This year's Team West Michigan, Michigan Development Hockey League Champions, had a number of connections to the Portage Central Hockey Mustangs - PC #20, Max Mones was a key member of the team. Former PC Coach and Athletic Director Jim Murray was the head coach, current PC Assistant Coach Erik Hoffman and previous PC Assistant Coach Paul Iagnocco served as Assistant Coaches on the team.
Just in time for the start of the high school hockey season here in Michigan, the 11th season of the MDHL came to a close this past weekend in Minnesota, marking the end to another successful year. Here’s a recap of all that’s happened this season with a look forward to what’s next.
In mid-August, tryouts for the 2015 MDHL season took place in Plymouth, MI, with over 215 players from more than 70 different schools coming out to compete for a spot in the league.
With so many quality players trying out, it’s critical to ensure that everyone is given a fair and honest evaluation. To do so, a group of 12-15 evaluators watched every game, ranking each player based on age, skill level, and potential. Rankings for each player were averaged across the number of games played, and the 110 players with the highest rankings at the end of the week were selected to fill the five local teams in the league, with a roughly 50/50 mix of Midget Minor and Midget Major aged players.
A similar tryout was held concurrently near Grand Rapids, with players representing more than 10 additional schools, to determine the 22 players who would represent the west side of the state on the sixth team in the league. The dedication of the coaches responsible for that team is truly appreciated and is crucial in making sure that the MDHL is comprised of players from as many places in the state as the weekly drive to Plymouth makes possible.
The six teams in the league each played a minimum of nine games in the regular season, with the potential to play an additional two games in the playoffs (here’s a link to our website http://mdhlmi.com/). After a very competitive two months of hockey, western Michigan based MDHL Green won the championship in double overtime against MDHL Blue. Congratulations to the Green squad!
Games took place on Saturdays from 9am-3pm at the Plymouth Cultural Central. This schedule helps give scouts a consistent schedule where they know they can come to watch MDHL games each week, and with only one game per week, players aren’t overburdened with MDHL commitments during their fall seasons.
One of the best aspects of the league is that it gives players the opportunity to play against the best competition in the state on a weekly basis, resulting in continuous improvement throughout the season. Players are evaluated on a weekly basis, and those evaluations help decide who will represent the MDHL in tournaments and showcases. Of the 132 players in the league this year, more than 70 earned the opportunity to play on an MDHL tournament and/or showcase team.
This year, the MDHL entered Midget Minor and Midget Major teams in the Motor City Cup in September and in the Honeybaked/Compuware Invitational in October. These tournaments gave players an additional chance to be seen by scouts and to improve their game as the high school season approached.
Our teams competed hard in each tournament, showing that they belonged with every AAA team that they faced off against. The Midget Major team was knocked out of each tournament by the eventual tournament winner, and made it to the semi-finals of the Motor City Cup. The Midget Minor team improved every game and gave us a lot of reasons to be excited for what they’ll bring to the table next season after another year of development.
In October, 40 of the top players in the league were invited to play in a showcase game at Munn Arena, on the campus of Michigan State University. The game was heavily promoted to NHL Central Scouting, RinkNet, and individual Junior and College programs, and was broadcast on Stream Cortex for on-demand viewing. A few of the programs attending the game in person included Michigan State, Michigan Tech, Lake Superior State, the New York Rangers, the New Jersey Devils, and the Winnipeg Jets. The game was fast-paced and skilled, and feedback was very positive.
Minnesota CCM International Invitational
The culminating event of the 2015 MDHL season was the annual trip to the Minnesota Upper Midwest High School Elite League CCM Invitational. Put on by the premier high school league in Minnesota, this invite-only showcase brings together eight elite teams who each play three games throughout the weekend, in front of an extremely impressive collection of scouts from the Junior, College, and Professional levels. This year, nearly 100 scouts were in attendance to watch our games.
Here’s a link to the Elite League’s website, where you can find more information about their league and the invitational – and check out some of the league’s impressive alumni: http://www.hselitehockey.com/
Since the inception of the Elite League, the MDHL has been the only program from Michigan to be invited to the tournament, and has been invited back every year since 2002 as a result of its strong showings each year. This year’s team consisted of 20 players representing 14 different schools, including Traverse City West, East Kentwood, Romeo, and Chelsea (just to name a few). While 16 players came directly from the MDHL league, four were selected during the open tryout for the invitational that was held in early October – including a player all the way from Houghton, MI.
After losing the first game to the eventual tournament winner CCM Hockey (an Elite League All-Star team), the group responded well, taking Shattuck St. Mary’s top team to overtime before falling short during the 4-on-4 overtime period. After the game, Tom Ward, the head coach of Shattuck, gave our team high praise when he said this was one of the best teams we’ve ever had and that we get better and better every year. In the final game of the weekend, the team defeated Minnesota Red (another Elite League All-Star team) in an exciting finish, scoring the eventual game winner with under 30 seconds remaining in the 3rd period.
The team’s performance at this tournament is further proof of the skill-level that exists in Michigan high school hockey, and is a testament to all of the hard work that players and coaches put in year after year. Scouts from all levels (USHL, NAHL, NCAA, NHL) complimented the program and were impressed with the on-ice product.
We’re always looking for ways to improve the MDHL and to provide opportunities to promote high school hockey, and we encourage coaches to get involved however they can. Whether it is serving as an evaluator during tryouts, coaching during the regular season, or simply watching a few games and encouraging your players to participate, we’d love to have your feedback and your help as we prepare for the 2016 MDHL season.
There’s something very special about playing hockey for your high school, and by providing players with the exposure they might only see by playing AAA, we hope that we can convince more and more players that high school hockey is a “best of both worlds” scenario that can open up doors to Junior, College, and Professional hockey.
Good luck this season!