By Ross Forman
Naperville North is looking to build on the momentum established last season during Bill Driscoll’s first season as head coach.
The team finished by winning the Founders Cup of the Illinois West League, and perhaps more important from a school perspective, it was the first time that the seniors beat their crosstown rival, Naperville Central.
“I was really happy for the seniors because they, and club president Chris Hall, came a long way from restarting the program after a hiatus due to low numbers,” said Driscoll, who spent seven years coaching in the Sabres organization and was the NWHL Coach of the Year during the 2015-2016 season.
All eyes now focus on Friday night, Nov. 9, when the first North-Central showdown is played, starting at 8:50 p.m., at All Seasons Ice Rink in Naperville.
“This is my first year taking over the program as varsity head coach and hockey director. Last year, Steve Climo, our current JV coach, stepped up huge and took over coaching both teams when we found ourselves without a head coach at the start of the season,” Driscoll said. “I stepped off the board and helped in any way I could. This year the program has had a complete overhaul. We hired two more coaches to help. Ryan Buchanan, the Aurora University Club coach, is assisting me with varsity and Matt Hodgman, an alumnus of North hockey, is helping Climo with JV. The focus is not on ‘two teams,’ but (rather), ‘one program.’ We run off-ice together, combined skill practices. etc.
North lost eight players to graduation and despite only five seniors on the team Driscoll said the team is “focused and (has) impressed in their perseverance and tireless effort.
“We’ve been in every game so far in this season and it doesn’t hurt to have our goalies, Kevin Braner and Sean Denker, playing great hockey.”
The Huskies are 4-7 with a two-game losing streak.
“Goaltending has been strong thus far and when matched with a strong work ethic out of all three lines, we just keep coming at you,” Driscoll said. “I would say one of our weaknesses is, offensive creativity. The ability to create something from nothing is hard to find in hockey and I’m still looking for someone to break out in this way.”
The team’s co-captains are senior forwards Brett Martin and Kyle Harfoush, and both truly lead by example. “They work hard every shift and their positive attitudes keep the train chugging forward,” Driscoll said. The three juniors are goalie Kevin Braner, forward Gavin Klaisle, and defenseman Dan Boscarino. “I consider them the top players in their positions,” Driscoll said.
As for key newcomers, well, North has plenty. Seven of the 19 players are new to varsity. “They’ve all stepped up, but I have to call out freshman goalie, Sean Denker. In two games, he’s been scored on only once. I can’t wait to see what he’s like when he grows.”
So how far can the youth-filled Huskies go?
“What a difference a month makes. Had you asked me a month ago, I would have said it would be a rebuilding year. Now after five (league) games, including Hinsdale Central, Waubonsie and Wheaton West, I think we can compete with anyone. We’ve got work to do, but I’ve got players willing to make the required sacrifices,” Driscoll said. “There’s a new energy to the program and its palpable. Practice tempo has ramped, and players are being held accountable in ways that they weren’t in the past. Running off-ice on school grounds has raised the profile of the team. We have work to do to continue to try to build a fan base.
“We are trying to build a program that every player is proud of and every hockey player at North wants to participate in.”
Capturing the West won’t be easy, but one key to North’s success this season will be sophomore forward Tyler Zuspann, who could be a breakout star. “He works hard and does the little things to be effective. His net-front presence is a huge positive,” Driscoll said.
Driscoll, 45, who lives in Naperville, is a portfolio manager at Ballast Equity Management LLC. He has been coaching for 10 years.
“I played my high school hockey in Rhode Island, and hockey in Rhode Island is like football in Texas. I want the same (energy and excitement) for the players here,” Driscoll said.
To that, Driscoll has started a mini-tournament called, the Carillon Cup, to raise hockey awareness in the area. It’s modeled after Boston’s Beanpot that pits Boston College, Boston University, Harvard, and Northeastern.
The Carillon Cup will be played every year one week before Thanksgiving between Naperville North, Naperville Central, Waubonsie Valley, and Neuqua Valley.
On The Bench With … Naperville North Head Coach Bill Driscoll
Favorite NHL Team: Boston Bruins
Favorite NHL Player: Duncan Keith
Favorite Chicago Sports Team: Chicago Blackhawks
The 2019 Stanley Cup Champion Will Be: Winnipeg Jets
Hardest Slapshot on Naperville North: Dane Blomquist
Most Accurate Shot On Naperville North: Gavin Klaisle
Best Coaching Advice Ever Received: “Get off the bench when you want to talk to the ref – from some wise referee at a tournament in Michigan.”
Hockey Pet Peeve: “Banging your stick. Shake it off and go out and do something positive.”
Hockey Superstition: “Don’t ever utter the words ‘shut out’ until the game is done.”
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.