By Ross Forman
Saint Viator won’t be sneaking up on anyone this season, and no one will take these Lions as a simple skate.
The roar is back from this Arlington Heights-based school that is the defending Kennedy Cup champion and certainly is a legitimate contender to play next March at the United Center, with the Illinois High School Hockey State Championship on the line.
“We are going to make a statement once again this season,” said Saint Viator head coach Tim Benz, in his second season at the school, his ninth year overall as a coach. “We have to prove that last season’s (Catholic League) Championship team wasn’t a one-hit wonder. Our goal is to be churning full-tilt by Thanksgiving. We have the talent and depth to do it; we just have to put it all together.
“We have a lot of returning players that have played some significant time at the varsity level. These players know what it takes to be successful at this level.”
But, Saint Viator lost its top line from last season, which included two All-State players and also an All-State defenseman. “We are looking for guys to fill those leadership roles as well as contribute on the scoresheet,” Benz said.
Senior Brian Lolli is one Lion who many will hear about this season, his fourth season as a Saint Viator defenseman. Senior center Colten Ludwick also is a top player, along with senior left wing Connor Bauman, and senior right wing Jack Nimrod.
“We have the talent to compete with the best in the state; we have proven it already,” Benz said. “It will be dependent on our ability to maintain consistent effort and discipline to team play and systems. Getting back to the Kennedy Cup Finals would be great for a program and is a very attainable goal for our team. The same holds true for making a run at getting to the United Center. If we play the way we can, we will have a very good chance at attaining both of those goals.”
Benz, 31, who lives in Glenview and is a sales analyst for CDW, coached with the Glenview Stars for eight years. He was an assistant coach for one season for Glenbrook South, his alma mater, and two years for Loyola Gold, including one season as the co-head coach with longtime Ramblers boss D.J. LaVarre.
“We are the defending Kennedy Cup champions, (and) that honor comes with a target on your back. Every team we play is going to bring their A-game against us; we have to make sure to bring ours,” Benz said. The key will be for the Lions to mix team play, mental toughness and discipline in position and in adverse situations, he added.
The Catholic League is stacked, with St. Ignatius ready to hoist the Kennedy Cup. They were the regular-season league champions last year, return their leading scorer and an All-State goaltender. Providence, like always, will be tough with their fast, physical style of play. Carmel Catholic and St Rita also will be contenders.
Saint Viator hasn’t started the season as it would have liked.
The Lions stood at 5-6-1 as of Oct. 27, when the team was set to play host to St. Rita. Saint Viator lost back to back games to St. Ignatius, New Trier Green, then Glenbrook North, but regrouped to topple Mt. Carmel 7-1 on Oct. 17, then Marist 5-0 on Oct. 20.
“(We are) not off to the start we had hoped for, but we have had a few early setbacks. We have had three players who played football and two who played golf who will finally be joining the team full-time. We (also) have also been stung by the injury- and sick-bug and have yet to have a full roster practice or game, so, despite some early struggles, we are still looking at things positively.
“Our early-season losses have come to Loyola Gold, New Trier Green, St. Ignatius and GBN. Despite the losses I was pleased with the way our guys competed while being short some of our key players. Playoff games are not won in October, so we are staying optimistic about this group once we have everyone back on board. Our goal (is) to be a full team by mid-November and we hope to make a statement in the Loyola Thanksgiving Tournament.”
Key newcomers this season include senior left wing Mike Kissane, who joins the Lions from the Leafs U18 team last season. James Gorman and Harout Torosian, both sophomore forwards, were the leading scorers on the Lions’ JV team last season. And, sophomore forward Michael Nobregas joins Viator from the Falcons U15 team last season. “All four of these players will help us offensively,” Benz said.
Junior center Sean Wagner also is one to watch.
Last season, Wagner was a defensive center assigned to other teams’ top lines. This year, “we are looking for him to do that and (also) contribute on the scoresheet,” Benz said. “So far, he has done both and we look for continued success with Sean.”
In addition, Mike Petrecca is stepping into the team’s top goalie position. He is a junior who has previously played on the JV team.
Viator graduated both of its goaltenders from last year, “and Mike has stepped in, kept us in a lot of high-profile games,” Benz said.
*Photos courtesy of Joni Lolli
On The Bench With … Saint Viator Head Coach Tim Benz
Favorite Chicago Sports Team: Chicago Blackhawks
The 2019 Stanley Cup Champion Will Be: Toronto Maple Leafs
Hardest Slapshot on Saint Viator: Mike Kissane
Most Accurate Shot on Saint Viator: Marco Presta
Best Coaching Advice Received: “Preparation and organization are the building blocks for success.” – Mike Noll, who was Benz’ football coach at Glenbrook South.
Hockey Pet Peeve: Sloppy Breakouts
Hockey Superstitions: None
Pre-game Meal As a Player: Peanut Butter and jelly and a banana
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.