The Michigan State Playoffs get underway Monday March 10th as teams compete for the chance to play in the USA Hockey National Championships. The playoffs feature eight top-50 bantam major teams, five of which are in the top 25. There are two divisions of four teams, with the Belle Tire, Little Caesars, Victory Honda, and Grand Rapids Griffins making up and the American division, while the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies, Honeybaked, Compuware, and the Michigan Nationals are in the National division.
The favorite for the Michigan State title is No. 2 Belle Tire. They enter the tournament at 52-8-1, and recently had their 16 game win streak snapped in their last game to fellow tournament team Honeybaked. They have scored an impressive 322 goals while allowing fewer than two goals per game. Their two most productive players on offense are Ivan Lodnia and Alexander Chmelevski, with 55 and 53 points, respectively, in league play. Similar as to how they played this season, they will have to be at their best in order to defeat this talented collection of Michigan teams.
The Oakland Jr. Grizzlies follow close behind Belle Tire at No. 4, and hold a 40-13-2 record on the year. However, they have lost their last three games to Belle Tire. They've played stingy on defense and in net, allowing only 95 goals in 55 games played. But in those three games against Belle Tire, they have allowed four goals twice and three goals in the other loss. Andrew Andary leads the club with 43 points, and sniper Brenden Stanko has netted 23 goals in division games. To win the State Playoffs, the Grizzlies must shut down the Belle Tire offense or it could be a tournament loss to the hands of their rival.
The next group of teams features the No. 12 ranked Honeybaked, No. 13 Victory Honda, and No. 16 Little Caesars. As previously mentioned, Honeybaked is coming off a 5-4 win over Belle Tire, the only team to defeat them since early January. However, their last two results against Little Caesars were a 4-4 tie and a 3-1 loss, while their last game against victory Honda was a 1-0 loss. Little Caesars is an even .500 on the season with a 20-20-9 mark. Look for Mark Rubinchik and Thomas Hernandez on the attack if Little Caesars wants to make noise come tournament time. Victory Honda has snuck into the discussion of title contender, as they are 28-14-10 and 4-0-1 in their last five games. Andy Nedeljkovic, who averaged over a point a game in league play, will have to be lights out if Victory Honda is to win.
The final three teams rounding out the tournament are No. 28 (MHR) Compuware, No. 39 (MHR) Michigan Nationals, and No. 49 (MHR) Grand Rapids Griffins. Compuware enters 26-22-11 this season, and have won their last two contests against the Michigan Nationals. In a stretch of games from February 12-26, Compuware faced the top five teams in this tournament and lost each game. The Michigan Nationals come in at 20-24-12, scoring under three goals per game. Reidar Burgeson and Pavel Kharin must get the offensive attack going if the Nationals are spring an upset. Grand Rapids owns a 17-28-8 record on the year, but has not beaten a tournament team in six tries in 2014.
The semi-finals pit the No. 1 seed of each division against the No. 2 seed of the opposite division. Semi-final play begins on Sunday March 16th at 10:00 AM, with the finals being played later that same day at 5:00 PM. Make sure to check back at Youth1 for updates.
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