, they’ve certainly done the early leg work to make it a reality in 2017.

At press time, Rice sat atop the standings with a 5-0-0-0 record, with the final number in that equation the team’s overtime losses.

Novi Detroit Catholic Central — the reigning D-1 state champ — was second with a 4-1-1-0 mark, followed by Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood at 3-1-0-1, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s at 3-3-1-0 and Port Huron Northern at 0-6-0-0.

“I think the team to beat right now is Brother Rice,” said Cranbrook coach Andy Weidenbach. His team lost its only meeting with Rice so far by a 7-1 score. “They seem to have that team depth. They appear to be a little stronger than some of the other teams. I believe we can compete with them, but we have to be at our best.”

Rice has been at its best since the first puck drop of the season, and the team’s top players are playing like just that.

In five division games, Jack Clement and Michael McInerney lead all scorers in the North with 13 points each.

Clement has six goals and seven assists, while McInerney has five goals and eight assists.

The Warriors have 34 goals in five games as a team and have allowed just eight.

Rice defeated Catholic Central 5-1 in the third game of the year.

“It really comes down to consistent hockey,” Chaput said. “These teams are so evenly matched, where every night anyone can beat anyone. We’ve been able to keep pressure on teams. We’ve had a strong offense, a nice goal differential.”

Asked about trying to get that first title, Chaput laughed.

“That puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?” he said. “For us, this is something we’ve talked about and stressed. We’re in a good spot right now. We have to keep at it.”

Catholic Central and Cranbrook aren’t likely to go away anytime soon, and St. Mary’s has an incredibly young team that’s slowly but surely improving from one week to the next.

The Eaglets, with only five players that had varsity experience coming into the year, could still play the role of spoiler down the stretch, if they don’t find their way back into contention.

While there are plenty of games to be had, make note of Rice hosting Catholic Central at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 18 as one that could go a long way in picking a champ.

South Division
U of D Jesuit won the South Division last winter by a single point over Trenton High, and early on, the same tight race is taking shape with the top three teams.

At press time, Trenton was 3-2-1-1, narrowly ahead of Warren De La Salle (3-1-0-0), though the Pilots had games in hand.

So too did U of D, sitting in third at 2-2-0-1, while Grosse Pointe North was 0-5-0-0.

“The winner is probably going to have to go through Trenton,” De La Salle coach Craig Staskowski said. His Pilots already fell to Trenton 4-0, but they will face one another again Feb. 8. “But in this league, every single point matters. It’s tough here every night.”

With Trenton having played seven division games already, just looking at the standings doesn’t offer a fair assessment of who may finish where.

De La Salle is getting key contributions from its key players.

“Now we need a little more balance,” Staskowski said.

Meanwhile, U of D got off to a quick start to the season, but had lost four straight at press time.

It’s likely that water will find its level with the Cubs, who figure to be a factor in defending their title.

North, a young team at the bottom of the standings right now, could also play the role of spoiler. The Norsemen remain a threat thanks to an offense that’s scored three or more goals in four of its losses.