Fischer Never Far From Brother, Bulldogs
February 6, 2015
By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Connor Fischer couldn’t imagine a better design. He immediately knew his brother Ryan would have loved the jerseys Grandville’s hockey team will wear Saturday against top-ranked Detroit Catholic Central.
The Grandville “G” on the front is patterned after Captain America’s shield, with the American flag trimming the bottom and stars and stripes on the shoulders.
There’s definitely a superhero quality to the sweater, fitting for a game played to remember Ryan, who died unexpectedly in his sleep 11 months ago the night before Grandville took on DCC in an MHSAA Semifinal. He had a heroic make-up; Ryan was truly an all-American kid, set to begin at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in the fall, who excelled in class, on the ice and football field and was gifted with a big-picture understanding and personality that drew others to him.
Connor sees his brother a little simpler – just a great guy with a goofy laugh, who like Connor clicked his heels when he walked. But to his younger brother, Ryan continues to mean so much more.
“Growing up … I realized I wanted to be like Ryan. I strived to be like him. He was my building block, my stepping stone,” Connor said. “People who knew Ryan, know Ryan and I are different in a lot of ways. Undoubtedly there are a lot of similarities, and if people are able to compare me to him in any way it’s the greatest compliment I could receive. Because that’s how I want to be. Who better to be like than Ryan Fischer?”
The “Captain America” comparisons used to get on Connor’s nerves a bit, but now he sees those comparisons as positive – ways others help his brother live on – just like he and the Bulldogs will this weekend when they play to help raise money for a pair of scholarships in Ryan’s name.
Grandville will face Detroit Catholic Central at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Van Andel Arena, home of the Grand Rapids Griffins, a minor league affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings. Tickets cost $15, with a portion of proceeds donated to the scholarship fund that bears Fischer’s name, and one ticket gets fans into both the high school game and the Griffins’ game against the Rochester Americans at 7 p.m.
Grandville has a mighty following. The Bulldogs have drawn crowds as large as 1,400 this season – but they’re hoping for more than twice that many fans as they recall both a painful memory and a beautiful friendship formed with Fischer’s untimely passing.
Fischer was a co-captain of last season’s team and a leader in various capacities – he served four years on Grandville’s student government executive board and was a member of the MHSAA’s Student Advisory Council, among other duties. A senior forward, he played a main role in helping the Bulldogs to their first MHSAA Semifinal since 2001.
Fischer never woke the morning of March 7, an examination showing he died from an enlarged heart. At the urging of his parents, Scott and Roni, Grandville did face DCC that night. The Shamrocks won 3-0, and in one of the most memorable gestures of sportsmanship in many people’s memories, skated to surround the Bulldogs as they knelt after in front of their net while fans pointed both index fingers into the air to symbolize Fisher’s number 11. (See video below.)
Connor, then a freshman, was not on varsity last season; he is the only sophomore on Grandville’s top team this winter. He didn’t see last year’s game – but the significance of Saturday’s rematch is not lost on him.
“The first thing that went through my mind is DCC is a great hockey team, the best in the state. It’s a great chance to go out there, play a high level of hockey, play great competition,” Connor Fischer said. “But look past that, they’re people from across the state that really do care. They see something bigger than a hockey game, just as I do, just as my family does and the whole team does.”
The Fischers were not a hockey family until Ryan, at 3 or 4, saw a hockey game and thought it was “the coolest thing ever,” Connor said. Soon Ryan and Scott were building rinks in the yard every winter, and when he was about 4, Connor joined his brother on the ice.
Their friendship was rooted as much in lemonade stands and playing Star Wars in the backyard as in sports. But athletics definitely provide a strong family tie. Older sister Kelsea is a sophomore gymnast for Division III power University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Ryan also was a captain of Grandville’s football team, and Connor plays the same sports as his brother and has taken up lacrosse in advance of this spring’s season.
As younger kids, Connor was a tattle-tale. Ryan would get mad at him. “But when I was in middle school and he was a freshman, he realized I would be the only brother he was going to have. I’m beyond thankful for that, beyond thankful he realized that at such a young age,” Connor said.
“When he was with his friends, he’d say, ‘This is Connor. He’s the coolest brother ever.’ … It made me feel special, just like he always made everyone feel special.”
In Connor’s words, Ryan was a little bit more personable, Connor is more conservative but laid-back.
But they shared a similar way of thinking. Connor lives situations now that Ryan did a few years ago, and without always knowing for sure, he’s pretty sure Ryan handled them in similar ways.
Ryan’s death has made Connor grow to be much older than his 16 years. Like Ryan, Connor has early thoughts of following his parents into the military – both did ROTC at Michigan State University and were officers in the U.S. Army, and Connor is considering a similar route. But he feels no expectations to be Ryan, only to grow as himself.
“His maturity is well beyond his years, and he’s absolutely sincere in everything he does with it,” Scott Fischer said. “He’s had his own legacy, his own path, as much as he’ll always support the legacy of his brother.”
Among those Connor leans on are friends who are more like family. Grandville hockey coach Joel Breazeale lives just down the road, and the Fischers and Breazeale’s three sons have been friends since most of their lives.
The hockey team has become an extended family as well. Breazeale has coached nearly 30 years, and experienced losses of players from other teams. He’s watched as certain trigger points this season have brought raw emotions rushing back. But he’s also seen something like he’s never experienced with others he’s coached – a bond so strong that the competitive juices that might rule a locker room have been replaced by tolerance and understanding of each other’s personalities that point to the former teammate whose influence remains strong.
“It’s through the grace of Ryan and what all of these boys have shared,” Breazeale said. “They embrace each other, embrace the challenges they’ve faced together, and they move forward. They take on challenges with another perspective. They’ve just grown tighter, and those traits were synonymous with Ryan.”
Always with us
Saturday’s game will be one of the final scheduled fundraisers for the Fischer scholarships, which will be given annually. Response has been tremendous and allowed for two awards – the original, which will go to a hockey player from the Ottawa Kent Conference this year and be expanded for players statewide in 2016, and a second for a Grandville High School senior. Both are for $2,500, and Scott hopes that as the fund grows, the scholarships also will grow to keep pace with increases in cost for higher education.
The hockey community has played a huge part. Grand Rapids Catholic Central coach Mike Slobodnik and former longtime East Kentwood coach Ron Baum piloted the scholarship foundation. When Breazeale mentioned the possibility of playing Saturday’s game at Van Andel, the Griffins’ management jumped at the opportunity to help and will open up ticket sales at the gate to give fans plenty of opportunity to attend.
There was never a doubt who Grandville hoped to play – from competitive and personal standpoints. The Bulldogs are 14-2-2 and ranked No. 8 in Division 1, with a chance to see how they match up with Regionals a month away.
“This made so much sense,” Breazeale said. “This is a big deal, that DCC made this investment to play Forest Hills Central (tonight) and then play us, and we appreciated that. Obviously our program has come a long way in the past 4-5 years, and for us to have become as competitive as we have been, it’s a nice acknowledgement that we’re moving into that realm. … No matter how the score ends up, it’s big for our program.”
A plaque commemorating Ryan was placed in Grandville’s football locker room this fall, near the door to the field. A similar smaller plaque hangs in Grandville’s hockey locker room at Georgetown Ice Arena; Connor and Thomas Breazeale are the last to hit the ice every day and always make sure to give it a glance.
Connor was ill at the start of this week, his temperature reaching 103 degrees. There was no way, he said Wednesday night, he wouldn’t get on the ice for at least a few seconds Saturday. But that’s it as far as personal goals for what will be a titanic matchup for his team.
“I don’t want to score a goal in his honor, nothing like that,” Fischer said. “Ryan always looked at the team before himself. There’s no better way to honor him than to help to win that game.”
Connor can’t say that it feels like this year has gone by quickly or slowly. He’s not sure how to describe it. The little things spin his mind to his brother – saying the pledge of allegiance, going past his old stall in the hockey locker room, or seeing the clock read 11:11.
He admits he was a little scared joining the varsity hockey team this winter, entering that locker room for the first time. But his teammates embraced him, and he embraced them. And Ryan’s No. 11 jersey hangs in Georgetown’s rafters, another reminder to all of them he isn’t far from their hearts.
“It’s the same coach, the same players. I feel like he’s never gone,” Connor said. “He’s never going to be gone.
"It’s amazing to know that.”
Click to order tickets for Saturday’s Grandville/Detroit Catholic Central game and enter the promo code FISCHER. Also, click for more information on the Ryan Fischer Legacy Scholarship.
PHOTOS: (Top) Connor Fischer taps a plaque commemorating his brother Ryan before a junior varsity football game in the fall. (Middle) The jerseys Grandville will wear Saturday include a number of patriotic symbols including trim of the American flag. (Below) Clockwise from left, Connor Fischer, Ryan Fischer and sister Kelsea Fischer. (Bottom) Ryan Fischer was a captain for Grandville's varsity hockey team last season. (Photos courtesy of the Fischer family.)
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.)