Brighton Coach's Impact 'Immeasurable'
By Tim Robinson
Special for MHSAA.com
October 7, 2020
Paul Moggach has never been much for looking back.
And as he begins his first season away from the Brighton hockey program in more than three decades, he’s still looking ahead.
“I’m thinking about what I’m going to miss more than the mark I left,” he said in a phone conversation last week. “I guess I enjoyed so much of the time I had, the opportunity to coach at Brighton, I’m thinking more how I fill the time and the things I'll miss.”
Moggach (pronounced MUG-uth) retired as Brighton’s coach this past summer after 25 seasons and having led five teams to MHSAA Division 1 championships. He compiled a record of 466-172-47 during that period.
But that’s not what he remembers most, nor why he wants people to remember him.
“I would like them to remember the teams and players who played for me and my assistants, more than me,” Moggach said. “We have so many blessings and opportunities in our lives, and hockey was one for me and hopefully for the players and assistants I worked with.”
One of those assistants was Kurt Kivisto, who joined the Bulldogs originally as a team manager more than 20 years ago and was a player at Brighton. He eventually won a national championship at Michigan State before rejoining the program as an assistant coach a decade ago.
“The No. 1 thing I’ll take from him is sticking by your beliefs and not sacrificing those beliefs for the team,” said Kivisto, who was named Moggach’s successor in September. “He sticks by those beliefs and ... he’s not willing to sacrifice that even if it could hurt the team. The character and integrity he has, how he treats people with fairness and what he believes is right is the biggest thing I’ll take.”
A stepson, Damon Whitten, played for Moggach at Brighton and at MSU before becoming an assistant coach and eventually the head coach at Lake Superior State, where he is in his eighth season.
Asked about Moggach’s impact at Brighton, Whitten said, “I’m not sure you can measure it. Your mind goes to the hockey players who have come to Brighton, and that’s a big part. But I think it goes beyond that. The money they’ve raised over the years for different families in need, for example. He’s had a big impact, and the players he had were a big part of that, but it goes well beyond that, and he did it the right way. Thirty-plus years (in the program), and I’m not sure you can count more than a handful of times where he made a bad decision or handled things poorly. He did things the right way, every day, all of the time, and I think it’s why he was so successful for so long.”
The team’s charitable works were mostly kept under the radar – Moggach’s reasoning being his players had been given much, it was their turn to give back, and he didn’t want people thinking they did those things for publicity.
Moggach joined Rick Bourbonais as an assistant at Brighton in the mid-1980s, then switched roles with him for the 1996-97 season.
He realized Brighton’s potential in the 1992-93 season, when the Bulldogs upset perennial state power Trenton in the Class A Quarterfinals before losing to Detroit Catholic Central in a Semifinal.
“That, to me, said, at least in my mind, that we can do this,” Moggach said. “It’s not impossible.”
He slowly began to build the program, getting good players and a schedule that would challenge them.
“You get the players by building a good culture,” he said. “Back in the day, when I started, we weren’t very disciplined and our league wasn’t very disciplined. So I think we realized we had to build that, and I could have an influence on building that in Brighton.”
Along with the culture, Moggach looked for an edge whenever he could find it. He was talked into making a trip to the Keweenaw Peninsula by one of his player’s parents, and found enormous benefits for his team, both competitively and in team bonding.
“It’s a lot about the little things we do,” he said, “that we find joy in, and create those opportunities. Creating the little moments really can build to bigger moments. We played capture the flag one day in about two feet of snow.
“Almost killed them,” he added, chuckling. The exhausted players didn’t have much left for the game that night, but spending time together for four days in a bus and hotel room always brought the team closer on and off the ice.
That first UP expedition also led to more teams making the trip, for team bonding and a glimpse of a part of the state, and themselves, they might never have seen otherwise.
“We didn’t do that for long,” he said. “But we always came back saying we were better together because of that experience.”
Bob Nelson had three sons play for Moggach, and Nelson’s wife, Kris, was president of the team’s booster club during their involvement over nearly a decade in Brighton hockey. Nelson also coached the program’s younger players for five seasons.
“We got to know the Moggachs really well,” he said. “It was a good experience, both as a coach and as a parent as well.”
Moggach introduced other things, including an emphasis on nutrition and off-ice training, that players resisted at first until they saw the benefits.
He savored conversations with referees and opposing coaches before the games and even the occasional reporter after games.
But his first priority was the players. At times he would erupt in practice at a player or, more commonly, the team, and the boys soon learned to hear the message, not the volume. But for a couple of seasons, they also wrote some of his wilder statements down in a notebook after practice.
One year, they read some of them at the banquet, and after each one, Moggach’s wife, Sharon, would look at him and ask, “Did you really say that?”
Moggach would laugh and confess to remembering he had actually done so, then laughing.
“He knew part of what made the program good was his relationship to the players,” Nelson said. “If it was a good time, he wanted to enjoy it, even at his own expense at times.”
Moggach has staying in the background this offseason, letting Kivisto shape the team.
Asked if he were willing to fully switch coaching roles, as he and Bourbonais did a quarter-century ago, Moggach laughed.
“No,” he said emphatically. “Rick wasn’t in his 70s when we made the switch. Kurt needs his time. I’ll be there if he needs me.”
Moggach, who is 74, still works fulltime as the University of Michigan’s director of risk management.
He plans to spend more time with his wife and watch his grandsons play hockey, as well as catching some Lake Superior State games.
“I was really blessed to have Rick and Brownie (longtime assistant Mike Brown) along for the ride, and then to get Kurt involved,” Moggach said. “They weren’t the only ones, but they were the kids for me.
“The other thing is the support from the Brighton (High School) administration, the teachers, and our community. There are more people to thank than I could ever bring up. I do think that, all together, it was a great run. It couldn’t have been any better.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Recently-retired Brighton hockey coach Paul Moggach celebrates the 2018 Division 1 championship game win over Saginaw Heritage at USA Hockey Arena. (Middle) Former player Kurt Kivisto, left of Moggach during the 2018 Semifinal win over Detroit Catholic Central, served as an assistant before assuming the head coaching job in September. (Below) Brighton's 2018 championship was its fifth under Moggach. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
Moggach Honored Nationally for 25 Years of 'Sticking In, Doing Good'
By Tim Robinson
Special for MHSAA.com
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.
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.
DCC’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.)