Business as usual as Detroit C.C. wins state title with yet another new coach
(PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Donoher)
Plymouth – It’s often difficult for a team to keep any level of consistency when they go through a coaching change.
Teams are faced with the challenge of playing in a new system along with needing to replace players from a previous season.
Detroit Catholic Central has had three different coaches in each of the last three years and has continued to be a model of consistency in hockey.
Todd Johnson stepped down as head coach at the end of the 2013 season, a season that saw the Shamrocks lose in the Division 1 final. Catholic Central entered Saturday looking to win its third straight state title, this time under first-year coach Brandon Kaleniecki.
The Shamrocks defeated Brighton, 3-0, on Saturday at USA Hockey Arena giving Catholic Central three consecutive titles with three different coaches.
Senior Nick Macari has played on all three championship teams and said that the family environment that is Catholic Central hockey has been a key to the team’s success over the years.
“The three years I’ve been on this team, we’ve just come together as a family, (for) everybody, all of the kids and all of the coaches,” he said. “It’s been great and that’s what we think is a key to success. Being a close team, we can’t have small groups of people within the team. If we’re all together as a family, we’re going to have the success that we want.”
Two years ago, coming off of a state finals loss to Brighton, Johnson, who had helped guide the Shamrocks to five Division 1 titles, stepped down as head coach, citing family responsibilities.
That left athletic director Aaron Babicz with big shoes to fill.
But from what Babicz has seen over the last few years, the teams haven’t had that tough of a time adjusting to new coaches from year to year.
“I honestly don’t think it’s been that difficult,” he said. “With our guys, it’s tough because they’re big on welcoming coaches as part of the family and the relationship building aspect is the toughest part, but by the grace of God they pull together and it’s all about them and the kids rally around each other. They’ll support whoever’s leading them and that’s the key to their success.”
In 2014 the Shamrocks were back in the state finals, defeating Brighton under coach Doug Itami.
Itami left after the season and Danny Veri took his place. Without missing a beat Catholic Central won the state title again. The Shamrocks defeated Grandville, 5-2, and soon after Veri stepped down to become the junior varsity coach.
So with the Catholic Central coaching position open once again, Kaleniecki, a former C.C. player who was a part of two state championship teams, jumped at the opportunity to coach his alma mater.
“It’s certainly a position I could never turn down,” he said. “I still feel very fortunate to be here and be the head coach of this team that’s had so much success and when the opportunity came, I couldn’t turn that down.”
Before Catholic Central, Kaleniecki served as the head coach for two seasons at Dearborn Divine Child.
The players on this team instantly embraced playing for a former player who has been in their position.
“It was a great feeling knowing that he’s been in our shoes before,” Macari said. “It means he’s obviously had the experience and he knows what he’s talking about, so you just got to listen to what the coaches are saying and be an easy guy to be coached and you’re going to be successful.”
Another part that made the transition to coaching the Shamrocks easier for Kaleniecki was the fact that several assistant coaches from years past remained on the bench this season including Veri.
“On one hand, I had Danny Veri, who is the JV coach and last year came up as the varsity coach and went back to being the JV coach,” Kaleniecki said. “But he coached all of these guys, so he was filling me in on everything that I needed to know about the players, so I had a lot of help. A lot of the coaches that were around last year were around this year, so I was able to get a lot of feedback and that made this a lot easier.”
The Shamrocks (24-7) played like a team that hadn’t missed a beat as they cruised to yet another state championship, the 13th in school history.
Looking ahead to next season, the question of whether or not the Shamrocks would have their coach back was answered quickly by Kaleniecki.
“I certainly hope so,” he said.
Babicz noted that he’d like to keep his new head coach around for a long time.
“I told him he’s signing a 30-year contract,” Babicz said with a laugh.
With Kaleniecki back for next year, the Shamrocks will be poised to make their fifth straight state final appearance and win their fourth straight title.
Only this time they’ll have the same coach.