Hartland, Brighton get first look at hockey teams Wednesday

Brighton assistant coach Kurt Kivisto shoots a tennis ball during a drill Tuesday. The Bulldogs will play host to Hartland in the hockey season opener for both teams on Wednesday.
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For the last couple of years, the Hartland and Brighton high school hockey teams played back-to-back games.

It wasn’t planned that way; the reason for the consecutive games was the first one was for the KLAA championship.

‘We’re always trying to fill a spot after the championship game date,” Brighton coach Paul Moggach said. The championship is a crossover game pitting the conference champions, which the last two years were Hartland (Lakes) and Brighton (Kensington). “We wanted to fill that game with a good team that was going into the playoffs, and (Hartland) is a good team.”

More importantly, it was a team neither would see in the postseason, because Brighton is in Division 1 and Hartland in Division 2, based on enrollment.

This year, the coaches decided to try an early date, and Wednesday is the day.

It’s not the first game with county teams this season (Howell played host to Milford on Tuesday night), but it’s a good early test for both.

The Eagles and Bulldogs play at the Kensington Valley Ice House tonight at 7 p.m., and the game will be broadcast starting at 6:50 p.m.

To Hartland coach Rick Gadwa, it’s a chance for new players on both teams to get up to speed quickly.

“I think there’s no better way to introduce the new guys to high school hockey and what it’s about,” he said.

As is the case, there are plenty of newcomers on both teams, thanks to graduation. Many of the newcomers, however, have rarely played before  crowds as large as the one expected at the Brighton rink tonight.

So there’s a little bit of acclimation to the surroundings, but so too, as Gadwa said, there’s adjusting to the high school game as well.

While the players are adjusting, so are the coaches.

“We had a chance to scrimmage last Saturday,” Moggach said. “Now, the question is, have we improved a bit on Wednesday? We don’t have our special teams the way we want them, and we don’t have all of our systems in yet. So it’s just doing your job, taking care of your teammates, staying out of the penalty box, the fundamental things.”

Brighton played host to Trenton on Saturday, with a couple periods of hockey and some time spent on working special teams (the penalty kill, the power play). Hartland participated in a three-team scrimmage with Salem and Rochester Hills Stoney Creek.

“We got more ice time,” Gadwa said, “but it wasn’t like playing in a game where you have two intermissions and resurfacing and the things you contend with in a game.”

The game is a non-conference affair, and if all goes well for both teams they might meet again in three months’ time, in a third consecutive KLAA championship game in February.

‘It’s the beginning of a long, grueling season with a lot of ups and downs,” Gadwa said. “I don’t know what to expect. We don’t know how good Brighton is. We don’t know how good we are, and we won’t know until after we play three periods.”