Hancock Finishes Long Trip on Top of D3

March 12, 2016

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half

PLYMOUTH — The stage was big, the lights were bright, but no bigger or brighter for Hancock freshman Alex Nordstrom than for his older teammates.

Many of Hancock's players weren't born the last time the Bulldogs skated in an MHSAA championship hockey game back in 2000.

So, competing for the Division 3 title on Saturday was a foreign experience for all of the Bulldogs, from the oldest to the youngest.

Nordstrom certainly didn't perform like a nervous freshman, following up his Semifinal overtime heroics by scoring two goals in Hancock's 4-2 victory over Grand Rapids Catholic Central before 1,154 fans at USA Hockey Arena.

Pressure? What pressure? 

In Hancock's biggest games, Nordstrom produced with the poise of a veteran. He had two goals and one assist in a 5-2 Quarterfinal victory over Sault Ste. Marie, scored the overtime winner in the Semifinal against Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, then had another two-goal, one-assist performance in the title game. 

"I kind of just focused and told my brain it's another game," Nordstrom said. "Just go out there and do what I do; just play."

In 30 games, he tallied 33 goals and 26 assists to finish second in team scoring to sophomore linemate Teddy Rendell.

"He was a key part of this puzzle," Hancock coach Dan Rouleau said of Nordstrom. "The kid was our second-leading scorer this year. He had great chemistry with a sophomore on his line. The kids were our top two scorers this year. It bodes well for the future of this team."

So, maybe Hancock won't have to wait 17 years for its next MHSAA championship. Although the Bulldogs have had a strong program for decades, their only title came in 1999 when they beat Big Rapids, 7-3, in the Class B Final. They lost to Cranbrook in the 2000 title game.

The team's goaltender, Dawson Kero, is only a sophomore. Kero made 20 saves.

The Bulldogs (24-6) won the championship not only for their own school, but for the Upper Peninsula as a whole. U.P. teams had gone 0-5 in MHSAA Finals since Marquette (Division 1) and Calumet (Division 3) won titles in 2008.

"Usually when a team from the U.P. comes down, you have the whole Upper Peninsula-backing mentality up there," Rouleau said. "It's really cool. We're a little isolated up there, but we've got some good hockey players up there, I'll tell you that."

Even bitter rivals become supporters when U.P. pride is at stake downstate.

"There might be a couple kids or parents who do not, but I think we got about 95 percent who are backing us," Rouleau said.

It looked like Hancock would run the Cougars out of the rink after one period, as the Bulldogs jumped out to a 3-0 lead and had a 17-8 advantage in shots on goal.

Jack Fenton scored at 7:17 of the first period to open the scoring, then Nordstrom made it 2-0 at 10:05.

A potential back-breaker came with 18.2 seconds left in the period when Danny Hill buried a two-on-one pass from Nordstrom for a shorthanded goal to make it 3-0.

"Obviously, in any hockey game you want to get out to the quick start," Rouleau said. "That was our game plan for here today. To get a three-goal lead was huge, because it turned out to be the difference."

But the Cougars weren't at or near the top of the rankings all season because they're pushovers. They got on the board at 8:41 of the second period when a shot by Ethan Tellier made it under the crossbar. Catholic Central cut the lead to 3-2 on Chase Madden's power-play goal at 12:24 of the second.

Despite being outshot 30-16 through two periods, the Cougars were back in the game.

"Obviously, a disappointing start for us," Catholic Central coach Mike Slobodnik said. "We got overwhelmed. A lot of credit goes to them. They just really came out and pressed. We didn't have the start we wanted, being down 3-0. We came in between the first and second period and talked about how we've got to be better than that. We didn't change anything. We didn't feel it was a system thing. We had to work harder. We had to be better in certain areas of the ice. In the second period, we did that. We lost to a great hockey team, too, that's for sure."

The Cougars stayed in the game throughout the third period, thanks to some stellar netminding from junior Jacob McClelland.

With Hancock trying to get a two-goal cushion, McClelland made three saves in a row while playing without a stick with just under five minutes remaining. McClelland finished with 37 saves. 

"He was great," Slobodnik said. "Jacob's a great goaltender. He's a great kid. He has over a four-point GPA. He's one of those guys on our team who understands the core values of what it means to be a Catholic Central hockey player."

Hancock's biggest scare came with 7:58 left in the game when Kero made a save and ended up on his back, not appearing to know the location of the puck. After the Cougars got a whack or two trying to get the puck loose, the whistle stopped play. 

The Bulldogs could breathe a little easier after Nordstrom took a pass from Rendell and scored into an empty net with 57.4 seconds remaining. Even then, some of the Hancock players weren't taking anything for granted.

"Me and Jack (Fenton) and Danny (Hill) try to pound into the younger kids' heads that we have to keep going hard, not ever giving up," Hancock senior captain Dylan Paavola said. "That's when comebacks happen. We don't want any of that, because we haven't won a state championship. We didn't want to screw this one up, I guess you could say. I could say I felt comfortable with 3.6 seconds left." 

Hancock players praised their fans, many of whom got on a bus in the middle of the night to make the nine-hour trek to Plymouth for the championship game.

"It's nice to bring back a state championship for all these fans," Nordstrom said. "They drove down today at 3 in the morning to come watch us. It's nice to bring back a state championship for them." 

A Go Fund Me page to help pay for Hancock's trip to Plymouth raised $6,620 from 99 donors in two days.

"It's awesome to see the support of the whole community," Fenton said. "Not just the school, but you see people from all over the country supporting us, alumni coming together and supporting us in our run to achieve this goal, the one goal everyone has to get this state championship." 

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Hancock players begin to celebrate during Saturday’s Division 3 championship victory. (Middle) Grand Rapids Catholic Central’s Andrew Holland (5) works to keep control of the puck in front of a Hancock pursuer. (Click for more from Andrew Knapik.)

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.

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.)