By Ross Forman
Looking to repeat, New Trier Green is the No. 1-ranked Illinois High School Hockey Team
A pair of coaching milestones for Bob Melton could mean a very memorable season for his New Trier Green Trevians.
Melton is in his 25th season coaching and his 20th in charge of the Trevians – with 11 state championships under his reign, including three of the past four seasons. Green is the defending state champion and opens the 2016-17 season right back on top as the No. 1-ranked team in Illinois High School Hockey.
Providence Catholic skates in at No. 2, followed by Loyola Gold, Glenbrook North and Benet Academy. (For the overall, season-opening Top 20 rankings, see adjoining list.)
“Clearly, the strength of this team is its offense. We return our five leading scores from last year’s state championship team,” Melton said.
Jack Raith, Michael Graham, Charlie Burton, John Huber and Matt Mulhern are back in Green, gunning for more gold.
The Trevians welcomed back senior Tommy Cahill, who played last year for the Chicago Mission AAA U-18 team – and he is a dominant, powerful force with a wicked shot.
“The key for this team is to remain hungry to repeat as State Champs,” Melton said. “Complacency is something we talk about. We are everyone’s biggest game, (but) sometimes we just don’t approach each game with the same intensity as our opponent, which is understandable.”
One of the biggest obstacles facing the Trevians en route back to the United Center is the team’s goaltending – they lost last year’s starter, Will Douthit, to prep school one week before tryouts. “This was a real blow to the team,” Melton said. “He was rock solid last year and a big part of our team’s success.”
So yes, “goaltending will remain a big question mark,” Melton added, though the team return’s last season’s backup, junior Hayden Wieczorek, and welcomes former New Trier Blue goalie Scott Foster, a senior. “Both have had some growing pains early on this year, but should get stronger as the season goes on,” Melton said.
Green graduated its top four defensemen from last year. The returners are junior Mason Smith and senior Tristen Jones. The rest of the Green defense comes from New Trier Blue and New Trier White.
“Green has an explosive offense, but keeping the puck out of our net will decide our (overall) record,” Melton said. “This team is off to a strong start; they are right on pace as teams of the past, (but) I don’t like the amount of goals we are giving up.”
The Trevians stood at 8-5 in its first 13 games, though that included season-opening losses to Midget Major AAA teams in Michigan. The Trevians took a 5-game winning streak into a battle against Loyola Gold on Oct. 11. The five-game streak included wins over Providence (5-4), York (8-1) and Stevenson (6-3), among others. And, the Trevians out-scored their foes 36-11 in those five games.
Cahill leads the team in scoring (12 goals, 9 assists), followed by Burton (9, 8), Mulhern (8, 8), and Huber (7, 5).
Key newcomers to the club junior Connor Baldwin, a defenseman from the Falcons U-16 team; junior forward John Robinson who jumped to Green from White last season; and junior forward Costa Pavlopoulos, who also skated for the Falcons U-16 team.
“We are very deep on offense – three lines that bring high-octane offense,” Melton said.
Robinson, who is now skating on the team’s third line, along with Huber and Pavlopoulos, could have major impact en route to repeating. He is one of the team’s fastest skaters and filled with skill. But, Melton noted, “(he) will need to work within the Green system.”
Connor Baldwin, a junior defenseman, also will be a key as he is an offensive defenseman and so far has established himself as the quarterback on one of the team’s power-play units. “Connor has great hands, good vision and seems to make the right plays,” Melton said.
Melton this season also is coaching New Trier White, which is the school’s U-16 team. Plus, he is an assistant coach with the Winnetka program, coaching 2003 birth-year players. “This is a New Trier feeder team, so it’s nice to develop the younger players,” he said.
The Green assistant coaches this season are Chad Bidwill, Shawn Brown, Bobby Acri and Greg Smart. Both Acri and Smart are former Green players under Melton. Brown formerly coach Libertyville. Lenny Munson retired from the coaching staff after last season.
“Shawn is a veteran coach (who) has a (deep) knowledge of the game and also a lot of knowledge of coaching kids on the North Shore. We work very well together and Shawn knows what I expect both on and off the ice; he is a great addition to our coaching staff,” Melton said.
Green’s run in the Scholastic League will, of course, be met head-on by Loyola Gold, Glenbrook North and others. New Scholastic League teams this season include York, New Trier Blue and Carmel (Indiana).
Green will be skating next month in the prestigious Bauer World Hockey Invitational, held in the Chicagoland area.
When asked about the season-opening No. 1 ranking, Melton said it is something that “we expect each and every year.” He added, “Our veteran players have to lead by example and our younger players have to learn and understand the sacrifices and hard work it takes to be the best team in the state, year in and year out.”
Here is the Top 20 Illinois High School Hockey Teams (as of Oct. 10, 2016), as compiled by Ross Forman:
- New Trier Green
- Providence Catholic
- Loyola Gold
- Glenbrook North
- Benet Academy
- Neuqua Valley
- New Trier Blue
- Wheaton West
- Brother Rice
- Notre Dame
- St. Rita
- Lake Forest
- Naperville Central
- St. Viator
**Photos courtesy of New Trier Hockey**
Ross 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.