Mustangs saddle Bulldogs with 3-0 loss, complicate push to KLAA title game

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BRIGHTON — Paul Moggach talks all the time about how teams bring their A game to play the Bulldogs.

It happened on Thursday night, when a depleted Northville team nevertheless put it all together to blank the Bulldogs, 3-0, putting Brighton’s bid for a fifth consecutive Kensington Conference championship in danger.

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“They capitalized,” Brighton coach Paul Moggach said of the Mustangs. “We made a mistake and they did something wit it. We didn’t make any breaks for ourselves. … We played OK in the third period, but you can’t wait (to play well) until the third.”

Brighton (12-5 overall, 8-2 KLAA Central) must get help from Livonia Churchill and/or Livonia Franklin, each of whom are next on the schedule for Stevenson, which has a game in hand on the Bulldogs.

If Brighton and Stevenson are tied, Brighton will face Hartland in the KLAA title game for the fourth year in a row.

But it will take a couple of weeks to determine things. Stevenson plays Frnaklin tonight, then doesn’t play Churchill until Feb. 10.

“We hurt our chances in the league, but the season’s not over,” Moggach said. “We’ll see what happens with Stevenson, but we’re not looking at that. The season’s not over. We had a bad game, we have to recoup, we have to play better.

“We need to see what we’ve got,” he continued. “Where is our heart” What are we going to do? We’ll have a good practice tomorrow and then we go from there. We’ll see what we’re made of, now.”

If it was, to paraphrase Dickens, the worst of times for Brighton, it was the best of times for Northville, which scored early in the first and second periods, added a goal midway through the second and kept the Bulldogs at bay the rest of the night.

“That’s the best game we’ve had all year,” Northville coach Jon Gates said. “It was even better than our (2-2) tie with Brother Rice. It’s our biggest win in five or six years. A big boost of confidence.”

Northville, which was playing with only four defensemen due to injury and illness. scored just 3:02 into the game, when Jmmy Dales banged home a power-play goal on a rebound from Ian Welsch.

The second goal came early in the second, when Northville launched the puck into the Brighton end. Goalie Logan Neaton tried to clear it, but Northville’s Al Iafrate intercepted the puck and tapped it into an open net.

“We had a goal like that against Brother Rice,” Gates said. “A good, hard forecheck, the goalie tries to play it and we were a little quicker.”

Ryan Brass ended the scoring with a goal near the midpoint of the period, and the Mustangs hunkered down after that.

Northville kept Brighton’s shooters on the perimeter after that, and while the Bulldogs outshot the Mustangs 12-4 in the third period, Northville goalie Brett Miller was rarely challenged.

“We couldn’t get anything going,” Brighton co-captain Joey Clifford said. “(Miller) was very good. I thought we could have challenged him more. He didn’t allow many rebounds.”

And so, instead of being one game away from playing for a title, the Bulldogs must hope for some help. February is always an interesting month, and it could be moreso for this reason: Brighton could play Howell three times in four weeks.

The first would be a non conference game at home on Feb. 10, again in a KLAA crossover the next week, and a third time in the regional final the first week of March.

But a lot can happen between now and then, and Clifford, like his coach, preferred to think only of the next step.

“There are bigger and better things to do,” he said. “We will have the (state tournament). We could still make it to the KLAA championship. That’s not gone. We’ll need some luck, but we can get there.”