PLYMOUTH — For the fourth time in five years, the Brighton hockey team is in the Division 1 state championship game.
The Bulldogs got there with a solid 4-1 victory over Grandville. Brighton will play Detroit Catholic Central for the third time in four years for the title tonight at USA Hockey Arena, formerly Compuware Arena.
The game begins at 6 p.m., and it will be broadcast on The Livingston Post at 5:50 p.m.
Catholic Central (24-7) got there by holding off a late rally by Detroit U-D Jesuit, 4-3, earlier on Friday evening.
“It’s going to be a fun one,” Brighton’s Joey Clifford said. “It’s a good challenge. It’s like any other game, in that you have to go out and play hockey. Don’t get too focused. Have fun out there. It’s like playing any other game.”
Brighton has played Catholic Central for the state title twice, winning in 2013 and losing in 2014. The teams met in a snowstorm on Nov. 21, with the Shamrocks winning 3-0.
“They’re deep, they storm (the net), they don’t give you a lot of time to work,” Brighton coach Paul Moggach said. “We have to make better plays and hope we can withstand the storm initially, because they’ll come at us hard.”
On Friday, the Bulldogs came out fast against Grandville, also nicknamed the Bulldogs.
Clifford scored first, ending a sequence that saw Brighton move the puck smartly across the ice.
“We were playing good as a line,” he said, “and (defenseman) Nick Foran found me with the pass. I one-timed it and it fortunately went in.”
“I think that set the tone for us,” Moggach said. “I like getting the first goal. It’s one of my favorite things.”
Jake Crespi took another pass from Foran early in the second and scored to make it 2-0, which Clifford and Brennan felt was a turning point in the game.
“After that, we gained momentum and confidence in ourselves, and we continued to pound them,” Brennan said.
Ben Peterson made it 3-0 late in the second period and Lee Pietila made it 4-0 midway through the third period before Grandville’s David Breazeale ended Brighton’s bid for a shutout with 7:20 left.
“Brighton did what we expected them to do, which is attack us with speed,” Grandville coach David Breazeale said. “We had 25 shots on net (Brighton had 22), so we had our opportunities. The difference was on their opportunities, they generally had an odd-man advantage.”
For Clifford, tonight’s game is an opportunity to end his hockey career at Brighton the same way he started it — with a state title.
‘It’s not over yet,” he said. “We’ve got a big one (tonight) and we’ve got to move forward. It was a big win.”
Clifford laughed when asked about students in the stands with hair glued to ice-cream bar sticks, in approximation of his wispy mustache.
“It started my freshman year,” he said, grinning. “It’s pretty big.”
But it’s not here for long.
“I think I’ll shave it after the game,” he said. “One more night.”
One more night, indeed. A night where hard work and endless conditioning and skating are put to use one last time.
“They’re a talented team,” Brennan said. “But any talented team can be beaten with hard work, and we’re a talented team.”
If past years are any indication, USA Hockey Arena will be filled for the game, with an electric atmosphere.
“For sure,” Moggach said. “I’m looking forward to it.”