Heritage Rises to Top of New Division
February 10, 2016
By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half
SAGINAW TOWNSHIP — Conventional wisdom suggests that Saginaw Heritage received an easier path to an MHSAA hockey championship with its drop from Division 2 to Division 3 this season.
While competing against smaller schools might improve a team's championship hopes in other sports, that scenario doesn't apply to hockey.
All three divisions in the MHSAA Tournament are loaded with traditional powerhouses. The big schools in Division 1, headlined by Detroit Catholic Central, obviously have strength in sheer numbers. In Division 2, Trenton and Birmingham Brother Rice hold their own against anybody year in and year out. Down in Division 3, the road to an MHSAA championship features formidable roadblocks in the form of non-public school heavyweights like Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood and any team strong enough to survive a brutal Upper Peninsula Regional.
So, it's pretty much a case of picking your poison.
"I don't think it matters what division you're in," Heritage coach J.J. Bamberger said. "We saw we were in Division 3, and it doesn't matter. Our first-round game against Flint Powers isn't anything different than us being in our first game against Midland High or Midland Dow the last few years. It's not like it gets any easier in any division you're in. In Division 1, 2 or 3, there are a lot of good teams. Hancock, the Division 3 No. 4 team, just beat the No. 1 team in Division 2. It's not any easier wherever you are."
What seemed like a break for Heritage quickly changed when the opening-round pairings were drawn. Right off the bat, the Hawks will face one of the premier Division 3 programs in the state in Flint Powers Catholic at 6 p.m. Feb. 29 at Saginaw-Bay Ice Arena, the Hawks' home rink. Powers has been in the Quarterfinals 14 times in 16 years of Division 3 play, winning a record 32 Regional championships since the MHSAA began sponsoring a hockey tournament in 1974-75.
It will be Heritage's first postseason game in Division 3 after being a Division 2 squad ever since the MHSAA went to a divisional format in 2000. Heritage has made the Quarterfinals six times in Division 2, reaching the Semifinals three times.
Having home-ice advantage against Powers will be a boost for the Hawks, though they may not need one. They have already made a statement to the rest of Division 3, going into Powers' home arena on Feb. 2 and skating off with a decisive 5-2 victory over a team that was riding a 12-game unbeaten streak and No. 2 ranking in Division 3 at the time.
"They're pretty deep," Powers coach Travis Perry said. "Their top line has got a lot of speed, and they gave us a lot of problems. We have to find a way to get ready for them."
That victory put Heritage in sole possession of first place in the Saginaw Valley League, the only thing that mattered to the Hawks on that night. Any thoughts of the game being a postseason preview were brushed aside.
"It's a big win," junior goalie Danny Yockey said. "We haven't won the Saginaw Valley League in seven years; it's ours to lose now."
"It's part of our process of trying to win our league," Bamberger said. "We're taking it one game at a time. We're not worried about anything come playoff time. I told the guys, 'Let's not make this about anything other than tonight.'"
Perhaps an even greater statement was made the following weekend when Heritage ended Hancock's 11-game winning streak, beating the currently second-ranked Bulldogs 4-3 on Feb. 5 in Trenton. The next day, the Hawks won 3-0 over Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, which was No. 14 in Division 3 last week.
A four-game winning streak following an 11-1 loss to Toledo St. Francis on Jan. 29 had the Hawks at 17-2 and ranked No. 6 in Division 3 entering this week. The most recent rankings, which came out Wednesday, saw Heritage climb to the top spot.
"It's the chemistry," junior forward Sam Spaedt said. "Most of us juniors and seniors mesh together. We're having fun in the locker room. We're having fun on the ice. The coaches are great, too. The leadership is good. That's what's getting the job done."
Spaedt is far and away Heritage's leading scorer with 42 points, but there's plenty of depth throughout the rest of the lineup. Devan Bayne has 27 points, Gavin Dietrich 26, Chris Cornford 21, Zach Dornseifer 20, Brandon Ashley 17, Hunter Parasiliti 17 and Spencer Vondette 16.
Dietrich's 15 goals and Spaedt's 31 assists are team highs.
"We have a lot of forwards who can really go and really skate," Bamberger said. "We get some different scoring from different lines. I don't consider our fourth line a fourth line, because a fourth line generally doesn't play. Our fourth line not only plays, but they contribute. Each line had a goal (against Powers). From a tenacity standpoint, our guys keep going, keep going; you're going to wear teams down."
Spaedt has been the consummate setup artist for the Hawks, with his point total leaning heavily toward assists. He has 11 goals to go with his 31 assists. Three of those goals have come while shorthanded. His goals have come in bunches, with four two-goal games. He's had at least three assists five times.
"I'm always in a pass-first mentality," Spaedt said. "The guys are great. They bury the puck after I give it to them. If I have a chance to score, I'll take it. I'm happy if the guys give me the puck. The team really meshes well; that's part of the points, too."
For all of his playmaking prowess, Spaedt still ranks third on the team in goals.
"He scores, too," Bamberger said. "To be honest with you, I didn't realize that he's got (11) goals and 30-some assists. I think it's because he's a real smart player. More so than that, we have a lot of finishers on our team. We have a lot of guys who can put it in the net. Whoever he's giving it to, they're putting the puck in the net."
Yockey has played the majority of minutes in goal for Heritage, posting a 12-2 record, a 2.64 goals-against average and an .888 save percentage. In his last three games, all against state-ranked Division 3 teams, he has a 1.67 GAA and a .929 save percentage. Devin Wolfgang is 4-0 with two shutouts, a 0.57 GAA and a .966 save percentage as the backup goalie.
"The forwards are really good at back-checking and we're just smart in our zone," Yockey said.
Before Heritage can focus on the rematch with Powers, the Hawks will look to close out the Saginaw Valley championship with games against Mount Pleasant tonight and Bay City Central on Feb. 17. The pre-tournament tuning-up phase will include a game against Howell, the seventh-ranked team in Division 1, on Feb. 24.
Bill Khan served as a sportswriter at The Flint Journal from 1981-2011 and currently contributes to the State Champs! Sports Network. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Saginaw Heritage’s Mitch Wise, right, prepares for a faceoff during a recent game against Flint Powers Catholic. (Middle) Leading scorer Sam Spaedt rips a shot for the Hawks. (Photos by Bill Khan.)
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.)