PLYMOUTH — In the end, Brighton hockey coach Paul Moggach said, it came down to the math.
“We played (Detroit) Catholic Central twice this season,” he said. “We haven’t scored a goal and they scored six.”
Catholic Central won 3-0 on Nov. 21, and repeated the feat Saturday night, winning 3-0 in the Division 1 state championship game at USA Hockey Arena.
It was the third consecutive title for the Shamrocks, with the Bulldogs having won the previous two.
“There are only three teams that don’t lose their last game,” Moggach said shortly after the game, referring to the three division state champs. “We’ve been on the other side of this and know how beautiful it is. (The players) saying their good-byes, but they’re very emotional. They fought hard all season, and they fought hard in this game.”
Unfortunately, it wasn’t nearly enough.
Catholic Central (23-7) throttled the Bulldogs from the beginning, never allowing Brighton to get any kind of momentum.
“We wanted to limit their odd-man chances,” Shamrocks coach Brandon Kaleniecki said. “The best way to stop a good offensive player is to make them play in the D zone, because even if they get possession, it’s a long way to go.”
“I didn’t think we ever got totally into our game,” Moggach said, “because Catholic Central didn’t allow us to. I thought they played a great game on both sides of the puck, offensively and defensively.”
But even the best-laid plans are subject to the whims of fate at key moments.
One game early in the game, when Jake Crespi stole a pass at the Brighton blue line and raced into the CC end. He got a shot off as he was being hauled down, and he was awarded a penalty shot.
“I thought I had a nice break,” Crespi said. “I was going in on the breakaway and I was going to go 5-hole (between the legs).”
On the penalty shot, Crespi drifted to the left, then went back right and tried the exact same shot on CC goalie Alec Calavaruso, who closed his pads and made the save.
“Should have buried it,” Crespi said. “I think it could have been a different game if I could have put that one away for the boys and get some momentum going.”
“Alec bailed us out with a great save,” he said. “It could have been a turning point, but he kept it 0-0. We felt we had the better chances, we felt we had a lot of possession in their zone and eventually it was going to break our way.”
Catholic Central broke through when Glynn Robitaille scored near the midpoint of the second period, then added a goal by Nick Marcari late in the period.
Meanwhile, the CC defense continued to clamp down on the Brighton offense, allowing five shots total in each of the three periods.
“They were just all over us,” Crespi said. “Positionally, they were great. Every time we touched the puck there were two guys on us. It was just impossible. We kept chipping pucks deep, but it seemed that no pressure we put on them was really helping.”
Still, an ancient coach’s maxim is a two-goal lead is the most dangerous one in hockey.
But Catholic Central effectively put it out of reach on a goal by Cory Borke less than two minutes into the third period.
Asked if he thought his team had run out of gas in the third period, Moggach said he didn’t think so.
“But playing six games in two weeks is emotionally and physically draining,” he said, “and I think it has an impact when you go to that third period down. I think it’s easier to find your legs when you’re in a position to win it, and we never really were.
“I think after that first period, we tried to find a way, but we didn’t find the opportunities we needed to make a game of it.”
Brighton was outshot 29-15, and Bulldogs goalie Logan Neaton made some spectacular saves to keep Brighton within shouting distance.
“Logan’s given us a chance to win almost every game,” Moggach said. “You have to give him credit for keeping us in a position to win. Even at the end, we were trying to get one goal, but Logan gave us a chance to fight back.”
Neaton will be back next year, as will Crespi, but the Bulldogs lose a wealth of experience.
“We got here,” senior captain Nick Foran said. “We fell a little short, but we had a great season. I couldn’t be happier.”
“That’s life,” Moggach said. “We tried hard, but we didn’t get what we wanted. Hats off to CC.
“To get here, it’s hard to explain,” he continued. “It feels so good. It’s really an honor to be here and see the crowd, how the building fills up and how our town is represented against a rival. It’s an amazing feeling. I’ll never get bored with it. After a few hours, by tomorrow (the players) will feel the same way.”
Crespi, for his part, had already turned his sights to next season.
“It’s always a great game with two pretty evenly matched teams,” he said of the Brighton-CC rivalry. “We’ll be back here next year (in the finals) and hopefully play them again. Except we’ll be on the winning side. It should be an exciting team next year.”