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The enduring connection between the BCHL and the University of Michigan

 

When you think about the University of Michigan, there is a certain culture and aura about the school and its athletic programs that make you wish you attended at one point or another.

When I was growing up and just getting into college athletics around the age of 15, the Michigan Wolverines were the coolest team to follow in basically every college sport.

They are flashy and talented, and there is a community and tightly bonded feel to the way they do things. From seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady crafting his immortal NFL career after graduating from Michigan, or the likes of Chris Webber, Marty Turco, and Charles Woodson all being some of the greatest Wolverine athletes ever, Michigan has a long and very storied history in sports.

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For athletes of the BCHL, I’m sure they identify the same characteristics when having the opportunity to become a Wolverine. The relationship between the BC Hockey League and Michigan men’s hockey is lengthy and glows with success and consistency.

Current and committed BCHL alum at Michigan

Currently ranked as the eighth-best team in Division I according to the rankings supplied on the NCAA website, what is so impressive about that feat is the current standing of former BCHL athletes on the Wolverines roster.

With a 2020-21 record of 15-10-1, Michigan iced some of the BCHL’s best this past season, and they went on to make a major impact on the team as well as continue to work their way into a pro hockey career as individuals.

Forward Kent Johnson (Trail, Freshman) was second on the team in points, coming in at over a point per game on the season. After dominating the BCHL in 2019-20 with 101 points for the Trail Smoke Eaters, Johnson stepped onto the biggest stage in college hockey and was a massive part of the Wolverines program in his freshman season.

Former Merritt forward Nicholas Granowicz was also instrumental at Michigan in his sophomore campaign, with 11 points of his own as well as ranking in the top 25 of college hockey in plus/minus at a +18.

Steve Holtz (Penticton, Freshman), Jay Keranen (Prince George, Sophomore), Jimmy Lambert (Vernon, Junior), Philippe Lapointe (Trail, Freshman), and Dakota Raabe (Wenatchee, Senior) round out the list of BCHL alumni on the Wolverines roster this past season.

Set to join the University of Michigan in 2021-22 is none other than Penticton Vees captain Finlay Williams. With 18 points in 15 games for the Vees this season, Williams’ leadership on and off the ice has evidently paid off for a stout Penticton team as the Vees went 18-1-1 overall as the top team in the BCHL.

BCHL and Michigan alumnus

When it comes to developing players and preparing young men to take on the world of professional hockey, there aren’t many others that do it like Michigan.

The success of Michigan alum in the National Hockey League today is evident with accomplished pros like Stanley Cup champions Alec Martinez and Bryan Rust. The growth of recently departed Wolverine players like Kyle Connor, Dylan Larkin, Zach Werenski, and Quinn Hughes is very telling, as this is just a shortlist of players who are foundational pieces for their current NHL teams.

Playing for Michigan means you’re one step away, and what a player does in their time as a Wolverine goes a long way towards helping them accomplish the goal of being a full-time NHL player.

As a fan of the BCHL and resident of beautiful British Columbia, there is none other than former Vancouver Canucks centre Brendan Morrison to try and replicate a career after. In his one season with the Penticton Panthers, Morrison left his mark on the BC hockey scene before returning as a member of the Canucks several years later.

B-Mo had 35 goals and 94 points in 1992-93 before heading off to the University of Michigan where he’d play four seasons, two as the team captain, and cement himself as one of the great Michigan hockey players ever. Over those four years from 1993 to 1997, Morrison was truly just beginning his illustrious hockey career. He captured a national championship in 1996 for Michigan while wearing the ‘C’ on his chest and it’s a testament to the player, and where he started in Penticton.

After 284 points in just 155 games at Michigan, Morrison was drafted in the second round by New Jersey, followed by a move back home to Vancouver in 2000 where he filled out the rest of the famous “West Coast Express” line, one of the best lines in hockey at the time.

Complete list of BCHL alumni at Michigan

Player

BCHL team(s)

Years at Michigan

Brendan Morrison

Penticton

4

Bill Muckalt

Merrit, Kelowna

4

David Oliver

Trail, Vernon

4

Todd Brost

Penticton

4

Mark Kosick

Victoria

4

Andrew Ebbett

Prince George, Salmon Arm

4

Jeff Tambellini

Chilliwack

3

Milan Gajic

Merritt, Burnaby

4

Greg Fox

Kelowna

4

Dexter Dancs

Penticton

4

Brian Lebler

Penticton

4

Ben Winnett

Salmon Arm, Langley

4

Sean Peach

Powell River

4

Robb Gordon

Powell River

1

Mark Sorensen

Penticton

4

Nolan De Jong

Victoria

4

Craig Murray

Penticton

4

John Olver

Kelowna

3

Kevin Lohan

Merritt

5

Bob Gassoff

Chilliwack

4

Reilly Olson

Vernon

3

Warren Sharples (G)

Penticton

4

Steve Racine (G)

Westside

4

Jack LaFontaine (G)

Penticton

4

Hope for continued success

With an institution and hockey program of such prestige as Michigan, the BCHL is privileged and lucky to have such great ties to a very high-level program, and vice-versa.

The current standing of past BCHL players on Michigan’s current roster is an interesting story to follow heading into a fresh season in college hockey come 2021-22. Since 2020-21 wasn’t truly great for anybody, as things get back on track for Michigan, look for the BCHL to play a major part.

As the program with the most NCAA national championships at nine, the Wolverines will hopefully continue to turn to the BCHL and its reputation for producing great hockey players and young men to contribute to their winning culture for years to come.