Alpena Goalie Surges to Statewide Stardom

January 4, 2019

By Chris Dobrowolski
Special for Second Half

ALPENA — Cooper Black has saved his best for last.

It’s just among the many saves Alpena’s goalie has made so far during his senior season with the Wildcats’ ice hockey team.

Not only has Black emerged as Alpena’s top goaltender this year, after sharing the role a year ago, but he has put his name alongside the top goalies in the state. He’s No. 1 in the state in save percentage (.963), fourth in goals against average (0.90) and tied for fifth in wins (8) according to MI Hockey Hub as Alpena has surged to a 9-2-1 record.

“He’s been playing great, and that’s been a key to our success,” said Alpena head coach Chris Limback. “I always knew he had the talent. It was just a matter of putting it together and for him to realize it. He started to make some big saves, and his confidence grew. Then he became the goalie I always thought he could be.”

Black asserted himself as the Wildcats’ top netminder from the opening game this season and became irreplaceable as the starter as he built a scoreless streak of 258 minutes, 25 seconds to begin the year, including shutouts in five straight games.

“Coach gave me the first start, and I had a good game,” said Black. “That was just a confidence builder, and from there it just took off. It was really something special. I don’t think that (five straight shutouts) has happened here for quite a while. I definitely had some help from my teammates, obviously. They’re getting it done and playing good defense for me.”

Black admits not having confidence was an issue for him last year. That began to change in the offseason when he received some extra work with a goalie coach, then tried out and earned a roster spot in the Michigan Development Hockey League — a collection of six teams that play from August until October and feature some of the top players from around the state.

“He played in that, and he gained a lot of confidence there,” said Limback. “He realized, ‘Hey, I can play with the best kids in the state.’ He looks so in control of the game. I think it’s all confidence. He finally believes in himself. He’s using his size to his advantage. He’s playing like a confident goalie instead of playing afraid.”

Black didn’t know if he would be selected to play in the MDHL out of the dozens of goalies who tried out, but he showcased his ability at the right time to get picked for a team and ultimately helped the squad he was playing for reach the semifinals of the league’s postseason playoffs.

“It was definitely something that helped me develop as a player,” said Black. “If anyone got a chance to go play in it, I would suggest they do it. It’s something where you get a lot of exposure and you get to play against the best players in the state. It’s a really good league. I was just stoked to be there.”

A dominant goalie can go a long way in hockey, and Alpena has certainly reaped the benefits of having the 6-foot-2, 163-pound Black standing between the pipes.

“You know you have a chance to win every game,” said Limback. “Even if your (defense) or your forwards aren’t having a great game, you know he’s always back there in case you make an error. It’s a great feeling for our team to have.”

Black is one of nine seniors on a veteran Alpena team. Owen Limback and Anthony Berg anchor the defense, while Colby Plowman and Kyle VanDusen are the top producers on offense for the Wildcats, who were 15-7-3 last season.

“We have seniors in all the key positions,” said Chris Limback. “It’s an older team. It’s a group of kids I’ve had for many years, through minor hockey and all the way through.”

That experienced group won its first seven contests of the season and has not been shy about facing some of the elite teams in the state. In fact, the Wildcats snapped reigning Division 3 champion Detroit Country Day’s 27-game winning streak with a 1-1 draw at the Division 3 Showcase in Gaylord last month. That game created quite the pregame buzz as it matched Black against the state’s reigning Mr. Hockey in Country Day goalie Sam Evola. 

Country Day appeared to be on its way to a 28th straight win until VanDusen netted a goal in the final second.

“It was really good game,” said Black. “I think Sam made a really good save 20 seconds in. He was aggressive and made a really good save to keep the score 0-0. They squeezed one by me from the point. It took a couple of bounces, and I got too impatient and it just slipped by me. Our whole line at the end made a great play — Kyle just got a one-timer and put it perfectly. Sam, there wasn’t much he could do. I thought he played pretty well in that game. I was definitely a little more motivated. I wanted to win that game so bad. That was definitely the highlight of the season so far.”

Black is hoping there are more highlights to come. He believes the Wildcats have what it takes to win the Big North Conference and make a deep run in the postseason. And, if he continues playing like he has this season, there is likely to be some junior-level teams seeking a player of his caliber to play in goal.

“He’s a great kid,” said Chris Limback. “Smart academically and a fun kid to coach. It’s nice to see that doors are opening up for him. Now he’ll have some options to go for juniors and keep pursuing his dream of playing college hockey.”

Chris Dobrowolski has covered northern Lower Peninsula sports since 1999 at the Ogemaw County Herald, Alpena News, Traverse City Record-Eagle and currently as sports editor at the Antrim Kalkaska Review since 2016. He can be reached at with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Alpena goalie Cooper Black guards the net during the Wildcats’ game against Macomb Dakota earlier this season. (Middle) Black ranks among the top goalies in the state in his first season as the team’s fulltime starter. (Photos courtesy of Black family.)

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.)