BG/H/W and Glenbard are top Combined Division teams once again
By Ross Forman
The co-op AWFM Renegades – a mix of players from Addison Trail, Fenton, Montini Catholic and Willowbrook High Schools – might well be the best local team that no one has heard about.
First, the team skates in the IHSHL’s Suburban Division and has been a dominant force, to put it mildly. As of mid-January, the Renegades carried a 26-0 record. Yes, they are a perfect 26-0.
“The season has started great,” said head coach Matt Benton, in his fourth year coaching the team. “I couldn’t be happier with the hard work and dedication out of this group. The boys (and girl) show up to the rink every slot, ready to work and better themselves. I can honestly say if there was a perfect team to coach I would pick this group. (To have a record of) 26-0 (at) this point of the season is a remarkable accomplishment.
“Our team is a very quick, hard-working group. Their main strength is the fact that they are such a tight knit group. The attitude of the team is nothing but positive, and that goes a long way. Our offense is very crafty and difficult to play against. As far as the defense goes, they are a very physical, shut-down group. Of course, our goaltending is doing a wonderful job keeping the puck out of the net with a very aggressive style of play.”
Benton, 28, who lives in Lombard, is in his fourth season overall coaching. He started off coaching the Renegades JV team (head coach) for one season. His second with the club he moved to the varsity squad. Benton also coaches for the Admirals, where he has led squirt through midget major NIHL teams. This season he also coaches a Bantam NIHL team.
Plus, Benton owns Puck Star Hockey, which specialize in skill development camps during the off season and hockey lifestyle apparel.
JJ Fijak is the assistant coach for the Renegades varsity team and head coach for its JV team.
The two grew up together, playing for the Flames. “He brings great attributes to the club and is doing a wonderful job on developing players to get to the varsity level,” Benton said.
The Renegades went 16-16 last season and were 10 – during the spring. They are the defending Burton Cup champions, after defeating the Cobras for the trophy.
“This team has depth which was what we were lacking last year,” Benton said. “Even though we won the league last year, this team has (better) skill and (can) compete (at a higher) level.”
For instance, the Renegades recently went to Ann Arbor for a U18 tournament, and claimed first-place. “(Playing) five games in three days is rough for any player, but this group fought through it.
“The high and excitement of being undefeated so far is another bright spot for the group and a great accomplishment.”
The Renegades top returners are center Joseph Simoncelli (Fenton), defenseman Eric Molitor (Willowbrook), wing Jacob Richardson (Montini), center Joseph Eltman (Fenton), wing Alex Wosilus (Willowbrook), defenseman Blake Vaca (Addison Trail), and wing Mike Krefft (Addison Trail).
Key newcomers are defenseman Will Kelly (Montini), wing Trevor Behrendt (Willowbrook), wing Jack Muccianti (Addison Trail) and defenseman Nick D’Ambrose (Addison Trail).
The Renegades are 15-0, leading the IHSHL Suburban Division, led by the scoring onslaught of Simoncelli: 22 goals, 14 assists in 13 games played. Richardson has 18 goals, 10 assists; Vaca has 7 goals, 15 assists.
“The offense plays at great speed and creates a ton of scoring opportunities,” Benton said. “The players create a lot of time and space in the offensive zone. The opponent’s goalies are definitely tested early in games.
“The defense is very physical and plays their role inside the zone well. They fill the gaps, get in the shooting and passing lanes, and don’t allow the opponents to have much time or space inside the zone.”
Natalie Marston and Vince Raimondi have split the league play in goal.
“The goaltending is extremely solid,” Benton said. “It doesn’t matter who I call on to play; I know that (each) will be ready to go. Both have such different styles of play and the players know how to play in front of each of them.”
Defenseman Nick D’Ambrose, a junior, has only 1 goal and 1 assist in seven league games, yet he definitely could be a key down the stretch. “Nick has come a long way and will soon start lighting the lamp more with his hard work and (desire) to get better.”
DHS (12-2-0-1) is right behind the Renegades in the Suburban Division standings with 25 points, yet they have already played two more games than the Renegades. The Fox Valley Hawks are 10-1-0-3 (23 points), ahead of the 10-4-0-2 Cobras (22).
“There are some good teams in the league,” Benton said. “Moving forward, we are not going to change a thing. I am very confident that each player knows their role and (we don’t want) to disrupt anything. We are excited to see what there is to come … with our main goal (being), winning a State Championship.”
Standing in the Renegades way en route to the state flag is, for sure, the defending state champion: BG/H/W, ranked among the Top 10 of all Illinois high school teams this season. The Stampede are led by the dynamic duo of junior Connor Kelly (19 goals, 10 assists) and senior Nick Christianson (11,17).
Junior forward Sean Brawley (10,11) and senior forward Spiro Maglaris (6,8) also have been packing on the stats this season.
Goalie Tyler Anzelmo has only allowed 19 goals in 12 league games, for a 1.58 goals-against average.
BG/H/W is 12-3-1 in North-Central Division play with 25 points in 16 games, only two points behind league-leading New Trier White (13-3-1).
BG/H/W – comprised of players from Buffalo Grove, Hersey and Wheeling High Schools – is 27-14-2 overall this season and has outscored its opponents 185-104.
The Stampede had quite a successful run in mid-January, first defeating Vernon Hills 5-2, then cruising past the CHFS 10-1, then dropping Loyola Maroon, 3-0.
The win over Vernon Hills was claimed outside as the game was held at MB Financial Park in Rosemont.
Co-op Glenbard will once again be a team-to-beat in the Combined Division as coach Jason Hawkins always seems able to push his club to shine in February and March. Glenbard is 16-4-0-2 in IHSHL West Division play, led by a slew of talented scorers. Senior forward Danny DeGrado has 11 goals, 13 assists in 22 games; while senior forward Michael McEllin has 12 goals, 11 assists.
Glenbard won the Combined Division State Championship in 2012 and 2015, and was 2-1-2 in its first five games on the 2017 portion of its schedule.
Vincent Sansone has 18 goals, 21 assists in 27 overall games. DeGrado is second (18 goals, 19 assists), followed by McEllin (18 goals, 18 assists).
Kevin Spencer (17 goals, 7 assists) is second on the team with 3 game-winning goals.
Glenbard has used three goalies this season: Elijah Felton (2.25 GAA), Caleb Gruden (2.92), and Max Savino (3.21).
The Renegades defeated Glenbard 5-4 in the lone game between the two teams.
So who will skate away with the Combined Division title?
We’ll find out on Friday night, March 17.
The Illinois High School Hockey State Championships in the Red Varsity, Combined Varsity and the Girls Varsity will be played that day at the United Center. Games times will be announced at a later date.
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.
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