By Ross Forman
St. Viator Stunner: JV Team Doesn’t Cower Against State Powerhouse
The Lions were the No. 15-seed in the State Tournament, and they opened tourney play with a 4-0 win over No. 18 Naperville North.
But then came the mighty, might Spartans of Glenbrook North, the No. 2 overall seed. GBN had literally dismantled Fenwick White in a late-February, opening-round tournament game in Northbrook, winning 16-0.
GBN faced off against St. Viator on March 1 at The Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville.
St. Viator won, 3-2.
“There were so many highlights and great memories this past season,” said St. Viator JV head coach Vince Conenna. “The two that stand out were, when we beat Benet Academy on the road in overtime in our first league playoff game. Another was (defeating) Glenbrook North in the sweet-16 (round) of the state tournament. Our team played with great discipline, commitment and passion.
“Yep, it was a wild ride for sure. (Not) a lot of people gave us a chance against Glenbrook North, (but) I told the team they have to believe and that they had nothing to lose.”
The Lions then faced Benet, the fourth time they played during the season.
In the semifinals, St. Viator skated against No. 3-seed Providence Catholic, the defending JV State Champions.
“Unfortunately, despite all of our efforts and great team play, the run came to an end with a 2-1 loss. Still, the boys played outstanding and as a coaching staff we were very proud of them,” Conenna said. “Our team improved with every practice and gelled together. Their work ethic during practice and discipline on and off the ice, and their determination, helped us improve our (overall league) standing.
“Each player brought their strengths and their work ethic to each and every practice and game. They came together as a team on and off the ice. I feel the key to a successful season is to ensure that all the players get along and that they look to each other for support and we as coaches make sure to give them the guidance and support that they all need.”
Conenna, 29, who lives in Elk Grove Village, is a sales manager at ACCO Brands in Lake Zurich, where he has worked for almost five years.
His hockey career is rooted in Chicago’s northwest suburbs.
He started playing with the Northwest Chargers at age 5, starting with mite-A2 through bantam. His last two years of midgets, Conenna played for the Glen Ellyn Flames, which are now the Chicago Bruins. In high school, he played for his father, John Conenna, at Conant High School in Hoffman Estates.
Conenna was mostly a center and right wing, and his sophomore year, he was named Metro Northwest Offensive Player of the Year.
“The highlight of my playing career was, bantam year at the Northwest Chargers, playing for coaches Tim Mueller and Mike Tompkins. We won the President Cup, NIHL Championship, and the State Championship all in the same year,” Conenna said. “During my college playing career, (a highlight) was making it to the National ACHA Tournament in 2008.”
Conenna graduated from Conant in 2006 and was a three-year varsity skater.
He graduated from DePaul in 2011 with a degree in communication and media studies. He played three years at DePaul, and was the assistant captain for the 2009-2010 season and secretary of the club for all three years.
“My coaching highlight to date would be this past year receiving the Final Four banner,” Conenna said. “Considering a couple years ago St. Viator did not have a JV team, (so) to bring a banner back to St. Viator in our second season is something truly special and spectacular.”
Conenna plans to build on the JV success this upcoming fall. “I feel that both JV and varsity (teams) are poised to have a great season. The St. Viator hockey program is on the rise,” he said.
To that, Conenna has already set lofty goals, regardless of who’s skating on his team: he wants to win the Catholic League title and the State Championship.
“This past season was a very special year,” he said. “And it would not have been possible without the help of my two assistant coaches: Joe Carcerano and Mike Sabatino. They were truly a big help and are great coaches and can relate to the players.”
Conenna also praised his dad, a longtime area coach.
“My father has been very instrumental in my hockey career. He taught me not only how to play the game, but also always encouraged and guided me to always give 100 percent effort on and off the ice,” Vince said.
Vince is, without question, motivated and driven to succeed as a coach.
“I never take my coaching position for granted and I enjoy the challenge,” he said. “This (past season) I completed and received my Level 4 coaching certificate from AHAI. Improving my practice plans and game situation knowledge has helped me improve as well. Also, the assistance and guidance of my assistant coaches has been tremendous. Between the three of us we have over 20 years of coaching experience.”
Summer School For Hockey Players
To jump from JV to varsity certainly requires commitment on the ice. And a break from skating, too.
“Make sure you give your body a little bit of break because you don’t want to burn yourself out,” Conenna said. “It is important to continue to build your endurance without overdoing it (in the gym) and subject yourself to an injury.”
Conenna said there definitely are multiple factors in making the jump from JV to Varsity – at all schools. For starters, practicing hard during each and every practice, understanding situational play and simple knowledge of the game are keys, he said.
Nutrition plays a role, too. “It’s important to eat properly, well balanced meals and stay hydrated,” he said.
A Few Slapshots From Coach Vince Conenna
Coaching Goals: “My short-term coaching goal would be, coach varsity and become hockey director. My long-term goal would be, coach college hockey. I would like to continue coaching for many years to come.”
On Change in Illinois Hockey: “Yes, I have seen a change in Illinois hockey. In general I see more and more kids are starting to play at a younger age and continue playing year-round. I also feel that there are many more girls playing the sport. I feel the Chicago Blackhawks’ (Stanley Cup) wins have encouraged more and more players to play the game of hockey.”
Coaching Change At St. Viator, As Tim Benz Is The New Varsity Head Coach: “Change is good. Tim and his brothers, who will be his assistants, bring many years of experience, knowledge and expertise. We look forward to their guidance and direction as we continue to progress as coaches and as a top high school program in Illinois.”
On The Bench With Coach Vince Conenna
Favorite NHL Team: Chicago Blackhawks
Favorite NHL Player: Max Pacioretty
Favorite TV Show: Friends
Favorite Movie: The Bronx Tale
Favorite App: Twitter
Best HS uniforms (excluding St. Viator): Fenwick
Worst HS uniforms (excluding St. Viator): Waubonsie Valley
Jersey Number During Your Playing Career: 10
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.