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HOCKEY: Hockey teams about to mix things up

State playoffs kick off Monday, as teams begin title quests

Birmingham Brother Rice's Connor Jean (17) and Novi Detroit Catholic Central's Luke Turner battle for the puck in the two team's last meeting back in January. The Warriors and Shamrocks are on a collision course to meet in a regional final on March 2. But the two have a tough road to get there. (The Oakland Press file photo)

CLICK HERE FOR JASON SCHMITT'S REGIONAL PREDICTIONS

One team’s put up an above-average record against a rugged schedule this season. One has had a solid season against a mixture of talented teams.

And yet another has put together the most successful season in school history – against what some would call an untested schedule.

Yes, it’s safe to say Farmington, Detroit Country Day and Royal Oak Shrine each bring something a little different to the Division 3 pre-regional that begins Tuesday at the Farmington Hills Ice Arena. It’s also safe to say it should be one competitive, balanced half of a very tough regional draw.

“It’s amazing. This is my third year here at Country Day and each year it seems like we face Liggett in the first or second game,” Country Day coach Frank Novock said. “This year, if we get by Shrine and Farmington, we get Liggett, and if we get by Liggett, we get Cranbrook just to get out of the quarters. It’s vicious. I don’t know how it always ends up like that.

“It’s a pretty nasty draw, that’s for sure.”

The Yellowjackets (16-6-2) face Shrine in Tuesday’s opening game, beginning at 6:55 p.m. Novock’s team has not seen Shrine this season. But Country Day has faced some tough competition playing as an independent. Grosse Pointe South,

Oxford, Plymouth, Utica Eisenhower and Liggett have been a few of the best it has seen this year. Novock hopes that tough competition has prepared his team for what it’s about to face.

“I’m hoping it’s going to season us for the playoffs,” Novock said. “Right from the start, it’s going to be a tough game.”

With one regular-season game remaining Friday against Dearborn Heights Crestwood, Shrine is 21-3 overall. It’s the most wins in school history.

“For us, we have the most to prove,” Shrine coach A.J. Plaskey said. “Our program is relatively young, still, at the varsity level, and we also have a pretty good regular-season record coming into the tournament. Our record’s the best, but we’re still unproven in many people’s eyes, especially at the state level.”

The Knights’ losses have come to Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard, Berkley-Ferndale and most recently, a 6-1 loss to Riverview Gabriel Richard in the Catholic League Division 2 championship game this past weekend. Plaskey said his team simply did not come to play against Riverview Gabriel Richard. He also knows that can’t happen again if his team is to compete with the Yellowjackets.

I’ve watched (Country Day) a little bit on film, and paid attention to common opponents,” Plaskey said. “I think we should match up well. But without physically seeing them, playing against them during the regular season, all that can get tossed out the window.

“If we show up and play the way we’re capable of playing, I would think it would be a competitive game. We haven’t had a ton of tough games out of conference, but we’ve held our own against bigger schools that play tougher schedules.”

Novock dismissed the fact that Shrine may have played a weaker schedule than his team this season and knows his squad can’t overlook the Knights.

“People may say they have a lighter schedule, but when you win 18 or 19 games, I don’t care who you’re playing, you’re still winning games. And there’s a lot to be said about that,” Novock said. “We’re hoping we have our A-game come Tuesday night.”

The winner gets Farmington on Thursday (6:55 p.m.). The Falcons are 13-9-1 and finished fifth in the OAA Red this season. After a rough start to the season, then another rough patch starting the new year, the team has been on a hot streak of late. The Falcons have won six of their last seven games.

They’ve also won a number of close games this season, something head coach Mark Vellucci thinks will help his team as the playoffs start.

“It shows we can dig deep down and have the will to win those types of games,” Vellucci said. “That’s what playoff hockey is all about.”

The pre-regional winner will advance on to the regional final, where it will face the winner of Madison Heights Bishop Foley and Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett Saturday back at Farmington Hills Ice Arena.

In the same quarter of the state draw, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood opens up play with Pontiac Notre Dame Prep Monday at 6 p.m. The winner gets Auburn Hills Avondale in a pre-regional final Wednesday at 7 p.m., at Wallace Ice Arena.

In Division 1, St. Mary’s Ice Arena will play host to a regional final from a field of some of the best teams in the state. In one pre-region, Birmingham Unified will take on Farmington Hills Unified Monday at 5:55 p.m., at the Farmington Hills Ice Arena. Following that semifinal will be the other, involving No. 3-ranked Birmingham Brother Rice and No. 6 Orchard Lake St. Mary’s. That game will start at 8:10 p.m.

In the other pre-region, South Lyon Unified and Northville square off at 6:15 p.m. Monday, at the Arctic Edge Arena in Canton. Awaiting the winner is No. 1-ranked Novi Detroit Catholic Central on Wednesday.

The Troy Sports Center will host the winners of the Stevenson and U-D Jesuit pre-regionals. The host Titans play Troy Monday at 5:15 in the first game, while Chippewa Valley and Troy Athens will play in the second game at 7:45 p.m. The winners play Wednesday for the right to get to Troy. In the other pre-region, Berkley-Ferndale Unified will take on No. 4-ranked Grosse Pointe North. St. Clair Shores unified and No. 6 U-D Jesuit play in the other semifinal.

At the Detroit Skating Club, Clarkston and Lake Orion play Tuesday at 6 p.m., with the winner taking on either Fenton or Grand Blanc in a pre-regional final. In the other half of the regional draw, Macomb Dakota and Rochester United open play Monday at 7:30 p.m. at Mt. Clemens Ice Arena. The winner will take on Utica Eisenhower Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.

And in Region 4, KBH (Flint Kearsley-Ortonville Brandon-Holly) faces Swartz Creek Tuesday at 7 p.m., at Perani’s in Flint. The winner gets Flushing or Lapeer in the pre-regional final Thursday.

Over in Division 2, Milford and Lakeland open up pre-region play Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Hartland Sports Center. The winner gets the host Eagles Thursday. The other half of the regional draw, at Novi Ice Arena, opens up on Monday, as Walled Lake Northern and Novi square off at 6 p.m. The second game involves Walled Lake Central and Walled Lake Western, at 8:15 p.m. The winners play Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.

In the Bloomfield Hills region, the host team takes on Royal Oak Monday at 7 p.m., at the Detroit Skating Club. Warren-Mott will play the winner of that game Wednesday at 7 p.m. In the other pre-regional, at Lakeland, Waterford Kettering and West Bloomfield open play at 7 p.m. on Monday. The winner gets Waterford Mott Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Oxford and Romeo will play Monday at Suburban Ice in Macomb, beginning at 6:30 p.m. The winner gets Anchor Bay on Wednesday. That pre-regional winner gets the winner from the Perani’s pre-region, Saturday, at Glacial Pointe Arena in Port Huron.

Stoney Creek will play for a spot in the final Division 2 regional, at Great Lakes Sports City in Fraser. The Cougars take on Utica Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in a pre-regional semifinal at Suburban Ice. The winner gets either L’Anse Creuse or L’Anse Creuse North on Wednesday.

Oakland County Power 10

1. Cranbrook

2. Brother Rice

3. Catholic Central

4. St. Mary's

5. Rochester United

6. South Lyon Unified

7. Stoney Creek

8. Farmington Hills Unified

9. Clarkston

10. Oxford

– Jason Schmitt

Jason Schmitt covers high school hockey for The Oakland Press. Email him at jason.schmitt@oakpress.com, read his "In The Zone" blog here and follow our high school hockey coverage on Twitter @MIPrepZone.

Last Updated: 2/22/2013 2:43:00 AM EST

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