By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half
PLYMOUTH — James Milletics had the toughest seat in the house last season during Brighton's march to the MHSAA Division 1 hockey title.
After being the Bulldogs' starting goaltender as a freshman most of the winter, Milletics sat the bench while senior Christian Michalik backstopped the championship run.
"He didn't lose the position," Brighton coach Paul Moggach explained. "We just started a senior. He was a freshman. We just took the pressure off so he would get the experience he did watching this."
Milletics didn't complain, returning this season to provide rock-solid netminding for Brighton, which repeated as Division 1 champion with a 2-1 victory over Detroit Catholic Central on Saturday at Compuware Arena.
Milletics stopped 37 of 38 shots, including a potential game-tying backhander by Michael Babcock from close range with 6.8 seconds left in the game. The Bulldogs were outshot 38-16 after getting outshot 28-19 in a 4-1 semifinal victory over Detroit U-D Jesuit the previous night.
"Obviously, he was the difference-maker today, and he was the difference-maker (Friday)," Moggach said. "You need good goaltending. Jimmy was there for us. When you give up a goal a game, you can be a tough team to beat."
Milletics said it's the best game he's ever played.
"After you get above 20 shots, you really get into a groove," he said. "It really helped me. My teammates helped me with all my shots and all the rebounds. After 20 shots, I found out I was at the top of my game."
The Bulldogs finished 28-2-1, ending the season with a 12-game winning streak during which they allowed only 12 goals.
Including Milletics, three players who didn't participate in last year's MHSAA Final made enormous contributions for the Bulldogs.
Senior forward Michael Yuhasz came out for the high school team after spending most of his youth career in the Triple-A travel ranks. Lucas Morgan gave up Triple-A hockey sooner, joining Brighton's team this season as a freshman.
Yuhasz scored the game's first goal with 1:53 left in the first period, then set up Morgan to give Brighton a 2-0 lead at 8:03 of the second. Morgan had an assist on Yuhasz's goal.
Despite their age difference, the two have formed a bond on and off the ice.
"We didn't really know each other," Yuhasz said. "At the workouts we would do in the summer, he would always come and talk to me. I wasn't committed to play for Brighton in the summer, even though I worked out with them. He kept telling me to play. When I decided to play, I knew we would become good friends. It just carried over from there."
On the first goal, the puck came across the front of the net to Yuhasz, who scored on a backhander from the back side.
"I don't really know how it got to me," he said. "It must've bounced over someone's stick. It was really lucky. I just tried to get whatever I could on the puck and get it towards the net. It was a huge
difference-maker, getting the first goal of the game and getting momentum started."
On the second goal, Yuhasz sped down the right side with the puck and passed it in front of Morgan, who charged to the net and tipped a shot under the crossbar.
"That was a great pass," Morgan said. "He just got it across from the wing and I crashed the net. It was a great play."
Yuhasz nearly made it a 3-0 game during a penalty kill when he slipped in behind the defense, but his backhand shot was stopped by Derek Moore with 2:02 left in the second period to keep the Shamrocks in the game.
Catholic Central (22-8) finally cashed in while on the power play when Carson Gatt scored from the edge of the crease with 7:02 left in the game. It was the Shamrocks' 33rd shot of the game.
Moore again made a huge save to give the Shamrocks a chance when he got a glove on a shot by Aaron Sturos during a two-on-one break with 3:37 remaining.
Catholic Central's best chance to tie came when Babcock got a backhander off from close range. Milletics made the stop, rolled back in his crease and kept the puck out of the net, forcing a faceoff to
his right with 6.8 seconds left.
"They got it to the front of the net, he got a shot off and I just spun my leg out there hoping I could get it," Milletics said. "It worked out pretty well."
The ensuing faceoff went into the corner, but the puck got to the front of the net in the final second. The Shamrocks couldn't direct it to the net and the buzzer sounded.
"We didn't like the position of being down 2-0 for it felt like an eternity," Catholic Central coach Todd Johnson said. "We made it 2-1, and we figured the next one would happen. You have to give Jimmy
credit and their team credit. They sacrificed, and they know what it takes to win championships. We know what it takes to win championships. They got it done tonight."
PHOTOS: (Top) Brighton players skate their trophy toward the crowd after repeating as Division 1 champions Saturday. (Middle) Brighton senior Evan Zack pushes the puck away from the front of the Bulldogs net. (Photos by Andrew Knapik.)