By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
A year ago, Detroit Country Day won its first MHSAA hockey championship since 1981 – and a year later, Houghton may have to go through the Yellowjackets to win its first title on the ice since 1982.
But two others will challenge the past champions recent and old. East Grand Rapids and Riverview Gabriel Richard are seeking their first Finals hockey title – making for plenty of historic opportunities in the Division 3 bracket.
This weekend’s pairings are as follows:
Division 3 – Friday
Riverview Gabriel Richard (17-10-1) vs. Houghton (22-5-1), 11 a.m.
Detroit Country Day (22-4-2) vs. East Grand Rapids (22-5-1), 1:30 p.m.
FINALS – Saturday
Division 3 - 2 p.m.
All Semifinals and Finals will be viewable live per subscription basis on MHSAA.tv, with live audio available on MHSAANetwork.com.
Click for a full schedule of this weekend's games plus full results as they come in. Player statistics below are through the Regional round.
DETROIT COUNTRY DAY
Record/rank: 22-4-2, No. 6
Championship history: Division 3 champion 2018, Class B-C-D champion 1981, two runner-up finishes.
Coach: Frank Novock, eighth season (154-56-10)
League finish: Second in Michigan Metro Hockey League East.
Best wins: 6-1 over No. 1 Detroit U-D Jesuit in Quarterfinal, 3-1 over No. 3 Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood in Regional Semifinal, 4-1 over No. 4 Warren DeLaSalle, 5-3 over No. 10 Grosse Pointe South, 4-1 over No. 12 Allen Park, 2-0 over No. 8 Flint Powers Catholic, 4-0 over Riverview Gabriel Richard, 4-3 over Division 2 No. 3 Livonia Stevenson, 4-0 over Division 1 No. 12 Utica Eisenhower.
Players to watch: Lucas Krol, soph. F (11 goals, 23 assists), Mickey VanAntwerp, sr. F (20 goals, 28 assists); Dallas Hood, jr. F (14 goals, 12 assists); Sam Evola, sr. G (1.15 goals-against average, 6 shutouts).
Outlook: Country Day is 8-1-1 over its last 10 games, and Wednesday’s big win over top-ranked Jesuit avenged one of the Yellowjackets’ few losses. Evola was Mr. Hockey last season after leading the team to its first championship in nearly four decades, and the defense is clicking again as Country Day has given up three goals total over the last seven games. Five players had at least 20 points entering the week – juniors Gino Sessa (7 goals/17 assists) and Logan Gotinsky (12 goals/15 assists) also have been among top offensive contributors.
EAST GRAND RAPIDS
Record/rank: 22-5-1, No. 11
Championship history: Division 3 runner-up 2002.
Coach: Christopher Newton, first season (22-5-1)
League finish: Second in Ottawa-Kent Conference Baum.
Best wins: 5-4 (Regional Semifinal) and 8-0 over No. 14 Grand Rapids Catholic Central, 2-0 over No. 12 Allen Park, 2-1 over No. 7 Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, 7-6 over Division 1 No. 7 Byron Center, 4-1 over Division 1 No. 9 Macomb Dakota, 5-3 over Division 2 No. 12 Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern/Eastern.
Players to watch: Jake Adams, sr. F (33 goals, 15 assists); Nate Milanowski, soph. F (11 goals, 24 assists); Reily O’Connor, sr. F (12 goals, eight assists); Colin Stecco, sr. F (23 goals, 29 assists).
Outlook: Newton, formerly an assistant for Farmington who helped lead that team to the 2014 Division 3 title, has East Grand Rapids headed to the Semifinals for the first time since its runner-up finish in 2002. The Pioneers won their first Regional title since 2012-13 and are 8-1-1 over their last 10 games. They scored at least five goals in 11 games this season – including all three of the MHSAA Tournament. Junior forward Ryley Sikkenga added 10 goals heading into this week, and junior defenseman Robbie Stuursma had six goals and 15 assists to round out the team’s 20-point scorers.
Record/rank: 22-5-1, No. 5
Championship history: Class B-C-D champion 1982, four runner-up finishes.
Coach: Corey Markham, 20th season (324-187-21)
League finish: Second in Great Lakes Hockey Conference.
Best wins: 4-1 over No. 9 Alpena in the Quarterfinal, 3-2 (Regional Final) and 4-2 over No. 2 Calumet, 5-1 over No. 4 Warren DeLaSalle, 3-2 over No. 3 Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, 3-1 over Division 2 No. 4 Birmingham Brother Rice, 6-1 and 3-0 over Division 2 No. 9 Marquette, 6-0 over Division 1 No. 12 Utica Eisenhower, 4-2 over Division 1 No. 5 Rochester United.
Players to watch: Kevin Bostwick, sr. D (5 goals, 28 assists); Brad Gauthier, sr. F (15 goals, 19 assists); PJ Donnelly, sr. F (16 goals, 22 assists); Brendan Erickson, sr. F/D (17 goals, 19 assists).
Outlook: Houghton most recently was the Division 3 runner-up in 2012 and 2015, and has prepped for this weekend against top competition from all three divisions this season. The Gremlins have won nine of their last 10 games and avenged two of their losses by beating Calumet at the Regional. Bostwick made the all-state first team last season, while Donnelly made the second and Erickson earned honorable mention. Sophomore Jimmy Pietila has done most of the work in goal and carried a 1.80 goals-against average with six shutouts into this week.
RIVERVIEW GABRIEL RICHARD
Record/rank: 17-10-1, unranked
Championship history: Two MHSAA runner-up finishes (most recent 2003).
Coach: Rick Desana, 14th season (188-161-15)
League finishes: Tied for second in Detroit Catholic League Division II, fifth in Michigan Metro Hockey League East.
Best wins: 2-1 over No. 1 Detroit U-D Jesuit, 4-3 over Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard/Greenhills in Quarterfinal, 4-2 over Port Huron Northern.
Players to watch: Chance Desana, sr. F (18 goals, 15 assists); Nathan Vazquez, jr. F (23 goals, 19 assists); Jake Emery, jr. D (6 goals, 24 assists); Austin Harrison, jr. F (12 goals, 13 assists).
Outlook: Gabriel Richard has made the Semifinals for the second season in a row, while unranked entering the playoffs for both runs, and with many of the top contributors from a year ago leading the surge. The Pioneers are 14-2-1 over their last 17 games, and consider that three of the losses came to reigning champion Detroit Country Day and nine total against opponents ranked in the final poll. Senior forward Frank Klamerus is another key offensive contributor with 10 goals and 10 assists entering this week.
PHOTO: Houghton celebrates a 3-0 victory over Marquette this season (Photo by Cara Kamps.)