Officials Eager for New Hockey Format

July 12, 2019

By Rob Kaminski
MHSAA benchmarks editor

Tuesday, Feb. 26, was a particularly busy day on the ice as the 2019 MHSAA Ice Hockey Tournament reached just its second day around the state.

On the slate that night were 27 Regional games, bringing the two-day total to 48 on the heels of Monday’s busy calendar.

As teams were busy setting their sights on the ultimate goal, so, too, was another group of accomplished skaters who toil with much less fanfare. Nonetheless, the games can’t start without them – the folks in the striped shirts who call the games.

Just as players and coaches will welcome the expanded playoff format in 2020, the officials are looking forward to the change as well.

“When we got to the first week of the tournament, it seemed like we were going every day,” said Jim Gagleard, who assigns officials for the Livonia Ice Hockey Officials Association. “There are only so many officials to go around in any sport. By allowing us as officials a day or two to catch our breath, it’s good. Good for us, and good for players more than anything.”

If it seemed like every day, well, it was. A total of 66 games were played over the first three days, and 89 over the first four. Considering each game at the Regional level has three officials, that computes to 267 officials needed during that span. On the busiest day, 81 had to take to the ice.

Given that there were a total of 302 playoff-eligible officials in 2019, filling those slots can be a logistical nightmare for assigners at times.

“Regional week will see a huge burden alleviated for officials and especially assigners. There will be so much more flexibility under the new format,” said Dan DiCristofaro, President of the Northeast Hockey Referees Association. “Last year, we were faced with so many doubleheaders at single sites, and the first games needed an early start so that the second games would not last late into the evening on school nights.

“At times, the most important factor for the assigner was scheduling those officials who could get to the arena for the early start times. Merit and ability sometimes had to take a back seat.”

Gagleard agrees, saying, “Assigning-wise, early games are the toughest to fill. Everyone has a job, and in order to work a game they have to tell the boss they’re leaving at 2:30 for a 5 o’clock game. You start to look for officials who are retired, or can get out of work, instead of the most qualified. That’s not fair to the teams playing.”

In the northern reaches of the Upper Peninsula, the problem is more acute.

Sean Jacques is the athletic director at Calumet, and also an experienced official, having skated the Division 2 Final in Plymouth in 2016.

“Not enough,” Jacques said, in reference to the number of playoff officials in the UP. “Not enough. When I get the list of eligible officials that is sent to tournament managers, I have to search and scramble to find three people within an 80-mile radius.”

Moving the Quarterfinals to the weekend will definitely help matters, and eliminating Regional doubleheaders should ease the scheduling anxiety as well.

“With Regionals spread out more, without doubleheaders, officials potentially could work more days,” Jacques said. “And there should be more availability for the Quarterfinals. The last few years, it was in the Sault, and getting four guys to the Sault on a weeknight, whether from Escanaba or northern lower Michigan, was difficult. There were times I’d turn down a Quarterfinal because I just couldn’t get there and back and make it to work the next day. Saturday makes it easier.”

On the west side of the Lower Peninsula, assigner Randy Sheahan uses a mathematical approach to illustrate his challenges, even for the regular season. Sheahan calculates that 98.88 percent of all West Michigan games are scheduled for Wednesday, Friday, or Saturday. Breaking it down further, 84.39 percent skip Wednesday and schedule only Friday or Saturday.

With the shortened regular season coming in 2019-20 to allow for a three-week tournament window, Sheahan took a proactive approach.

“When the MHSAA announced the change to a three-week tournament, I emailed all West Michigan coaches, plus a handful of athletic directors and booster leaders who may be involved in team scheduling,” Sheahan said. “I encouraged them if they are having difficulty squeezing all their games into a window which is now one week shorter, to give further consideration to playing on Mondays, Tuesdays, or Thursdays to greatly alleviate some of the stresses we place on the West Michigan officiating staff.”

As for the MHSAA Tournament, Sheahan agrees with his brethren across the state in metro Detroit that the expansion will benefit assigners, officials, and teams.

“I only see positives,” Sheahan said. “This gives me tremendous flexibility with our staff to maneuver around their professional and personal schedules to keep our best officials on the ice every round, which is an expectation teams have for playoffs. It also provides (at times) much needed rest for officials and teams, especially if they are involved in overtime affairs. This could help with the quality of overall game play.”

That’s the goal for everyone. Fresher legs for players and officials alike will provide a better experience for all involved.

“This allows for physical recovery for everyone on the ice,” said DiCristofaro. “It also allows for better time management for student-athletes, officials and coaches. Even at the Quarterfinal offerings with four officials for each game, we’d run into issues as far as which people could get to places, or wanted to travel and skate late on a work night. Saturday give us much more flexibility and should create more interest in the state tournament.”

The Quarterfinals, Semifinals and Finals have employed a four-official system in recent years, affording an extra position each game for deserving officials while adding to the quality of the game for participants at the highest level.

Sheahan plans to utilize the new format to continue to reward those among his troops who have earned their stripes for such contests.

“In theory, I may have opportunities to increase game counts for some of our perennial playoff officials, but I have no plans to do that,” Sheahan said. “We have other officials every season who are good enough to skate playoffs and have earned it, but simply couldn’t quite break the playoff bubble. Now the opportunity presents itself to reward some of those officials. It would be counterproductive to officiating development if fewer officials are getting opportunities for important games.”

Similarly, DiCristofaro is hoping the time will come when four officials will be assigned to skate Regional Finals, and perhaps the new length of the postseason will open the door.

“Some of most important games are the Regional Finals. Maybe this new schedule can help,” DiCristofaro said. “Four officials offer teams the best possible ice coverage, and they deserve that.”

Moggach Honored Nationally for 25 Years of 'Sticking In, Doing Good'

By Tim Robinson
Special for

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.)