Dedication Pays Off With Hartland Title

March 10, 2018

Second Half reports

PLYMOUTH — Josh Albring and Jake Behnke didn’t have to keep playing hockey for Hartland High School.

They were certainly good enough to go back to AAA travel programs, but they never bought into the notion that going that route is the only way to move on in the sport.

The reward for their loyalty to Hartland came Saturday when the senior centers led the Eagles to their first MHSAA championship after the program had come close each of the past six seasons.

Behnke scored two goals and Albring one in Hartland’s 4-2 victory over 14-time MHSAA champion Trenton in the Division 2 title game at USA Hockey Arena.

Behnke finished with five goals in Hartland’s two games this weekend at USA Hockey Arena, while Albring had a goal and four assists over the Semifinal and Final.

Albring was the first Hartland player to break free from the pile of players in the championship celebration. He headed for the team bench to exchange hugs with the coaching staff.

“I came here my sophomore year,” Albring said. “I had zero confidence in my game and where I was at. All the coaches on the bench I went and hugged today, they’re the only reason we’re here today and they’re the reason I’ll probably play hockey next year. They changed my love for the game, made it so much more fun, so much more enjoyable and easier to learn, too. Everything goes to them. They’re by far the best coaches I’ve ever had.”

It’s hard to believe a player like Albring lacked confidence, considering he made all-state as a sophomore and junior and likely will make it this season after scoring 10 goals and tallying 42 assists.

“He was the same size as a sophomore,” Hartland coach Rick Gadwa said. “He’s a big boy that’s got some puck skills and can play the hard part of the game. Josh didn’t get worse because he scored less goals this year. That guy decided that, as a player, if I’m going to play at the next level, I’m going to have to change my role. He leads our team in blocked shots; he probably leads the state in blocked shots. He doesn’t lose board battles. He’s going to be a guy who somebody is going to be lucky to have next year.”

Behnke, a second-team all-state pick last season, emerged as one of the top players in Michigan this winter. He finished with 35 goals and 21 assists.

“Jacob Behnke has proved, as well as some other guys, you can play high school hockey and still develop,” Gadwa said. “Jacob Behnke will play junior hockey. He, in my opinion, was the best player in the tournament thus far and will probably finish that way. He’s dominant. To watch where he was his sophomore year, he was always good, to watching him become elite is really a special thing to see. He worked his butt off every offseason and he got better every day from the first day he stepped on the ice.”

Trenton reached its 21st MHSAA championship game by defeating three teams ranked among the top six over five playoff games. The third-ranked Eagles proved to be too much, jumping out to a 4-0 lead after two periods and holding off a late charge by No. 5 Trenton.

“I don’t think anyone gave us much of a shot at the beginning of the year,” Trenton coach Chad Clements said. “To get here, I know all the guys wanted to win, but I was proud of their efforts. They proved a lot of people wrong this year. A couple bad mistakes by us early on, but they never quit battling. I wish it would’ve ended differently.”

Behnke scored the only goal of the first period with 6:58 left when he took a pass from Joey Larson and put a shot up high while falling to the ice.

The biggest period in Hartland hockey history was the second. The Eagles took control of the game by scoring three times in a 7:17 span.

Albring scored with 9:31 left in the period, Behnke scored with Hartland two men short with 3:11 left and Larson made it 4-0 with 2:14 to go.

Nolan Szczepaniak and Brandon Clark had power-play goals to get Trenton within two with 2:05 left in the third period, but the Trojans couldn’t get another puck past Hartland goalie Brett Tome. Tome finished with 27 saves.

“It was hard to battle back,” Clements said. “It just kept getting harder and harder, but they stuck with it. The third period we came out and their goalie played exceptionally well. We just couldn’t get enough past him.”

Trenton allowed only three goals over five playoff games before the Final. Hartland outscored six playoff rivals by a combined 48-4.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Hartland players celebrate their first MHSAA championship Saturday at USA Hockey Arena. (Middle) The Eagles push a goal past Trenton into the back of the net. 

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.)