PLYMOUTH — Detroit Catholic Central removed the most valuable commodity from its hockey opponents during the MHSAA Tournament.
If the Shamrocks got a lead, the game was pretty much over, whether the teams they faced wanted to admit it or not.
You can’t beat a team without scoring a goal. Catholic Central became the first team in the 49-year history of the MHSAA tournament to not surrender a goal, capping a perfect defensive postseason with a 3-0 victory over Brighton in the Division 1 championship game before 4,090 fans Saturday night at USA Hockey Arena.
Catholic Central outscored five teams by a combined score of 30-0 during the playoffs. The previous record for the fewest goals allowed in the postseason was two, achieved by the 2009 Catholic Central team over six games.
“It starts with the forwards, and then the defense and then the goalies,” Catholic Central senior forward Landon West said. “We know we can’t win games by trying to outscore teams. You’ve got to keep pucks in front of your net. We do everything we can to do that.”
Backstopping the latest shutout was senior Luca Naurato, who stopped all 20 shots he faced. Naurato finished with a 0.87 goals against average, a .941 save percentage and seven shutouts.
“It’s just another game at the end of the day, right?” Naurato said. “I felt pretty confident going in after warm-ups, and it just happened to work out that way.”
Naurato alternated in net all season with fellow senior Kyle Moore, who had a 0.73 GAA, .948 save percentage and nine shutouts.
The Shamrocks, who won their fourth-consecutive Division 1 crown, have gone with a timeshare in net during the last three seasons. Nicholas Galda and Bob Masters rotated in net each of the past two seasons.
“It’s a team effort,” Naurato said. “We played a defensive game, and it translated into the offensive zone.”
Opponents know they must be almost perfect against the Shamrocks (29-1), who allowed only 22 goals in 30 games.
“They don’t give you anything easy,” said Brighton coach Kurt Kivisto, whose team lost 2-1 and 3-0 to Catholic Central this season. “They don’t make mistakes. They’re really, really structured. They play an honest, hard-working game. They’re really deep, and that makes it difficult.”
The Bulldogs were a team known for coming back from multiple-goal deficits this season, but that’s nearly an impossible task against Catholic Central.
Although the shots were close, with the Shamrocks holding a 24-20 edge, Catholic Central was never seriously threatened after taking a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Jackson Walsh and Nolan Galda.
“They’re a tough team,” Kivisto said. “They don’t give you much and we were chasing the game a little bit. I really like the way we played in the second. We had a lot of opportunities there in the third; we weren’t able to capitalize. Naurato was really good in net.
“We know to beat them, you probably have to win special teams, and we weren’t able to do that tonight.”
Walsh scored the final goal of the 2022-23 season into an empty net with 1:54 left in the game.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Shamrocks coach Brandon Kaleniecki said. “I thought we turned over a lot of pucks. We didn’t want to give them chances and space, because you can’t afford to do that against a team like that.
“They’re really good. They’re going to create their own and we kind of fed into that and we took some penalties, so at that point we were on our heels, kind of the middle of the second, a lot of penalty killing and stuff like that. In a situation like that we just needed to grind it out and find a way. And that’s what the guys did.”
Catholic Central beat Brighton in the last two Division 1 championship games. The teams have dominated the division, meeting in six of the last 10 Finals. Before the Shamrocks’ current run of four straight titles, the Bulldogs won two in a row in 2017 and 2018.
Brighton goalie Levi Pennala made 21 saves in his second start in the championship game. The junior all-stater will be looking to bring the title back to Brighton next year.
“We’ve got a lot of guys on this team that are young,” Pennala said. “We’re gonna come back stronger next year. It sucks, but we’re lucky to have one more year.”