Roque Shines as Sault Ste Marie Surges
January 14, 2016
By Dennis Grall
Special for Second Half
SAULT STE. MARIE – Abby Roque has taken a somewhat unusual route to reach another high level of hockey.
The Sault Ste. Marie High School senior, an accomplished international player on the women's side, is the only female playing on her school's boys hockey team, as she’s been each of her four seasons with the Blue Devils. She is the only girl to have ever played for the Sault, which is home to one of the top boys programs in the state.
The Blue Devils, two-time MHSAA champions who finished second in the Division 3 playoffs in 2013 and 2014 and reached the Quarterfinals last year, are 10-4-1 this winter.
Roque, a forward who also plays on the team's top power play unit, has five goals and 14 assists. She has received a scholarship to play for the University of Wisconsin, which has one of the nation's premier women's hockey programs. The Badgers, coached by former Olympian and NHL star Mark Johnson, are currently ranked second in the country.
"It has really helped me see how college hockey will be," Roque said before a recent practice as the Blue Devils prepared for the Sault Lions Showcase this weekend and games against Dearborn Divine Child and Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice. Sault Ste. Marie is ranked No. 9 in Division 3 this week.
"It's been a good four years. It has helped me improve every single year," she added. "I've never been the best player on the team, but that has made me work hard to try to be the best player on the team.”
Last season, Roque was one of 15 girls who played on boys high school hockey teams in Michigan and earned Division 3 all-state second team honors.
She also played on the U.S. Women's Under-18 International Ice Hockey Federation world championship team that won gold in 2015.
"The speed of the guys high school game has helped me prepare for women's college hockey," she said.
While not as fast on the high school ice, Roque knows how to compensate against the boys. Asked for her primary strength, she said, "my smarts on the ice. The guys are very fast, they are very powerful. I have to make the right pass. My stick handling skills are good."
Those skills also give her a decided edge when she does play against other females, such as the IIHF world tourney, where she led the world juniors in face-offs. Even though checking is not allowed in the girls game, her experience in the more physical brand of boys hockey has helped provide a major advantage.
"I do enjoy the checking. The physical part of hockey is great," she said with a chuckle. "Girls hold the puck longer. Guys come at you (faster and harder) and you have to move the puck faster."
Getting knocked around in the corner in boys games is no problem. "I'm not intimidated by anyone on the ice," she said. "I've gotten stronger playing with the guys. I'm clearly not as strong, but I hold my own. It is all really just hockey to me at this point."
Her Sault coach, John Ferroni, said many opposing players and fans are not even aware there is a female on the ice. "She has definitely learned how to manage herself in the boys game," he said. "She is very competitive, sometimes even too competitive."
Indeed, she says, "I try to be the intimidating one on the ice."
That is not surprising since she has grown up with hockey a major part of her life. She began playing at age 4 and her father, Jim, is a former hockey coach at Lake Superior State University. Her uncle, Tom Bissett, is hockey coach at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern.
"If kids inherit things from their parents, she has inherited her dad's hockey IQ. She picked up the sport and has had a lot of hockey conversations with her father, and she comes from a hockey family," Ferroni said, noting her mother also has a strong athletic background.
Roque, who also has played golf and soccer and boasts 4.0 grade-point average taking advanced placement classes, said playing boys hockey was not a hard decision. She played in the strong Sault boys youth program from day one and realized the boys were the direction to take after playing girls hockey in the fall as an eighth grader.
"She always played with good hockey players, and they always accepted her as a girl," said Ferroni, in his fifth year as Sault coach. He said Roque "understands the game real well and made the commitment a long time ago. She is very dedicated to the sport."
Ferroni said Roque "has decent speed and decent quickness at the boys level. She is a strong skater and is very hard to knock off the puck. She is very elusive and always seems aware of what is going on around her."
That ability to see the game makes her "a playmaker without question" according to Ferroni. "She passes the puck extremely well; she has good, strong passing skills."
Ferroni admits he "had to look at a lot of things before taking her" on the team. After that process concluded, he said, "I knew she would be fine, but no way did I think she would rise to the level she has risen to. I didn't see that (second team all-state) coming."
After checking out girls programs, Roque and Ferroni realized the Sault High School boys team would be the best path to follow. Ferroni said playing against other girls was not fast enough, and the puck movement among the boys was much better.
"We afforded her and gave her a great opportunity," Ferroni said. "She walked into a good, strong program as a freshman and was not just being a player, but was a real solid player. She definitely has raised the bar around here for girls.
"She has helped us as much as we have helped her."
Roque said Wisconsin "was the right fit for me. I loved everything about it, about Madison. Everything is about hockey. I just couldn't go anywhere else."
Roque also received scholarship offers from women's programs at North Dakota, Boston College and Boston University, among other schools.
This school year's participation figures will not be compiled until the spring, but about 250 girls total played on MHSAA boys teams in 2014-15.
Denny Grall retired in 2012 after 39 years at the Escanaba Daily Press and four at the Green Bay Press-Gazette, plus 15 months for WLST radio in Escanaba; he served as the Daily Press sports editor from 1970-80 and again from 1984-2012. Grall was inducted into the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and serves as its executive secretary. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for the Upper Peninsula.
PHOTOS: (Top) Sault Ste. Marie's Abby Roque positions herself near the net during one of her team's games. (Middle) Roque is the first girl to play on the Sault's boys hockey team. (Below) Roque, here on her U.S. Under-18 team, brings international experience to the high school season. (Photos courtesy of the Sault Ste. Marie athletic department.)
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.)