By Ross Forman
He’s baaaack … and now ready to leave his mark on the West Division.
Jim Swoyer started coaching at Lake Forest High School in 1989, and stayed there for five years. After 25 years of other coaching experiences, he is now back in High School Hockey, and said he, “loves it.”
Swoyer is the head coach and hockey director at Hinsdale Central, his first season with the team and his sixth season coaching high school hockey.
He has lived in Hinsdale for 25 years – and is focused on the team’s future, and present too, of course. Swoyer, for instance, has no idea what the team’s record was last season, nor does he have any interest in asking.
They are looking forward, not back.
“In July, last year’s coach decided to move on to another program,” Swoyer said. “Even though I had committed to be the Girls Director at Team Illinois and head coach of one of the teams, I committed to coach high school hockey again because (Hinsdale Central) is (in) my hometown and it means a lot to me personally.”
Swoyer is joined on the Red Devils’ bench by Jeff Casto, who also is the JV head coach; Jeff Rogers, a varsity and JV assistant; and Vince Esposito, who is the program’s goalie coach.
“We are very lucky to have such a great group of coaches,” Swoyer said. “It is rare to have professional people who have such a passion for the game and kids. We are a coaching staff where all of us coach both teams. We all coach together, so the JV team is getting the same team concepts as the varsity team. The JV team is a development team for varsity and all our coaches know every player in the program.”
The varsity ended its 2017 slate of the season with a 21-10-2 overall record, 11-7-1 in West play. The Red Devils return to the ice Jan. 6, at the Darien SportsPlex, against Wheaton West.
“The team has been streaky all season,” Swoyer said. “We won our first nine games. This was a concern for the coaching staff since we were not sure how they would respond to losing. Then we lost the next five and discovered they were a streaky team. We won our last two games before the break and played very well.”
Hinsdale Central defeated Lincoln Way 5-2 on Dec. 22, then stopped Naperville North 3-0 the next night.
“We play a possession game and stress the best defense is not giving up the puck,” Swoyer said. “The players have embraced the possession concepts very well. We move the puck well and the coaching staff has done a great job keeping the players on track with a different style of play.
“The team has done a great job embracing a possession style of play. The coaching staff encourages creativity in their play and to have fun moving the puck. We have run into issue managing a balance between the creativity and discipline play, avoiding critical turnovers that have lost games for us. In the second half of the season, we expect this to improve. We will continue to experiment with lines and players up until the state tournament. Our goal is to peak as we enter the state tournament.”
Junior forward Richard Araujo leads the team with 26 goals, 8 assists in 18 league games. Senior forward Charles Kapp has 15 goals, 10 assists. Senior forward Alek Bogdonoff has 10 goals, 12 assists. Senior defenseman Robert Cremin has 2 game-winning goals among his 3 tallies in league play.
“We have a great core of seniors who were in the program last year. Our only regret is, we will only have one season with them,” Swoyer said. “We have a good group of underclassmen playing both JV and varsity. We will have a solid core of players returning next season and plan to build on our success from this year with that group.”
Weston Ball has seen the most action in goal in league play, with a 3.00 goals-against average. Jonathan Krawchuk carries a 3.38 GAA.
“We are fortunate to have four solid goalies,” Swoyer said. “Our GAA on varsity is too high right now. Our target for the second half of the season is for our GAA to be at or below 2.0. This will be a team effort.”
Hinsdale Central is in sixth-place in the West, with 23 points. Co-op Glenbard leads the West with 35 points, followed by Lincoln Way (30), OPRF (28), Waubonsie (25) and Lyons Township (24).
One of the Red Devils’ most memorable games this season was actually a practice game in Indiana back in August – and the coaches admittedly did not know the names of all the players.
“It was rather chaotic with the new coaching staff and players. We have come a long way since then,” Swoyer said. “It has been a fun ride getting to know all the players.
“We have some very good underclassmen in our program. They have all come a very long way and we look forward to their development for next year.”
Swoyer said the West “is solid” this season.
“There are 14 teams and most of the teams can beat any other team on any given day,” he said. “If you don’t come to play, you will not win. We have proved that too many times. That makes it all worthwhile.”
Hinsdale Central plays its home games at the Darien Sportsplex, and plans to leave its mark soon in the West – and beyond.
“We are not looking back to previous seasons as our benchmark,” Swoyer said. “We have a vision of building a championship culture with this program and be a major part of a positive high school experience for our players. We are working closely with the high school to encourage our players to play other sports, join clubs in school and be part of the community.
“We are one program with two teams. We are looking to create a positive hockey experience that will be a major part of the players overall high school experience. That includes winning and being champions. While this could take years, we are putting everything we got into this year out of respect to our seniors and upperclassmen.
“We are proud of our first four months and look forward to a strong finish. Someone is going to be state champion this year … why not us?!”
**Photos courtesy of Jim Swoyer**
Getting To Know … Elias Sandholm
Facts: Senior goalie for Stevenson High School, in his first season with the Patriots as he just moved to the Chicago area in late-2016.
Thoughts Upon Arriving at Stevenson: “(The school is) big.”
Learned To Skate: At age 5, and was a defenseman for his first three practices. “I realized that (defense) was not for me,” he said. “As a defender, I did not like the feeling of the other team scoring, so I never left our defensive zone. I just stayed back there and helped the goalie guard the net as a player. Luckily my team had a cycle that rotated the goalie position through the team. Not too long after this I was stuck in the net and have been ever since.”
Hooked on Hockey: Well, not really. “I was not really good in the beginning; everyone was skating circles around me. I ended up sticking to it, and I am really happy I did not quit.”
Favorite NHL Team: Chicago Blackhawks. “I have always been a big fan, even before I moved here.”
Favorite NHL Player: Henrik Lundqvist – “I have been watching him my whole life; (he is the) best Swedish goalie of all time.”
Favorite Sport (other than hockey): Soccer
Favorite Pro Athlete: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a Swedish soccer player.
Favorite app: Snapchat
Favorite Sports Movies: Miracle and Moneyball
Hardest Slapshot On Your Team: Roey Kleiman – “Unfortunately he does not know where he is aiming.”
Teammate Who, Someday, Will Make A Great Coach: Brett Stokes
Best High School Jersey (other than Stevenson): Providence Catholic
Worst High School Jersey (other than Stevenson): New Trier Green, alternatives
**Photos courtesy of Elias Sandholm**
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.