Hancock Finishes Long Trip as Champion
April 14, 2016
By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
As the Hancock hockey team bus rolled into town to end last month’s Division 3 championship run, coach Dan Rouleau warned his players that the celebration was just getting started.
“I told these kids on the bus coming home, they were going to be rock stars over the next month,” he recalled Thursday. “And they certainly are.”
That’ll happen when a hockey-crazed community earns its first MHSAA title since 1999, along the way beating 17-time champion Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood 2-1 in overtime in the Semifinal and four-time finalist Grand Rapids Catholic Central 4-2 in the championship game.
And despite the Bulldogs’ No. 2 ranking heading into the postseason, the run was made all the more incredible considering Hancock, with 262 students, had the lowest enrollment of among hockey schools in Michigan this winter and was paced by two underclassmen leading scorers and a sophomore goaltender.
“I told the guys before the season started that we’ve got a chance to do something special. I really felt like we had the chance to do this,” said Rouleau, who was an assistant for the 1999 team that won the Class B-C-D title. “When we were looking at who was coming back for the other teams, when we got to the Quarterfinals we told (our team) there are seven teams that could beat you guys, and seven that you could beat. It was that close.”
The Bulldogs are the Applebee’s Team of the Month for March after finishing the run as the best of that final eight, but also with a school-record 24 wins to go with only six losses – four decided in overtime and the other two by only one goal apiece.
Seniors Jack Fenton and Dylan Paavola made the Division 3 all-state first and seconds teams, respectively, bringing a veteran presence to the group of blueliners. But behind them, all-state goalie Dawson Kero was only a sophomore. Sophomore right wing Teddy Rendell was the team’s leading scorer with 24 goals and 36 assists, making the all-state first team, and freshman left wing Alex Nordstrom made the second team with 33 goals and 26 assists. (They were centered by senior Danny Hill, who joined Fenton and Paavola as captains.)
But on-ice dominance was only part of what made Hancock’s run so memorable. Here’s some of the rest:
Hancock, just over the Portage Lake Bridge on the Upper Peninsula’s Keweenaw Peninsula, is one of Michigan’s northernmost towns – and located 540 miles from USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, home of the MHSAA Finals. Hancock also is 100 miles from Marquette, where it faced Sault Ste. Marie in a Quarterfinal on March 9, two days before it would take on the Cranes in their Semifinal.
First-year athletic director Steve Aho knew if his team won Tuesday in Marquette, it wouldn’t return home but would keep going all the way to Plymouth – so he was charged with planning for a potential five days of hotels, transportation, meals and more. He also started on plans for a fan bus that would bring students to the championship game if Hancock won the Semifinal that Thursday.
Neither trip would come cheap, of course. But that’s where Hancock’s wide-reaching web of supporters stepped in.
Teams making the long trip downstate frequently fund-raise to offset costs, Aho said. In this case the Bulldogs decided to try a GoFundMe crowd-funding web page, asking for $6,000 to combine with what the MHSAA gives teams for travel.
Aho had the team’s seniors write their story before the Quarterfinal, so the request would be in their voice and from their perspective. He published it immediately after the Bulldogs beat Sault Ste. Marie – and by Wednesday, $3,000 had been raised with funds coming in from alumni spread all over the Midwest and beyond. Within two days, the $6,000 was raised, which when combined with funds from the MHSAA paid for the trip.
Rouleau said as the bus traveled south, his players watched the donations come in on their phones – and also the inspirational messages left by alums, including the Chicago Blackhawks’ Tanner Kero. “These guys knew they were involved in something special at that point,” Rouleau said.
Meanwhile, the school’s athletic boosters paid for most of a fan bus that was filled with 51 (for 53 seats) who made the trip to root on the Bulldogs – then got right back on the bus for the long trip home.
But what a trip back it was for the team. A Marquette County Sheriff’s deputy escorted the bus through that county, then passing the Bulldogs off to a Baraga County deputy. From Munising homeward (about 150 miles) the parade continued to grow until it swelled to roughly 40 rescue vehicles followed by fan vehicles for another mile (see the long line arriving in town on the video below).
It was a trip none of the players or coaches will forget. Rouleau had enjoyed the 1999 championship with his son and nephew on the team, but this run certainly rivals if not surpasses the first – not only is Rouleau now the head coach, but he also was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease six years ago and was hoping he’d have another opportunity to take a team downstate before his health would make him step down.
With the players Hancock should bring back next season, his team's next trip to Plymouth might come after a much shorter wait.
Past Teams of the Month, 2015-16:
February: Petoskey boys skiing – Report
January: Spring Lake boys swimming & diving – Report
December: Saginaw Heritage girls basketball – Report
November: Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard volleyball – Report
October: Benton Harbor football – Report
September: Mason and Okemos boys soccer – Report
PHOTOS: (Top) Hancock players celebrate after their Division 3 Final win over Grand Rapids Catholic Central last month. (Middle) The Bulldogs turn to salute fans who also made the 500-mile trip to USA Hockey Arena.
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.)