BRIGHTON — It has been a long wait for Will Mossett and Logan Neaton and the rest of the Brighton hockey players who returned this season after making it to the Division 1 state finals last year.
“It was definitely the longest off-season for me,” Neaton said, “especially the way it ended.”
It ended in a 3-0 loss to Detroit Catholic Central at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth.
But whatever lingering sorrow about how last season ended was replaced by optimism at the Kensington Valley Ice House on Monday afternoon.
“It’s the best day of the year, to be sure,” Neaton said of the start of tryouts. “It’s great to be back out here and get things going. We had a good offseason, a good fall with our team. I’m really looking forward to getting to the regular season.”
“It’s like New Year’s,” Brighton coach Paul Moggach said. “You get a new chance to start. We have no losses, we have no drama, everything’s good. We’re going to get numbers assigned and get our workout stuff and our jackets and all the nice things. But for the most part, the JV and the varsity have been working out hard.”
Nearly four dozen players skated on Monday, and while Moggach and assistant coach Kurt Kivisto knew most of the players, there was also some diamonds in the rough.
“There were a few surprises tonight,” Moggach said. “It’s always exciting to see if you get a surprise or two, and we did. And it’s just good to se e how some of them have grown into being a better player or a better person. It’s just nice to see them.”
The hockey season is the longest on the MHSAA schedule, running nearly 4 1/2 months, if all goes according to plan, with the finals on March 11.
So, while the players work out on the ice, they also begin work on their bonds off the ice.
“I work on getting my legs back, working with my team and being a better teammate,” senior Will Mossett said. “Getting to know the guys, play with them, and know how they play. It’s my second year, and I know what to expect, It’s nice to be one of the veterans, showing the new guys how it goes.”
In four of the past five seasons, the Bulldogs have gone to the Division 1 title game, winning in 2012-13.
“I remember a couple of years ago when we lost to Salem in the regional,” Moggach said. “Those are harder when you don’t get to (USA Hockey Arena). That didn’t used to be the case. We didn’t go any place. But now, this is sort of what we do. That’s our expectation. I’m always happy to see these guys achieve and learn and work, and are together when it’s over. I don’t want them to get upset (by a loss in an early round). I want them to go as far as they can go.”
Everything the Bulldogs do is tailored to that goal, from the off-ice workouts to team breakfasts to the trip to the Keewenaw Peninsula, among other things. The team has learned over the years that bonding off the ice leads to better play on the ice.
“We had a great offseason in the fall, getting stronger, getting bigger, so I’d like to continue that,” Neaton said. “But I’d also like to get the new boys together and get the chemistry going. A lot of the game is mental, not just physical, so it would be good to get everyone talking and get everyone going together.”
Meanwhile, things change a lot for coaches from here until the season ends in March.
“My whole life changes from this point on,” Moggach said “From this point on, it’s every day but Sunday, and on Sunday you’re thinking about what you’re going to do during the week. … Change always brings a little angst into your life, but once you’re here, we’re ready to go and I’m excited to be out on the ice and see how these guys come together.”