Brighton varsity hockey wins state championship and heads to nationalsMar 30, 2023 11:42AM ● By Jerry Christensen
Brighton Hockey checks in as Utah’s team to compete for a national title. (Photo Todd Gottlieb)
Brighton Hockey, a club sport for the school and community, has a strong edge—home ice. The Cottonwood Heights Rec Center in close proximity to Butler Middle School gives young athletes early experience in ice. Dane Christensen, a member of the 2008 Division 2 state championship team recalls that “the choice of swimming or ice skating for gym at Butler was an embarrassment of riches. I choose ice and sharpened my skating skills for six years culminating in the championship game at the E Center.”
A teammate, Nate Wilkinson, said, “I liked playing hockey for gym in middle school and found that it introduced new people to the sport and team. I also thought it was helpful to have some extra fairly unstructured ice time. It was also great to avoid swimming, ha!”
Brighton High School’s varsity hockey team won Division 2 titles over the next decade but with its championship in 2017 it set a goal of winning a state title at the highest level and qualifying for the national tournament.
On Feb. 24, that goal was accomplished when the Brighton Bengals defeated the Park City Ice Miners 3-2 to win the varsity state title, a feat which Brighton had not accomplished in 15 years.
It was a magical game to cap off a magical season. “This is a special team that has had an incredible season and an even more amazing post season,” said head coach Greg Doucette. “These young men started the season as individuals and finished the season as a team.”
The Bengals had an impressive regular season with a 13-2-2 record. However, it was in the playoffs where this team really shined. Brighton went undefeated in the state tournament, winning all four of its games with an impressive goal differential of plus-24 and a perfect penalty kill.
“Park City is a great team. We tied them 2-2 earlier this season so we knew it was going to be a tough game,” said junior Hogan Gottlieb, team captain for the Bengals. “It was no surprise that we met them again in the state finals.”
The Miners struck first, scoring a soft goal on a broken play that goalie Alex Minnock would definitely want to quickly forget. He made the initial save but the puck hit his shoulder and slowly rolled down his back and across the goal line. After the first period, Park City led 1-0.
It only took the Bengals 30 seconds into the second period to flex their offensive muscles. Team-scoring leader Anders Waugaman, a junior, sniped a power-play goal to tie up the game 1-1.
“Every player on this team contributed to the win,” Waugaman said. “Backchecking, forechecking, blocked shots. The scoresheet doesn’t tell the entire story.”
And the second-period scoring came in pairs for Brighton. About a minute later, the Bengals continued their offensive pressure, and assumed the lead with a goal by senior Tanner Laub. “We entered the O-zone, I got the puck from Anders, just tried to get the puck on net, and it went in. We all went crazy!” Laub said.
Park City—looking for its fourth consecutive state title—would not go down without a fight. With 9:52 left in the third period, the Miners tied the game 2-2. However, it was not to be for the defending state champs. Sixteen seconds later, Waugaman scored off a costly Park City turnover with what proved to be the game winner. The Bengals relied on their stout defense, led by seniors Gabe King and Ian Skelton, as well as goaltender Minnock, who saved 30 out of 32 shots (.938 save percentage) to hang on for the victory. “I just try to be there for the boys and give them a chance to win,” Minnock said.
“We know Alex is there for us, and we can rely on him in the crucial minutes of the game,” King said. Skelton concurred. “We do our best to make Alex’s job easier, but have confidence in his ability when we really need him.”
With the win, the Bengals stamped their ticket to the USA Hockey National Tournament in Plymouth, Minnesota. The team competed against other state champions from around the country during the five-day tournament March 23-27 (after press deadline).
“Listen, it was difficult to win state so you can imagine the challenge at nationals,” said Doucette. “Regardless of the outcome, I can’t say enough about this team and our Brighton family. We are proud of our accomplishments and look forward to competing together at nationals.”
Far from the home ice in Cottonwood Heights, Brighton Hockey opens its national bid against Yorktown, Virginia.
Follow the Bengals in their bid for a national title at www.nationals.usahockey.com/2023highschooldivisioni