Traverse City Record-Eagle

Sports Columnists

January 7, 2013

James Cook: NHL not only place to see good hockey

Want to see some good hockey for cheap while waiting for the NHL to finally start?

Plan on being in Traverse City this weekend.

Two No. 1-ranked teams make their way north to take on Traverse City Central and Traverse City West this Friday and Saturday.

Birmingham Brother Rice (10-0-2) is No. 1 in Division 1 and Livonia Stevenson (8-2-1) has the same status in Division 2. TC Central is No. 2 in Division 2.

Central hosts Brother Rice at 5:30 p.m. Friday, while Stevenson plays TC West at 8 p.m. On Saturday, Central and Stevenson clash at 1 p.m. and West takes on Brother Rice at 3:30 p.m. All of the games are at Howe Arena.

TC West (4-8) has already knocked off one ranked team this season (Alpena) and stayed close with two others — Houghton (5-3) and Saginaw Heritage (4-3) — and has young talent and solid goaltending.

"It was good to see," West coach Jeremy Rintala said of Friday's win over Petoskey. "The boys, more than anything, are fighting confidence. Guys are afraid to make mistakes.

"This is a big week for us. We have a Big North game Wednesday with Cadillac and then the big dogs next weekend."

Central, meanwhile, appears to have the complete package. The Trojans have scoring, puck possession, physical play and a veteran goalie in Bill Vermetten who is one of 11 seniors.

Stevenson's only two losses are to the state's other No. 1 team — Division 3 Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood — and a 4-3 hiccup against sub-.500 South Lyon just before Christmas.

Brother Rice — which won the Division 2 state title last year before bumping up to Division 1 — hasn't lost a game yet, and its two ties came against Cranbrook and Division 1 No. 4 Orchard Lake St. Mary's. The Warriors avenged that tie with St. Mary's by beating the Eaglets 7-4 Saturday night.

The Warriors rely on defense, and have given up less than two goals a game on average. Junior 6-1 goalie Jack Bowman has a goals-against average of 1.95 this year and a save percentage of 91.5 percent. Brother Rice is still No. 1 after losing its top two returners from last season — Michigan State commit Mackenzie MacEachern and Thomas Ebbing — both of whom would be seniors this year and are playing Junior A hockey for the Chicago Steel.

Central is coming off a ho-hum 3-1 win over two-time defending D-1 regional champ Grandville on Wednesday and 4-3 win Friday over Alpena, while TC West has won two straight.

Both Traverse City teams will have to weather the first-period storm when playing Stevenson. The Spartans have outscored their opponents 17-4 this season in the opening stanza. The Livonia squad also has struck on over 70 percent of its power plays and hasn't given up a power-play goal yet this season.

So both Central and West will have their hands full with a pair of quality opponents, but for hockey fans it'll be a quality bridge to the NHL season's delayed start.

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