By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
In the moment, Brighton’s run last month to its latest Division 1 ice hockey championship felt a lot like the successful title chases in 2012, 2013 and 2017.
But now that the most recent victory has had some time to marinate, there’s no question – what the Bulldogs accomplished to close this winter was just a little different.
One team generally isn’t a measuring stick for the rest. But most aren’t the Detroit Catholic Central hockey program. The Shamrocks entered the Division 1 Semifinals on March 9 at USA Hockey Arena perfect against in-state competition this winter and riding a six-game shutout streak that began with an 8-0 win over eventual Division 2 champion Hartland. DCC had won 10 of the last 18 Division 1 titles and finished runner-up in 2017 to Brighton, the last Michigan high school team to topple the Shamrocks.
DCC wasn’t expected to have trouble this time – many of its scores against other top Michigan teams this season were jaw dropping. And Brighton, although the reigning champion, had lost twice to Hartland this winter, and the Eagles clearly had their troubles with the Shamrocks.
Yet the Bulldogs believed, and they pulled it off – avenging an earlier 3-0 loss and stunning the top-ranked Shamrocks 2-1 in a Semifinal. Emotionally running toward empty, the MHSAA/Applebee’s March “Team of the Month” then came back the next day and defeated Saginaw Heritage 5-2 to repeat as Division 1 champion.
“Catholic Central always has been the team. Just look at what they’ve accomplished,” Brighton coach Paul Moggach said. “That’s the bar. You can get over it once in a while. But we’re starting to feel like we are at that level … that maybe we can be that team. The belief in yourself maybe has arrived, that we’re good enough to do this on a regular basis.”
Brighton, which entered the postseason ranked No. 3 in Division 1, finished 25-6-1 this winter. Its lone losses were to DCC on Dec. 16, twice to league rival Hartland, and once apiece to Northville, Livonia Stevenson and Cleveland St. Ignatius.
The Bulldogs are used to facing Orchard Lake St. Mary’s and then DCC during the Division 1 tournament – they previously beat DCC in the 2013 and 2017 championship games and finished runners-up to the Shamrocks in 2014 and 2016. This time, Brighton beat No. 2 St. Mary’s 3-1 in a Regional Final and got DCC one game earlier than usual.
Boasting 10 seniors – including four who had goals or assists in the 2017 Final – Brighton took on the underdog “mask,” as Moggach put it, but despite the expected nerves also had “an incredible level of confidence in ourselves and to give to each other.”
Seniors Adam Conquest and Mathew Kahra scored Brighton’s goals in the Semifinal, both on power plays, and Kahra scored again in the championship game. Sophomore Will Jentz had two goals in the Final, and junior Evan MacDonald and freshman Nate Przysiecki both added one. Junior goalie Harrison Fleming had a combined 44 saves on 47 shots over the weekend.
With time to reflect the last few weeks, Moggach has begun to notice a few things about this run that maybe didn’t pop out entirely at the time – like Brighton’s incredible 17-2 record in road or neutral-site games. He also is able to look back fondly on the “connection” among members of this team – something built on the ice, sure, and during trips like the one to the Upper Peninsula featured on Second Half in January. But he found it created most during off-ice strength and conditioning workouts where a culture of togetherness was emphasized and formed – and that surely paid off in last month’s repeat rise.
“That’s the difference maker,” said Moggach, who has led the program 23 seasons. “I’ve been around the game a long time. I think early in my coaching career, and in most coaching careers, you’re figuring out how to get the Xs and Os done, figuring out power plays and penalty kills and things. And then, how to beat teams (that are more) talented.
“But how to bring it together, it’s a maturation of ideas. … The last couple of years, we’ve really built to a point; we put the work in, we enjoy each other, we complement each other, and I think that brings connections. Then we do things like the trip to the U.P. – we’re not celebrating ourselves, but each other. You start giving more to each other, it comes back in spades, and we’re realizing that as a group and as a program.”
Past Teams of the Month, 2017-18
February: Marquette girls and boys skiing - Report
January: Sterling Heights Stevenson competitive cheer - Report
December: Cadillac boys bowling - Report
November: Ottawa Lake Whiteford football - Report
October: Beaverton volleyball - Report
September: Shepherd girls golf - Report
PHOTO: Brighton co-captain Sam Brennan (5) presents the championship trophy to his teammates after last month’s Division 1 Final at USA Hockey Arena.