TRAVERSE CITY — Most area hockey teams kick off their playoff runs Tuesday, but Traverse City West and the Bay Reps will get out of the playoff chute a day earlier.
The two local rivals will meet this evening for a 7 p.m. rematch at Howe Arena.
Going into the playoff fracas, what are some of the top questions facing local hockey teams?
1What’s the most interesting opening-round matchup featuring local teams?
That’s easy. Partly because it’s the only one featuring two northern Michigan teams facing off, but it also happens to be a good one.
Traverse City West and the Bay Reps will meet today in a rematch of their 2-3 game that was won by the Reps in the final seconds on a Zack Bargy rebounds with six seconds remaining.
The two teams are fairly evenly matched. Both have good defenses, good goaltending and have struggled scoring goals.
In every one of West’s setbacks this season, the Titans scored two or fewer goals. In each win, they scored four or more in nine of 10.
2 Who received a bad tournament assignment?
Traverse City Central, in a way.
It’s not the competition as much as the geography. The Division 2 regional the Trojans are headed to includes some solid teams like first-round opponent Muskegon Reeths-Puffer (12-8-1 and ranked No. 14) and Portage Northern (13-7), plus always-dangerous Muskegon Mona Shores.
But Central has to travel two-and-a-half hours to Muskegon for regionals when another Division 2 bracket is only an hour away in Gaylord and it doesn’t even have a full eight-team bracket. The Gaylord regional contains No. 4 Midland Dow, No. 5 Saginaw Heritage and No. 9 Escanaba, but Central has played a tough schedule all year, so that shouldn’t matter.
So while the travel would be shorter to Gaylord, the competition is a little more stiff as well. It could all be moot, as those two regional champions meet up in the quarterfinals anyway.
3 Which northern Michigan team has a good shot at a long playoff run?
You’d think that with a 19-5-1 team like Grand Rapids West Catholic in the same regional, West might not be the best choice.
The Reps could easily take their place, it should be noted. After that toss-up opening round game, the winner has a legit shot at a regional championship.
According to the United State High School Hockey Organization rankings, West is No. 23 in Division 1. West Catholic is No. 24, despite a nine-game difference in their win totals.
The reasoning behind that is West’s strength of schedule, which was way better than the Falcons’. The USHSHO ranks West’s at 8.1 and West Catholic’s at 6.6. The Reps are No. 29, with an 8.0 strength of schedule.
“We’ve had a very tough schedule this season,” Titans coach Jeremy Rintala said. “Hopefully that will pay off in the playoffs.”
4 Which of the three Traverse City team has the best shot at going furthest?
All three have a legit shot of winning multiple games.
The reason for that is all three — including the co-op Bay Reps — play very good defense. And defense can carry a team a long way in the postseason.
TC West has a deep blueline corps led by Caleb Breithaupt, Jeff Linenger, Jacob Benker and Ryan Roehler in front of sophomore goalie Brendan Lacharite.
With hard-hitting Trevor Apsey, the Reps have a defense that can keep them in games, including players like Josh Hill, Gavin Uitvlugt and John VanRaalte.
Central, meanwhile, has standouts like Joe Videcki, Andrew Froese and Derek Schrank roaming the defensive zone.
5 What has to happen for the Reps to upset TC West again?
The game has to be a low-scoring one. Neither team has lit up the scoreboard all that much this season, but the Reps have had more struggles with scoring goals consistently. If they’re asked to score three or more time against a strong Titan defense, it’ll be a very difficult task.
Lacharite and Jay Jones are two of the best goalies around, so the contest being a low-scoring one is a pretty good bet. A 2-1 or 3-2 outcome either way wouldn’t surprise many.
The Reps have been a thorn in the side of the Titans in the past, and hope to again.