Illinois D2 Team Lands New Head Coach with Strong Local Ties

Coach Schmitz Played at Barrington High School

By Ross Forman

image4William P. Schmitz, Jr. learned over the summer about the sudden coaching vacancy for the University of Illinois D2 club after the previous coach had to leave the team for personal reasons.

Schmitz quickly applied since, as he said, “In the back of my mind, I have always been interested in coaching.”

Sure enough, Schmitz landed the job – and he now leads a team filled with players who went to high school in Illinois, too.

Team captain Marcello Delfini, for instance, grew up in LaGrange and attended Lyons Township. He is an Illini senior who shoots left-handed and plays center. Junior Danny Hendrickson is from Arlington Heights and played for the Northwest Chargers, while junior Conner Cecott hails from Palos Hills and played for the Chicago Hawks. Hendrickson and Cecott each sport the assistant captain’s ‘A’ on their jersey.

image1“I realized (the Illini D2 coaching position) could be a golden opportunity,” said Schmitz, 24, who graduated from Barrington High School in 2009 and then the University of Iowa in 2013. He is now a third-year student in the College of Law at the University of Illinois, set to graduate in May 2016. He then plans to return to the Chicago area to begin his career practicing civil litigation.

But now he’s focusing on X’s and O’s for the D2 club. With many goals for the season, such as:

  • To facilitate the players’ ability to succeed on the ice and academically.
  • To instill a sense of discipline and self-control in the players.
  • To conduct myself, and ensure that players conduct themselves, in a manner that will ever bring credit to their families, the organization, and the school.

“The level of play (on the D2 team) is very high,” Schmitz said. “I would imagine each of our players was a top player on (his) youth, high school, and/or club teams. (Within the team), competition is fierce. We took a 28-man roster out of try-outs, and only 18 skaters dress each game. (So,) this has made for intense, up-tempo practices and a fairly successful start to the season.”

The Illini has split its first three series this season – against Notre Dame, Northern Illinois University and St. Louis University.  Schmitz’ D2 team plays DePaul Oct. 16 and Oct. 17 in Rolling Meadows. The Friday night game starts at 9 p.m., and the Saturday game starts at 3:10 p.m.

The ACHA features top players outside of NCAA. The highest tier under the ACHA umbrella is referred to as Division I – and there is a D1 team at the University of Illinois, and it has won the ACHA D1 National Championship multiple times.

“Our team plays in the second tier of the ACHA, also known as Division II,” Schmitz said. “The D2 team is primarily student-run, meaning, some players also serve as team executives. Marcello Delfini serves as club president. Matt Reich (is) vice president (and) Hendrickson (is the) treasurer.

“Luckily for me, they take care of the logistics of scheduling, ice time, expenses, etc.

“While we are the second team here at the University of Illinois, our players are highly skilled hockey players. Many played AA and AAA hockey previously, while others enjoyed successful high school hockey careers before heading to college and joining our club.”

image7Schmitz got his start in the sport in the Barrington Redwings learn-to-skate program, then played the first few seasons of his career for the Northwest Chargers. He then rejoined the Redwings organization and played on NIHL teams through his Bantam years.

As a high school freshman, he played football and hockey.

As a high school sophomore, he played left wing for the Barrington JV team that won the 2007 state championship.

He was a Barrington varsity skater as a junior and senior, and co-captain with fellow senior David Nolan.

“Winning the JV State Championship, with my younger brother Zach in goal,” was a career highlight, Schmitz said. “Most of the players on that team continued on to play on the varsity Bronco squad. We had a strong season my senior year and made a run at state, but got knocked out by St. Rita in the playoffs.

image6“I did not play competitively in college, although I did continue to play recreationally on my fraternity team. My senior year we won the 2013 fraternity league trophy, called the Coral Ridge Cup.”

Schmitz also, for about 12 years, been a hockey referee – just like his dad, Bill.

“(Officiating) began as a way for me to get extra ice time and earn some spending money, but after high school and prior to coaching this year, it has served as my primary nexus to the game of hockey,” Schmitz said. “(Officiating) has affected my coaching tremendously. Being a long-time official, I realize how much there is to observe and control in high-level hockey games. For the most part our officials this season have done an excellent job. I constantly tell my players that they have no business questioning calls, especially if they are doing so disrespectfully. I have benched players for yelling at the refs, and based on my officiating experience, I have either agreed with—or at the very least understood—why each call was made.  By the end of the season, I hope to lead the most disciplined, referee-friendly team in the ACHA.”

Schmitz naturally has had many instrumental coaches through his playing career, such as Geno Goss, who “taught me (how) to skate and was a presence at Barrington Ice Arena throughout my youth and high school hockey careers.”

image3Schmitz also noted that Steve Saraurer and Rob Hutson were instrumental coaches in his career. “Coach Steve and Coach Rob each had a positive influence on my life when I played at Barrington High School. They taught me discipline, self control, and how to handle adversity. Ultimately, we had very successful seasons each year I played for the Broncos, and the lessons I learned from these coaches have stretched significantly into my academic and professional endeavors,” he said.

The Illini D2 team features players from all around Illinois, including Arlington Heights, Barrington, Batavia, Crystal Lake, Darien, Edwardsville, Inverness, LaGrange, Mt. Prospect, Naperville, Palatine, Peoria, and Rockford. There also are team members from California, New Jersey, and New York.

Kevin McKeown is the Illinois D2 team assistant coach. He played locally for the Flames at Center Ice of DuPage, and was the captain of his Lake Park High School team. McDeown attended Illinois for undergrad and also is a third-year law student. “He has been a good friend during my time in Champaign and is huge part of the University of Illinois D2 Hockey Club,” Schmitz said.

  • For more information about the University of Illinois D2 club, go to the team’s website: illinoisd2hockey.com.

ross formanRoss Forman has written about Illinois high school hockey for more than 15 years, and is the only sportswriter to have covered Illinois High School hockey every year during that stretch. He played locally and then at Indiana University before becoming a referee. Ross was a referee for the State Championship game several years ago at the United Center. Contact Ross by email at Rossco814@aol.com.



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