Second Half reports
PLYMOUTH — Logan Neaton needed time in the midst of a wild championship celebration to process the events of an entire year.
It was 365 days earlier that Neaton and his Brighton hockey teammates were beaten by Detroit Catholic Central, 3-0, in the MHSAA Division 1 championship game.
From the moment the Bulldogs stepped off the ice at USA Hockey Arena that night, everything they did was designed to get back there and write a different ending.
Brighton completed its mission with a 5-2 victory over three-time reigning champion Catholic Central in the season’s final game Saturday night.
Neaton, normally not one to show his emotions during a game, leaned back over the crossbar and looked to the rafters of USA Hockey Arena in the final minute after Jake Crespi’s empty-netter made it apparent the Bulldogs would win their fourth MHSAA title.
When the clock hit zeroes, Neaton wound up in a pile with his teammates, got himself out, jumped against the glass to celebrate with the student section, then went to the faceoff circle and had a moment to himself face down on the ice.
"It's been a year to the day since we lost," said Neaton, who made 31 saves Saturday and allowed only four goals in six postseason games. "You just represent so much more than yourself. You're representing all the boys who came before you, who came so close and couldn't get it done. Everyone in your city, we just had so much support throughout the year. So many people instilled so much in us and put so much of their time and effort in us. To do that for them and do it for the boys last year and everyone who came before us is unbelievable."
Brighton (24-6-1) lost in the 2014 and 2016 Finals to Catholic Central after beating the Shamrocks for the 2013 title.
The Bulldogs also won in 2006 and 2012. Brighton and Catholic Central have crossed paths in four of the last five MHSAA Finals. The Bulldogs beat the Shamrocks twice this season after doing so only once in 11 previous meetings.
"They've always been the benchmark," Brighton coach Paul Moggach said. "They're the team to beat for a lot of years. We've struggled to beat them. This year we beat them twice, which we've never done before. We just keep working hard and trying to be able to compete with them. Now we're on the map, as well."
Brighton stormed out of the gates, jumping to a 2-0 lead in the first 2 minutes and 23 seconds on goals by Keith Wikman and Spencer Gehres.
Junior Adam Conquest, who played for Brighton as a freshman before returning to travel hockey as a sophomore, extended the lead to 3-0 with a shorthanded goal 43 seconds into the second period.
Conquest had a goal and two assists.
“It feels amazing,” Conquest said. “I didn’t play last year, but watching them from up in the stands I regretted not playing. I could have helped them out. This year, I joined. It’s an unreal experience beating C.C.”
The Shamrocks (22-8-1) made a game of it, as Brendan West scored twice in the second period to cut the margin to 3-2 heading into the third.
“We felt like if we got the second (goal), we had a lot of faith that we were going to get the third,” Catholic Central coach Brandon Kaleniecki said. “You have to keep them off the boards. When they got their fourth, that was a killer blow for us.”
Gehres gave Brighton some insurance when he deflected in a shot by Conquest with 11:44 left in the game. An empty-netter by Crespi with 1:08 remaining left no doubt that this was Brighton’s year.
There was some doubt just a couple weeks earlier as to whether or not the Bulldogs would be celebrating with the championship trophy. Brighton went 1-4-1 in its last six regular-season games, but was missing players.
"You need adversity to understand where you're at and get you pumped up a little bit more," Moggach said. "They reacted well. We had some injuries and illness in there, too. Not for excuses, but we all realized we had the makings of a good team."
It was only the fifth time in 18 trips to the MHSAA Finals that Catholic Central took home the runner-up trophy.
“We’re just incredibly proud as a coaching staff of how they competed to the very end,” Kaleniecki said.
Click for the full box score.
PHOTOS: (Top) Brighton goalie Logan Neaton stops a Detroit Catholic Central shot Saturday evening. (Middle) Spencer Gehres dumps in a Brighton goal during the Division 1 Final. (Click to see more at HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)