Team CC back in action this weekend at MAHA state tournament

Calumet's Ed Beiring controls the puck Saturday in the Division 3 state final against Warren DeLaSalle. Beiring is one of the local athletes competing on Team CC. (Andrew Knapik).

PORT HURON — The time for high school rivalries is over.

With the loss by the Calumet Copper Kings in the Division 3 state final, the high school hockey season for local teams has ended. However, for several area players, the hockey season is not over.

After taking a hiatus for the high school season, Team Copper Country 18U Tier 2 returns to action this weekend at the Michigan Amateur Hockey Association State Tournament.

They come into the tournament as the top-ranked team in the state and the No. 2 team nationwide. They are also looking to avenge a loss last season in the championship game.

The path will not be easy, not because the teams are all tough, but because, after playing 25-plus games as Bulldogs, Gremlins, Copper Kings or Eagles, they have to see each other as teammates instead of rivals.

It is a challenge the players gladly accept.

“It’s amazing,” said winger Teddy Randell. “We have been so competitive throughout the year as Houghton, Hancock and Calumet.”

For Randell and his teammates, it is time to focus on this team.

“Now we are all together, so we have to bond as a team again,” said Randell. “It should be fun. To me, it’s not that bad. Now that we have states coming up this weekend, we only have a few practices before so you have to get used to whomever you are playing with.

“The rivalry is over for me now, until next year.”

For those from Calumet, it could be a bit more difficult. They are fresh off their state runner-up run last weekend having eliminated the Bulldogs and the Gremlins. With the loss to Warren DeLaSalle, the Copper Kings feel they as if they left something behind that a win here could help.

“You always want to win in high school,” said winger Brent Loukus.

To help with the transition to playing for Team CC again, it is beneficial to most players that they have teammates to play with, giving them some instant chemistry. After playing through much of the fall together, however, they feel pretty comfortable with each other as a larger group.

“This is a great group of guys that we have here,” said Loukus. “We feel like we have chemistry even though we don’t really play together during the year.”

With just a couple of practices to prepare, chemistry will have to be fluid, something that the Team CC coaching staff will monitor throughout the weekend and adjust accordingly, admitting that the Copper Kings on the roster will have the toughest readjustment.

“They adapt pretty quick,” said coach Micah Stipech. “The hardest turnover, in my experience, is the team that went the farthest. It’s hard to have that emotional roller coaster. You have television, you have people wanting autographs and cheering for you. Then, six days later, you have to turn around and go back to war again. It’s hard to bounce back and stay hungry.”

Another challenge for Team CC will be the condensed schedule of the playoff format. After months of playing one or two games in a week, the team will play one game Friday night, two games Saturday, and potentially two more on Sunday.

Their opener on Friday will be against the No. 6 Metro Jets. Saturday, they will face the No. 13 Kensington Valley Rebels and then the No. 14 Dearborn Belle Tire to finish out pool play.

Should they qualify, they will likely face either the No. 2 Oakland Jr. Grizzlies or the No. 3 Lansing Spartans in the semifinals on Sunday morning.

With that schedule, Stipech has high hopes the team can get back to the title game.

“Last year, with losing that final game, now you have a goal, something to work towards,” said Stipech. “That’s been a big help. As tough as it is to lose, it’s given us a hunger this year. We are ready.”

If team chemistry and the schedule are not enough to make things difficult for Team CC, the roster challenges they face are going to make life difficult. With their roster locked in back in October, Team CC has to deal with three significant injuries, two of which they cannot replace.

For a relatively young squad, losing Hancock seniors Tommy Randell and Tanner Givens to injury drops the team down to 18 skaters for the tournament. Replacing their experience on the blue line will be not be easy. Stipech plans to move Hartland’s Jed Pietila, who played center on the Eagles’ top line this season, to defense.

Pietila will join Houghton’s Kevin Bostwick, Calumet’s Trevor Johnson and Jack Sturos, and Hancock’s Teddy Perrault on an offensively talented defensive corps.

Team CC never played with a full roster during the fall, so Stipech believes that experience will prove valuable now as they try to get used to playing without Givens and Tommy Randell. It should also prove to be a learning tool as these players look to play hockey beyond high school.

“Our kids have adapted every game to different lineups,” said Stipech. “That’s part of it. I think that is part of the preparation that helps them for beyond high school, when there are guys coming in and out of your team if you are playing juniors.”

Another issue has cropped up with Houghton goaltender Will Stier, who also suffered an injury late in the season. The good news on the goaltending front, however, is that Team CC is allowed to fill the hole left by Stier’s injury with an emergency, and they have chosen Houghton middle-schooler Jim Pietila to fill the backup role behind Hancock’s Dawson Kero.

Up front, the team is deep and talented, which should help take the pressure off the blue line. Calumet’s Rory Anderson and Ed Beiring join Loukus as one potential line combination. Houghton’s Jacob Kruse, Dawson McKay and Taavi Rajala could be another. Hancock’s Lance Kangas, Alex Nordstrom, and Teddy Randell could be a third unit. All three of those groupings would work well together, but their real strength comes from the fact that they are all talented enough to be interchangeable.

Add to the mix Hancock’s Brody Budweg, who has proven he play any position up front comfortably, and Colton Salani, who can play center or defense when called upon, and the depth of the forward lines really shines.

Team CC is looking forward to chance to earn a title, and with the depth of their roster, they seem positioned well despite injuries to some of their veterans.