Competitiveness, cameraderie hallmarks of Brighton’s back-to-back hockey champs — with archived broadcasts

Brighton's hockey team celebrates its second straight Division 1 hockey title in Plymouth on Saturday night. It's the fourth in the last seven seasons for the Bulldogs. (Photo by Karen Kivisto)

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PLYMOUTH — The duality of the Brighton hockey team was in full display for a brief moment following Friday’s Division 1 semifinal win over Detroit Catholic Central.

Catholic Central came into the game not having lost to a Michigan-based team this season. The Shamrocks had rolled through the playoffs and were heavy favorites.

After the Bulldogs won, 2-1, Mathew Kahra was asked if his team had taken that lack of regard personally.

“Ah, no, not really,” he said. “We really don;t look at results, or how they played lately.”

Mathew Kahra (22) and Tim Erkkila both played key roles for the Bulldogs as they won a second consecutive championship on Saturday night. (Photo by Karen Kivisto)

As Kahra talked, goalie Harrison Fleming caught a reporter’s eye, and with a determined stare nodded his head, the inner competitiveness serving as a counterbalance to outer nonchalance.

The end result was historic: Brighton won its second consecutive state title and the fourth in seven years after consecutive crowns in 2012-13. It’s only the second time a public school has accomplished that since the MHSAA tournament went to divisions in 2000. 

Click here for the archived broadcast of the championship game!

Click here for the archived broadcast of the semifinal game!

Trenton was the first, winning in 2003-4 and again from 2008-10.

It was the Bulldogs’ sixth trip to the finals in those seven years, missing only in 2015, prompting at least one question about dynasties.

“I wouldn’t go dynasty yet,” Moggach said.

Well, not in the terms of, say, the Montreal Canadiens of old, who had the same core of stars for periods much longer than those of high school teams.

But those six trips to the finals have given almost everyone who has spent more than two years on a Brighton roster in that time a chance a title or a championship ring.

“Winning a championship ring is one of the greated things I’ll ever experience,” senior captain Sam Brennan said. “It never gets old, not matter how many times.”

In the semifinal, the Bulldogs came out confident.

Adam Conquest celebrates after scoring Brighton’s first goal in Friday’s semifinal. (Photo by Karen Kivisto)

“We got under their skin,” Moggach said. “They didn’t expect we were going to be like that. We smiled at them. We looked them in the eye. We made sure they could see how much fun we were having. They were stoic. They didn’t know what to do. We could see the pressure  on them as they were warming up.”

With the exception of a short spurt late in the second period and the beginning of the third, Brighton’s team defense stifled the Catholic Central offense.

Brighton got power-play goals from Adam Conquest late in the first period and from Mathew Kahra in the second and held the Shamrocks scoreless until Jared Lee scored on the power play with 3:05 remaining.

The Bulldogs held off the Shamrocks the rest of the way.

The next night, Brighton saw the roles reversed, to a point.

The Bulldogs were considered a heavy favorite over Saginaw Heritage.

“There was some reverse pressure,” Moggach said. “I think we didn’t play as well as we wanted to because of it. We were feeling the need to duplicate (Friday), and it’s impossible, I guess.”

The Bulldogs never trailed, but Heritage hung around, getting a late power-play goal to make it 2-1 after one, Brighton extended the lead to 4-2, but the tension remained until Will Jentz into an empty net with 57 seconds left to seal the 5-2 victory.

“They were really good on face-offs,” assistant coach Kurt Kivisto said. “When you’re not winning face-offs and they’re controlling the face-offs, you end up chasing the shifts, especially in the second period.”

Jentz’s goal put the exclamation point on things.

“It put us up by three, and a two-goal lead is the worst lead,” senior Brody White said. “Even with how much time was on the clock.”

“I was just trying to get out of the way of the sticks when the boys started celebrating,” Moggach joked.

Beyond the outward nonchalance and the inward competitive fire, a third factor, camaraderie, was a third hallmark of the Bulldogs.

“This team has a chemistry to it i think has taken to another level,” Moggach said. “This year’s team has an aura about them. They believe in themselves, they have fun together, and there’s something different.

I thought we came together as a team the latter half of the year,” he said Saturday. “We got close, and I think our energy picked up when we did that. We had some losses along the way, but I thought that came together as a group and were a great family and fun to be with. I think that was the difference.”

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