Plymouth — For the second time in the past six years, Brighton has earned the title of back-to-back Division 1 hockey state champion after defeating Saginaw Heritage on Saturday evening, 5-2.
With the last six Division 1 state championships going to either Brighton or Detroit Catholic Central, it was only fitting that the winner of the semifinal matchup on Friday evening would go on to take the crown.
Brighton (24-6-1) has won four of the last seven Division 1 championships.
Coming off an emotional win over Catholic Central on Friday night as the underdog, Brighton was forced into the opposite role, with more pressure, against Heritage.
“I think it was in reverse, a little bit,” said Brighton coach Paul Moggach, who has now won four state titles. “I think we didn’t play as well as we wanted to because there was some reverse pressure and we were feeling the need to duplicate what we did yesterday (against Catholic Central) and it’s impossible.”
Heritage, making its first trip to the state championship in school history, wasn’t afraid to take on the defending champs.
It was that fearlessness that kept Heritage (22-5-3) in a game that many expected Brighton win handily. The final score wasn’t indicative of how close it really was.
“Our guys played their hearts out,” Heritage coach J.J. Bamberger said. “It went right down to the very end and after the game, for a few minutes, I reflected. For anyone that said it was a shame that Brighton and C.C. weren’t playing in the championship game, I hope they watch what our boys did. Because our boys played their hearts out and were in that game the entire time.”
Right when it looked like Brighton closed the door with a 3-1 lead, Heritage bounced back to score just a few minutes later to make it 3-2.
Evan MacDonald’s goal with just over five minutes left in the third period ended Heritage’s bid for a comeback. Will Jentz added his second goal of the game on an empty net with under a minute left to seal the win.
Senior defenseman Sam Brennan said Heritage wasn’t on his radar before the game, but came away with newfound respect.
“Honestly, I knew nothing about them,” Brennan said. “I knew they were a team in the state finals. They were definitely a good team. They gave us quite the fight.”
David Helpap and John-Michael Watson were credited with both goals for Heritage.
Mathew Kahra, Nate Przysiecki and MacDonald each scored one for Brighton.
State championship victories are nothing new to Brighton, but the excitement never ceases, says Moggach.
“(All four titles) have a different tone to them,” Moggach said. “Back-to-back is very difficult. I think we did a great job and I’m really proud of these guys and their energy and their caring for each other. They really are a special group. This one’s pretty special.”
Connor Muldowney is a freelance writer