By Linley Wartenberg
It's getting more and more crowded at the top of the Michigan Metro Girls Hockey High School Hockey League. Perennial favorites Grosse Pointe South and Cranbrook are a sure bet to remain powerhouses, but the competition is a little stiffer this season.
"I expect Plymouth Canton to be strong this year along with Grosse Pointe South and Grosse Pointe North," sayd Cranbrook's Mike Roche. "Ladywood will be a contender as well. The level of play in the league gets better every year."
Last year, under first-year coach Lori Callahan, Plymouth Canton finished in third place. Now that her team has a taste of success, they're even more motivated to work hard.
"And that makes my job easier," she said.
The Penguins aim to join the tops of the league, but it becomes more of a challenge every year.
"The league will be very competitive this year," Ladywood's Bruce Peck said. " I think that we have more talent in the league than at any other time in its history."
Peck points to favorites North, South, Cranbook and PCS as being candidates for the top spot along with his team, but doesn't rule out a newcomer in the top of the pack.
"Ann Arbor could also be a surprise team," he noted.
Pioneers coach Lon Grantham agrees thinks his team has the potential to finish near the top, but is quick to name Northville and Regina among those poised to move up in the standings.
"I wouldn't be surprised to see more upsets in this season's playoffs," he adds.
There'll be a different flavor to the schedule now that the league has officially split into East and West divisions.
The East teams – GPS, GPN, UL, Regina, Port Huron and Bloomfield will play each other twice and the West teams – Cranbrook, Ladywood, PCS, Northville, Walled Lake, Ann Arbor and Mercy – once.
The new schedule reduces travel a bit, but the downside is the league will only see one matchup of Grosse Pointe South and Cranbrook in the regular season.
There will be two regular season champions, then the teams will be seeded according to points like in playoffs past.
"We have the luxury of trying some new things that we normally wouldn't be able to do because the girls all know the system," Peck says. "We would like to get off to a quick start, but we are more concerned with improving with each and every game."
The Blazers have a good mix of players, and as a result, Peck has high expectations for the season.
"We want to be competitive in every game, and we believe we have the potential to go all the way if we continue to work hard and improve as the season goes on," he said.
Leading the charge will be junior forward Laura Szwed, who earned second-team all-state last season. She and Heather Sartorius are expected to lead the office, with contributions from Brittany Andrews, Abby Kienbaum, and Jenna MacDonell.
"We have a well-rounded team some good experience," the coach said. "We are a little thin at defense, but we do have some depth at forward."
He's got Brittney Holtz, Danielle Foley and Angie Iafano to anchor the blue line and Michelle Wyniemko in net.