After Waiting His Turn, Goalie Plays Lead Role In Latest DCC Finals Win

March 9, 2024

PLYMOUTH — At any point, Mathieu Chernauckas could have looked for a way out.

As a junior at Detroit Catholic Central, he was still a goaltender on the junior varsity hockey team, separated from the glory that comes with being on the perennial MHSAA championship varsity squad.

There were no guarantees he would ever play on the varsity, let alone see much ice time.

But he kept plugging away, first by making the varsity this winter, then by winning a three-man battle for the starting position.

His patience and determination paid off Saturday night when he stopped all 25 shots he faced in a 2-0 victory over Brighton in the MHSAA Division 1 Final at USA Hockey Arena.

“I just love a story like that, because he didn’t get anything given to him as a freshman,” Catholic Central coach Brandon Kaleniecki said. “He had to wait three years just to have a chance to be on the team. With the world we live in, with the transfer portal and everybody in a rush, he had to bide his time. You love the persistence and you love to see a guy like that get rewarded. The guys loved him. You could see how excited they were for him. That tells me a lot.”

Chernauckas was in a goaltending rotation early in the season with juniors Joe Bedells and Bobby Brandt before seizing the starting job by midseason.

He finished the season with a 21-1 record, a 1.19 goals against average and a .937 save percentage.

The Shamrocks' Cael Rogowski (8) maintains possession despite a challenge from Brighton's Freddie Londo (17).“It was the most fun hockey season of my life,” Chernauckas said. “I couldn’t ask for anything more.

“It was difficult (at first). I wasn’t going to start the first couple games. I got my chance. I took advantage of it, and I went from there.”

It was the fifth-straight MHSAA Finals championship for the Shamrocks and the third in a row defeating Brighton in the title game.

There have been Finals in which it didn’t seem to matter who was between the pipes for Catholic Central, which dominated puck possession more often than not. But this was an even battle against a perennial Division 1 contender, one in which the Shamrocks held a slim 28-25 advantage in shots.

They needed Chernauckas to be strong in net to secure this one.

“The big crowd, the atmosphere, those big guns they have are always dangerous and they created some chances,” Kaleniecki said. “He had to make some big saves. We had to block some shots. We had to gut it out. There’s some years we’ve been in control and have the puck in the offensive zone. That wasn’t the case this year. That’s a lot of credit to them. It was also credit to our guys to kind of have to find a way to win it. It wasn’t just steamroll over an opponent. We had to gut it out.”

Brooks Rogowski leads a DCC rush.The Shamrocks opened the scoring at 10:56 of the first period when Joseph Curtin buried a shot from the top of the right circle on the power play.

It remained 1-0 until Cael Rogowski pounced on a turnover in front of the Brighton net, took a shot, then knocked in his rebound with 13:45 left in the game.

The Shamrocks not only tied their own record of five straight MHSAA championships won from 1999-2003, they extended their streak of victories against in-state competition to 54 and their MHSAA Tournament winning streak to 30 games.

The last team to beat Catholic Central in the postseason was Brighton in the 2018 Semifinals.

Brighton has had the misfortune of running into the Shamrocks during one of their peak dynasty runs.

“Our seniors were unbelievable, not just this year, but their whole careers,” Brighton coach Kurt Kivisto said. “I’m real proud of the work they put in, their leadership, their dedication to the program. I’m just proud of what they accomplished. We didn’t get the state championship today, but it’s just a tremendous group of young men.”

Levi Pennala, who has started the last three Division 1 Finals, made 26 saves for Brighton.

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PHOTOS (Top) DCC's Mathieu Chernauckas makes a stop during his shutout Saturday. (Middle) The Shamrocks' Cael Rogowski (8) maintains possession despite a challenge from Brighton's Freddie Londo (17). (Below) Brooks Rogowski leads a DCC rush. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)