Pro Stars Cherishing St Clair Roots, Support

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

November 11, 2020

It’s been nearly 10 years since Jacob Cronenworth and Tyler Motte were teammates at St. Clair High School, but the pair still managed to energize their hometown in 2020.

Cronenworth tied for second in the official National League Rookie of the Year voting, which was announced Monday – and won several Rookie of the Year honors from other organizations, including his fellow players – after a standout first season with the San Diego Padres. 

Motte was a key cog for the Canucks as they made a run to the Western Conference semifinals, scoring four goals and adding an assist in 17 playoff games, and earning himself a two-year contract extension in October.

And as the folks back home were reveling in that success, both were happy to have the support.

“The support of our town has been crazy throughout my career, even back when I was at Michigan,” Motte said. “When you have the support of not just your friends, family and loved ones, to have it go to an even bigger population where you grew up, that’s cool to see.”

Motte and Cronenworth provided plenty of great memories while students in St. Clair, most notably helping the Saints win the 2011 MHSAA Division 2 baseball championship. Cronenworth was the winning pitcher in the title game, while Motte had two hits and scored what turned out to be the winning run against Grand Rapids Christian.

“Obviously, that was an incredible team,” said Cronenworth, who was a junior that season. “We only lost one game the whole year. It was just a special group of guys. We were all friends, we all played little league together. We’d all play street hockey and basketball together in the summers. It was a great way to cap off our childhood.”

That team featured 10 players who would go on to play college athletics. Two – Joel Seddon and Jared Tobey – joined Cronenworth and Motte as professional draft picks, as they were both selected in the MLB Draft. Another, Jeremy Carrell, is now the Detroit Tigers bullpen catcher.

Most of the players on the title team had been playing together since Little League, where they also had plenty of success, taking second in the state in 2006 before a handful of them came back and took third the next year. As they stayed together, the wins kept coming.

“I think at the time (2011), with that group of people, our eyes were on a state championship,” Motte said. “I was in more of a supporting role, because we had a lot of good baseball players. Just looking back, it was kind of crazy.

“Going through with those guys and how much fun we had in Little League really made the camaraderie we had in high school so much stronger. We had guys that really cared about each other, and that’s what made it really fun.”

The 2011 Division 2 Final was Motte’s final competitive baseball game, as after his sophomore year he joined the USA Hockey National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor. He had planned to continue playing baseball while going to school at Ann Arbor Pioneer, but said that it didn’t work out. 

“If there was a way to go out, that’s the way to do it,” he said.

Baseball was a big part of Motte’s athletic upbringing, just like hockey was a big part of Cronenworth’s. The two had played travel hockey together locally in Port Huron, and Cronenworth continued to play the sport through high school. By that time, baseball had started to look like his path forward, but he was still a star on the ice, winning the Macomb Area Conference Red MVP. 

“It was one of those things, I think Tyler wanted to play both in college, but it was a decision that we kind of had to make – I always wanted to play hockey,” Cronenworth said. “I think probably my sophomore year of high school, maybe freshman year when I got called up to the varsity in baseball, that was the turning point. But (hockey season) was huge. It just gave me a rest from baseball. When we were younger, yeah, you’re playing street hockey in the summer, but when it was baseball season, we played baseball, and when it was hockey season, we played hockey.”

Both went to University of Michigan to continue their academic and athletic careers and took winding professional paths before getting the opportunities they’re currently enjoying. 

Both already have been part of multiple pro organizations. Cronenworth was dealt to San Diego after beginning his career as a Tampa Bay Rays draft pick. Motte was a Chicago Blackhawks draft selection and after his first season was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets, who later sent him to Vancouver. 

But while they may both be out west now, their biggest fans remain in St. Clair – unless you count each other.

“I got to watch him play basically every single game besides,” Cronenworth said. “He had that game where he scored two short-handed goals, and I’m in my living room at 10:30 in the morning screaming at the TV. We have a group chat with the guys we played with in high school. We’re like one big family. We grew up together.”

Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Former high school teammates Jacob Cronenworth (left) and Tyler Motte meet up while Cronenworth plays minor league baseball for the Bowling Green Hot Rods in 2016. (Middle) Cronenworth shows his support for Motte during the latter’s time suiting up for USA Hockey. (Below) Cronenworth holds the trophy and Motte is bottom row, second from right, as St. Clair celebrates its 2011 Division 2 baseball championship. (Photos of Cronenworth and Motte together courtesy of Tyler Motte; head shots courtesy of and, respectively.)

Moggach Honored Nationally for 25 Years of 'Sticking In, Doing Good'

By Tim Robinson
Special for

March 17, 2023

When Paul Moggach began his tenure as Brighton’s hockey coach, the program was at its nadir.

“When we got into high school hockey, it wasn't very good,” he said recently. “Our league wasn't very good. Our team wasn't very good. We started with character to try to build something different, you know, a different mousetrap.”

Over the next quarter of a century, Moggach and his assistants, primarily Rick Bourbonais (whom Moggach succeeded as coach) and current coach Kurt Kivisto helped lift the program into one of the most respected, and successful, in the state. 

Moggach (pronounced MUG-uhth), along with former Detroit Catholic Central coach Gordon St. John, in February was named a co-recipient of the John Mariucci Award by the American Hockey Coaches Association.

They, along with Andy Weidenbach of Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, are the only Michigan coaches to have received the award, named after the longtime hockey coach at Michigan Tech. 

“He brought in people that he knew could do things he may have had limitations at,” said Kivisto, who played for Moggach at Brighton two decades ago and was an assistant for 10 years before taking over as head coach in 2020. “He did a good job surrounding himself with people he trusted and knew would be good for the program while he steered the ship in the direction he wanted. And he was very good at that.”

Moggach calls the honor “very humbling.

“​​I got into hockey because there was a need,” he added, “then I ended up with Rick at the high school for those years. When you look back at it, I grew a lot. I grew a lot personally and from a coaching perspective I grew. I had to change things, and so I think it's not so much the reward as at least a recognition that I stuck it out. My grandmother used to always tell me, ‘Stick in and do good.’ She would say that when I was on the way out the door. That was her message to me, and I think (the award) just emphasizes that I did, I did stick in.”

“You can’t be happier for a guy than for a guy like Paul,” said Bourbonais, who coached with Moggach at Brighton for a total of 30 years, the last 20 as an assistant. “He took a hockey team and made it into a hockey program that is a top-five contender every year. Guys come out of the program with championships, but they also come out with life lessons and some idea of what it takes to be a great citizen and a great student as well as what it takes to be a great athlete.” 

At first, though, there were trials. The Bulldogs struggled in his first two seasons, and the program itself was in jeopardy for a short while after a bench-clearing brawl.

Once that crisis passed, Moggach and his staff, which for many years consisted of Bourbonais, Mike Brown and Jason Valente, worked to rebuild the Bulldogs from a team known for its physicality to one with a more wide-open passing style of play. 

When hockey trends went to a more defensive style, where the defense sparked the offense, Moggach adapted. 

During the first decade of his tenure, as the Bulldogs had more success and built their reputation, teams that had shunned scheduling them in the past began adding Brighton to their schedules. 

He kept looking for ways to improve his team, both on and off the ice.

Brighton was the first team to schedule a game with those in the Keweenaw Peninsula, both for the keen competition, but also as a team-bonding exercise. 

The bus rides, about 11 hours each way, helped players who in many cases didn’t know each other outside the rink to bond. So did activities outside of hockey including team dinners and curling, and the experience of being together as a team for four days.

Other teams took notice, and team bonding trips, including those far shorter than the 550 miles from Brighton to Houghton, are commonplace.

Moggach stands with his former assistant and current Brighton head coach Kurt Kivisto. Soon after, he introduced a skating coach and stricter team nutrition to the program.

“It’s not something that we had done when I was in high school," said Kivisto, who graduated in 2003. “It was something that some of the families and players weren’t overly excited about, but he knew it was good for the team and he was always looking ahead and finding ways to give his team an advantage.”   

Brighton grew to dominate its league, and winning gave Moggach the authority to introduce concepts new to players and families who grew up in travel hockey.

“I'm sure we weren't pleasing everybody,” he said, “But we thought we would do with character and live the kind of model that we would hope that the players would follow, that their families would follow. And as we did that it changed and we got in front of some things with our league, and had a good run in our league.”

Brighton won its first Division 1 championship in 2006. That was followed by back-to-back Division 1 titles in 2012 and 2013, and then 2017 and 2018, a stretch that saw the Bulldogs reach the Finals in six out of seven seasons. 

“Some of that is when you learn how to win, you win, even sometimes when you shouldn't,” he said. “I'm not saying that you know when we got to the Finals that we didn't deserve to win. We had a good recipe there that got us those five wins, but once we got it rolling, that momentum kept us going sometimes then maybe it shouldn't have.”

As the program’s success and reputation grew, players who had been in travel hockey started opting to play for the Bulldogs. 

“There are some kids on (this year’s Brighton) team who came from Triple A who are tired of that commitment, because of the travel, the time, the money,” he said. “And they found that high school hockey is different. I mean just look at the crowds. They don't get that kind of a reward for the work that they put in. 

“I think it's developed to that point now for us and we get players like that and it's made a difference, I think, and not just for our team but for all of high school hockey, " Moggach continued. “The coaches association has done a great job in promoting now and so it is a great destination for so many good reasons for kids to spend that time and grow up with their friends who are in their neighborhoods and in their community.”

Moggach is still a fixture at Brighton games, still in close touch with Kivisto when not driving to see his grandsons play or his stepson, Damon Whitten, who coaches at Lake Superior State. 

His impact will be felt in Brighton hockey for years to come.

“He left no stone unturned to try and be the best he thought we could be,” Brighton athletic director John Thompson said. “He’s one of those people who was genuinely invested in young people, and he always, always put the program first. He was a good manager of young men and developed some pretty good coaches, too.”

Moggach finished with a record of 467-172-43. St. John, who won six state titles at Catholic Central and another at Cranbrook, had a record of 229-29-18 in 10 seasons at Catholic Central.

“I was excited for (Moggach) when I heard the news,” Kivisto said, “seeing him put at a level of the guys who have won the award and the contributions they made to high school hockey. It’s neat to see him recognized at that level.”

Both men will receive their awards sometime this spring. 

“I can be recognized,” Moggach said, “and I think kids are and their families are always looking for that. But I think before you do that you have to build the program, the program has to be something that's respectful and respected and competitive, and I think we accomplished that.”


Gordon St. John led Detroit Catholic Central and Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood to a combined eight Finals championships over 16 seasons, the last seven with the Shamrocks including five straight in Class A or Division 1 from 1999-2003.

Gordon St. JohnDCC’s Class A championship in 1994 was the first of now 17 Finals titles, which rank second-most in MHSAA history. He built a 222-29-18 record (.859 winning percentage) over 10 seasons leading the Shamrocks through 2003-04, the last two seasons as co-head coach before then staying with the program as an assistant and helping the team to another Division 1 championship in 2005.

St. John’s championship at Cranbrook came in 1988 in Class B-C-D.

PHOTOS (Top) Retired Brighton hockey coach Paul Moggach, far right, stands alongside his players as they await to receive their medals after winning the 2018 Division 1 championship (Middle) Moggach stands with his former assistant and current Brighton head coach Kurt Kivisto. (Middle photo by Tim Robinson; St. John photo courtesy of the American Hockey Coaches Association.)