Near-Miss Memories Can Fade as Flint Powers Catholic Claims 1st Hockey Title
March 11, 2023
PLYMOUTH — How far back do Flint Powers Catholic seniors Mason Czarnecki and Cooper Gerhardt go in their hockey careers together?
About as far back as you can go in the sport.
“We’ve played since day one,” Czarnecki said. “I think we were pushing the chair around together.”
From humble beginnings playing house league with the Flint Icelanders at Flint Iceland Arenas to their days winning travel hockey state championships with the Flint Junior Firebirds, Czarnecki and Gerhardt developed a connection that few teammates possess.
That bond came in really handy in the final seconds of the MHSAA Division 3 championship game Saturday at USA Hockey Arena.
Following a faceoff in the Powers zone, Gerhardt got the puck and spotted Czarnecki taking off through the neutral zone. Gerhardt sent him a perfect outlet pass, springing Czarnecki on a breakaway … and into history.
Czarnecki scored on that breakaway with only 4.6 seconds left on the clock, giving the Chargers their first championship in their eighth Finals appearance with a 3-2 victory over East Grand Rapids.
It was the latest game-winning goal in regulation time in Finals history, eclipsing Alex Hamady’s goal with 6.7 seconds left for Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice to beat Byron Center in a Division 2 Final two years ago.
“The ref dropped the puck and the puck was just sitting there,” Gerhardt said. “I looked up and (Czarnecki) was just flying down the ice. There’s a gap between the two ‘D.’ I just threw it and hoped for the best.
“The rest is history.”
And the ultimate memory to strengthen the bond between two great friends.
“For him to give me that pass on the big stage and to make it happen with four seconds left, I’m in awe right now,” said Czarnecki, who scored 30 goals this season and 64 during his three-year career. “This is crazy. I’ll remember this for the rest of our lives.”
It was not only the first championship for Powers, but the first for a Genesee County school after five had lost in the Finals.
Travis Perry coached Powers teams that reached the Finals before, losing 1-0 in overtime to Calumet in 2008 and 3-1 to Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood in 2010. He had a 27-1 team lose in the Semifinals in 2017.
He wondered if this day would ever arrive.
“It’s been 17 years that I’ve had a lot of great players,” said Perry, who played for Powers. “It’s been 50 years of just struggles, be it bad bounces, we’ve had bad games down here. It’s 50 years of frustration that came off, so it’s great to see.”
It’s never been easy when Powers has reached the Finals, going all the way back to a 6-2 loss to Houghton in 1982 in the hometown at IMA Sports Arena.
So, even though the Chargers took control with an early 2-0 lead against East Grand Rapids, the historic championship was going to put Powers and its fans through the emotional wringer.
Czarnecki and Brody Neelands scored to give Powers a 2-0 lead in the first 14 minutes, 6 seconds, but East Grand Rapids goalie Austin Stankowski then shut out the Chargers until the final seconds.
Tyler Sikkenga, whose goal in the final seconds forced overtime in a 2-1 upset of No. 1-ranked Houghton in the Semifinals, scored at 2:29 of the second period and 9:00 of the third to tie the game.
Then, for once, the most important bounce went Powers’ way.
“These guys have played together their whole lives,” Perry said. “That’s part of it, too. Mason takes off and knows Coop’s gonna get him the puck. We score, half the team is crying; we’re out of sorts. We still have five seconds left. I’m trying to get everybody under control. I think I was a little out of sorts. Obviously, we were able to close it out. It’s hard to put into words what it feels like right now.”
The victory came one year after a 3-2 loss to eventual Division 3 champion Midland Dow in a Regional championship game, one of the few years in which Powers didn’t win a Regional. The Chargers have won 35 Regionals, second in MHSAA history only to the 38 won by 14-time Finals champion Trenton.
“I actually printed out a picture of the scoreboard,” Powers senior Greg Feamster said. “Every morning, I’d wake up and look at that picture and think about how it felt. So, every day just working out, working with the team practices, I think of that moment. The seniors know what it felt like. It really pushed us and allowed us to get over that hump.”
East Grand Rapids was also on a quest to make history, having lost 3-2 to Dearborn Divine Child in its only Finals trip in 2002.
This wasn’t a Pioneers team that looked like a candidate to play on the final day of the season, having gone 10-11-2 during the regular season. But East Grand Rapids beat No. 6 Grand Rapids Catholic Central in the Regional Final, No. 7 Bay Reps in the Quarterfinals and then pulled off the ultimate upset over No. 1 Houghton in the Semifinals to reach the championship game.
An unranked team that wasn’t on anyone’s radar to win Division 3 was within one shot of doing so.
“That’s something we’ll hang our hat on a little bit later,” East Grand Rapids coach Christopher Newton said. “Obviously, this one stings. But we proved this weekend we can play with some of the best teams in the state. I’m proud of our kids. They left everything out there. They have nothing to be ashamed of.”
Nicholas Kurtiak turned aside 23 of 25 shots for Powers, while Stankowski stopped 24 of 27.
PHOTOS (Top) Flint Powers Catholic celebrates its first Finals championship Saturday at USA Hockey Arena. (Middle) The Chargers’ Mason Czarnecki (25) sends home the winning goal.
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.)