By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half
PLYMOUTH — James Milletics had the toughest seat in the house last season during Brighton's march to the MHSAA Division 1 hockey title.
After being the Bulldogs' starting goaltender as a freshman most of the winter, Milletics sat the bench while senior Christian Michalik backstopped the championship run.
"He didn't lose the position," Brighton coach Paul Moggach explained. "We just started a senior. He was a freshman. We just took the pressure off so he would get the experience he did watching this."
Milletics didn't complain, returning this season to provide rock-solid netminding for Brighton, which repeated as Division 1 champion with a 2-1 victory over Detroit Catholic Central on Saturday at Compuware Arena.
Milletics stopped 37 of 38 shots, including a potential game-tying backhander by Michael Babcock from close range with 6.8 seconds left in the game. The Bulldogs were outshot 38-16 after getting outshot 28-19 in a 4-1 semifinal victory over Detroit U-D Jesuit the previous night.
"Obviously, he was the difference-maker today, and he was the difference-maker (Friday)," Moggach said. "You need good goaltending. Jimmy was there for us. When you give up a goal a game, you can be a tough team to beat."
Milletics said it's the best game he's ever played.
"After you get above 20 shots, you really get into a groove," he said. "It really helped me. My teammates helped me with all my shots and all the rebounds. After 20 shots, I found out I was at the top of my game."
The Bulldogs finished 28-2-1, ending the season with a 12-game winning streak during which they allowed only 12 goals.
Including Milletics, three players who didn't participate in last year's MHSAA Final made enormous contributions for the Bulldogs.
Senior forward Michael Yuhasz came out for the high school team after spending most of his youth career in the Triple-A travel ranks. Lucas Morgan gave up Triple-A hockey sooner, joining Brighton's team this season as a freshman.
Yuhasz scored the game's first goal with 1:53 left in the first period, then set up Morgan to give Brighton a 2-0 lead at 8:03 of the second. Morgan had an assist on Yuhasz's goal.
Despite their age difference, the two have formed a bond on and off the ice.
"We didn't really know each other," Yuhasz said. "At the workouts we would do in the summer, he would always come and talk to me. I wasn't committed to play for Brighton in the summer, even though I worked out with them. He kept telling me to play. When I decided to play, I knew we would become good friends. It just carried over from there."
On the first goal, the puck came across the front of the net to Yuhasz, who scored on a backhander from the back side.
"I don't really know how it got to me," he said. "It must've bounced over someone's stick. It was really lucky. I just tried to get whatever I could on the puck and get it towards the net. It was a huge
difference-maker, getting the first goal of the game and getting momentum started."
On the second goal, Yuhasz sped down the right side with the puck and passed it in front of Morgan, who charged to the net and tipped a shot under the crossbar.
"That was a great pass," Morgan said. "He just got it across from the wing and I crashed the net. It was a great play."
Yuhasz nearly made it a 3-0 game during a penalty kill when he slipped in behind the defense, but his backhand shot was stopped by Derek Moore with 2:02 left in the second period to keep the Shamrocks in the game.
Catholic Central (22-8) finally cashed in while on the power play when Carson Gatt scored from the edge of the crease with 7:02 left in the game. It was the Shamrocks' 33rd shot of the game.
Moore again made a huge save to give the Shamrocks a chance when he got a glove on a shot by Aaron Sturos during a two-on-one break with 3:37 remaining.
Catholic Central's best chance to tie came when Babcock got a backhander off from close range. Milletics made the stop, rolled back in his crease and kept the puck out of the net, forcing a faceoff to
his right with 6.8 seconds left.
"They got it to the front of the net, he got a shot off and I just spun my leg out there hoping I could get it," Milletics said. "It worked out pretty well."
The ensuing faceoff went into the corner, but the puck got to the front of the net in the final second. The Shamrocks couldn't direct it to the net and the buzzer sounded.
"We didn't like the position of being down 2-0 for it felt like an eternity," Catholic Central coach Todd Johnson said. "We made it 2-1, and we figured the next one would happen. You have to give Jimmy
credit and their team credit. They sacrificed, and they know what it takes to win championships. We know what it takes to win championships. They got it done tonight."
PHOTOS: (Top) Brighton players skate their trophy toward the crowd after repeating as Division 1 champions Saturday. (Middle) Brighton senior Evan Zack pushes the puck away from the front of the Bulldogs net. (Photos by Andrew Knapik.)
If the Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice hockey team ends up winning the Division 2 championship in March, it could be said that the journey to that title started in August with an offer he wasn't ready to accept.
That’s when senior Peter Rosa — who was coming off an all-state season last year as a junior — went to Louisiana to train for a few days with the Shreveport Mudbugs, a team in the North American Hockey League.
Rosa said at that point he was already wanting to come back to Brother Rice for his senior season, but given how he impressed the Mudbugs coaching staff during that camp, it didn’t stop Shreveport coaches from trying to change Rosa’s mind after they informed him he had a roster spot if he wanted it.
“They wanted me there,” Rosa said. “They said, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to come develop here?’"
But Rosa stuck with his original intentions, saying thanks, but no thanks, so he could play one final year of high school hockey.
As a result, Rosa is already going down in the history books as one of the best to ever play for a storied Brother Rice program.
Following Tuesday’s win against Warren De La Salle Collegiate, Rosa has 22 goals and 25 assists in 17 games for the Warriors this winter.
He is No. 2 on the school’s all-time points list with 116, although he likely won’t be able to catch leader Mackenzie MacEachern, who had 154 points during his time at Brother Rice.
However, odds are good that Rosa will be able to overtake MacEachern’s record of 65 goals scored in a career, since Rosa currently is at 59.
Rosa is a versatile 5-foot-10, 175-pound offensive stalwart who can play center and both wing positions.
When Brother Rice lost to Trenton in a Division 2 Semifinal last year, Brother Rice head coach Kenny Chaput said odds were good at the time that it would be the last time he would coach Rosa.
“I was fully planning on that being his final game with us,” he said.
Rosa went to Shreveport following the season to practice and meet the team in what was his first encounter with the Mudbugs before going back in August.
But throughout the summer, Chaput, through conversations with Peter’s dad and Brother Rice assistant coach Todd Rosa, had an inkling that Peter preferred to play at Brother Rice for his senior year.
Once the official word came from Peter at the beginning of the school year that he was coming back, there was a challenge for Chaput.
Given Rosa was good enough to play at junior level, it was tempting for coaches to feel they didn’t have anything left to teach Rosa in high school.
“I had to make sure I went above to push him so he doesn’t get stale with things,” Chaput said. “It’s still a challenge because he gets things done that a lot of other kids don’t. But there’s tweaks in his game that he still needs to do, so we’ll continue to push him the best we can. Obviously, we didn’t want him to have a year where he didn’t get pushed and he didn’t progress.”
With Rosa in the fold, Brother Rice is an obvious contender to win its second Division 2 title in three years.
“I don’t think there’s anything like playing for your school and for your classmates,” said Rosa, who said he’s not sure yet if he’ll play in Shreveport or for another junior team after he finishes high school. “Having the benefit of hanging out with kids in school all day, and then coming to practice with them and playing with them, I’ve built relationships with many kids on the team that I wouldn’t trade anything for. I’ve had a great experience.”
Even worse for opponents is that after the loss to Trenton in that Semifinal, Rosa is motivated for redemption.
“That’ll leave a pretty bad taste in your mouth,” Rosa said. “I just felt like I had some unfinished business.”
If that business ends up being finished, opponents will sure wish those Shreveport coaches could’ve changed Rosa’s mind in August.
Keith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at email@example.com with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Brother Rice's Peter Rosa gains steam on a rush during last season's Division 2 Semifinal against Trenton at USA Hockey Arena. (Middle) Rosa raises his stick in celebration after scoring Rice's first goal in the eventual 4-2 loss.