Sophomores lead Brighton to State Championship hockey game

PLYMOUTH — Three years without making it to the state hockey championship game is an eternity by Brighton’s set standards.

Brighton's Jack Sexsmith celebrates after scoring the opening goal of a 4-1 win over Grandville in the State Division 1 Semi-Finals on March 11, 2022 at USA Hockey Arena.

The Bulldogs are back in familiar territory, playing for the Division 1 title after beating Grandville, 4-1, in the semifinals Friday night at USA Hockey Arena.

On the face of it, Brighton are just getting started with another string of State Championship appearances.

Sophomores accounted for all four goals and fellow 10th grader Levi Pennala backed up the win with 18 saves.

Brighton will face Detroit Catholic Central for the fourth time in a state championship game at 7 p.m. Saturday at USA Hockey Arena. The last nine Division 1 championships have been won by Catholic Central (five) or Brighton (four).

Striker Cameron Duffany stood out among Brighton’s super sophomores, with two goals and one assist. Duffany had six goals and five assists in four playoff games, bringing his season tally to 18 goals and 28 assists in 27 games.

Brighton's Evan Wohlart (8) and Grandville's Easton Pratt (6) battle in Brighton's 4-1 victory in the State Division 1 Semi-Finals on Friday March 11, 2022 at USA Hockey Arena.

“He’s been amazing this year as a second year, doing some very, very special things,” Brighton manager Kurt Kivisto said. “It was fun watching him grow throughout the year.”

Sophomore Lane Petit had one goal and two assists.

After a scoreless first period, Brighton scored the first on a goal from defender Jack Sexsmith 3:12 into the second period.

The Bulldogs began to take control by scoring two shorthanded goals 1:26 apart halfway through the second. Petit scored at 7:01 and Duffany at 8:27, as Brighton scored twice shorthanded in the second period for a second game in a row.

“They are backbreakers,” Kivisto said. “You never want to give up shorties, and we scored two on the same penalty kill. It was important for us to do that. We had a five-for-three kill in the same period for about 20 minutes.”

Duffany completed Brighton’s four-goal second period scoring at 13:45.

Brighton's Cameron Duffany had two goals and an assist in a 4-1 win over Grandville in a State Division 1 semi-final on Friday March 11, 2022 at USA Hockey Arena.

Grandville ruined Pennala’s shutout offer on a Gavin Rozema goal at 3:15 of the third.

Brighton (22-5-1) lost 3-0 to Detroit Catholic Central on Dec. 11 in a game that included an empty-net goal. The loss was part of a 5-4-1 start for the Bulldogs.

Since losing 2-1 to Division 2 runners-up Hartland on January 15, Brighton have won 13 consecutive games.

“I like our team better now (than in December), but they’re probably the same,” Kivisto said. “Everyone improves throughout the year. They are a very deep team and keep coming to you. They don’t really have any holes in their composition. We will be ready to go.

Catholic Central (25-4) advanced with a 6-0 win over Midland in the other semi.

Other state championship games are Hartland vs. Trenton at 11:05 a.m. in Division 2 and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s vs. Midland Dow at 3:05 p.m. in Division 3.

Contact Bill Khan at wkhan@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @BillKhan.

Catherine J. Martinez