In addition to All-State voting, the Michigan High School Hockey Coaches’ Association (MHSHCA) announced the 2019-20 Coaches of the Year Awards, and named Corey Markham (Houghton) and Rick Bennetts (U-D Jesuit) to the Class of 2020 Hall of Fame.
Both Markham and Bennetts are current coaches in MI-HS this season, becoming the ninth and 10th members to be inducted and active in the sport at present day. Behind the bench for the Gremlins for 21 seasons, Markham has compiled a 342-198-21 career record with three State Finals (2012, 2015 and 2019) as well as seven Regional Championships and eight conference championships. Bennetts completed his 25th season with the Cubs, having reached the Final Four five times, seven Regional Championships and one MIHL championship in that span. U-D has also earned Academic All-State honors in each of those 25 seasons, including nine times being named the Top Academic Team.
“I have been blessed to have coached some fantastic young men, and worked with and coached against some phenomenal coaches along the way,” said Bennetts. “I’ve earned from all of them each year I have coached.”
In addition to Hall of Fame inductions, Coach J.J. Bamberger was named Division-I Coach of the Year after posting a 25-3-0 record this season and leading Saginaw Heritage to its third consecutive Final Four. The Hawks have become a premier power in the middle of the state, and Bamberger has done a fantastic job over the span of 12 seasons to develop that program into one of the best in Michigan.
A.J. Liberacki of Dearborn Unified was named Assistant Coach of the Year in D-I as well, for his work with the program’s forwards up front and penalty killing efforts.
“I am extremely grateful, it is a nice recognition for our program,” said Liberacki. “It’s never about myself or the coaching staff I am a part of. Any one of us is deserving of this. It’s the kids… they worked so hard for us and gave us everything they had.”
Livonia Stevenson swept Division-II honors with Coach of the Year in David Mitchell and Assistant Coach of the Year in Kyle Zagata. It is the third time Mitchell has earned the honor in his 12-year career with the Spartans, and this season’s campaign from a development standpoint may be their best yet. I’d go as far as saying the 2019-20 Spartans are the best public school team I’ve seen in high school hockey as far as talent, depth, structure and execution, and a testament to the work of both Mitchell and Zagata.
In Division-III, Paul Moretz was named Coach of the Year in his first season with Grosse Pointe South. After taking over a Blue Devils team that finished 7-17-1 in ‘18-19, Moretz flipped the record completely in Year One, finishing with a 22-6-0 record, ranked seventh in the state and a monumental win over No. 1 ranked Detroit Catholic Central. After such a stellar job in his first season, Moretz is easily one of the most exciting up-and-coming coaches in the game today.
Also from the MIHL, Pat Ronayne of Cranbrook was named Assistant Coach of the Year in D-III after helping the Cranes to a 14-11-1 record. Ronayne has been extremely influential in the high school hockey circles at the state level and local levels, receiving the award for a second time. With a wealth of young talent on the roster, Cranbrook has a ton of potential and a bright future with Ronayne in the mix as far as development is concerned.
This is what I love most about high school hockey. People get excited about the rivalries and pitting two programs against each other in heated matchups with intense crowds. However, with coaches like this group, it’s as much inclusive and working together for the betterment of our game as it is competing against each other. There are some fantastic coaches — both head and assistants — in high school, truly making this a destination for players striving to come here.
Good coaches go a long way in creating, shaping and maintaining our hockey culture. Stick taps to this group for an awesome job and feel free to shout out any of your personal favorites on Twitter.