First-year head coach Jeremy Dombro pushes Warriors to avenge last season’s second-place finish
By Ross Forman
Jeremy Dombro is in his first season as a varsity head coach, and only his second season on a varsity bench, as he was an assistant for co-op Waubonsie Valley last season when the Warriors skated into the United Center only to fall to BG/H/W in the state championship game.
Dombro has full intentions of bringing the Warriors back to the UC for the title game in the Illinois High School Hockey State Championship (Combined Division).
“This year’s team is a great group of guys,” said Dombro, 29, who lives in Aurora. “The team is all upperclassmen, with a third of skaters coming from Metea (Valley High School) and two-thirds from Waubonsie. We have 12 returning players from last year’s varsity team, and only one new addition from our spring season. They are a goofy but dedicated group, that put winning at the forefront of their minds.
“Goaltending has been a strength so far, as we’re giving up less than three goals a game, and less than two in league play. We have a win-or-die-trying attitude, and I think the fact that we got a taste of the state final last year, has guys motivated to keep working hard. We also have four players that won a JV state title together in 2014-15, with myself and assistant coach Chaiden Rostowski. The fact that they’ve played together in big games over their high school career, gives us a little bit extra composure when we find ourselves in tight contests.
“Other than that, it’s the desire to go all the way. Players set goals before the season, and almost all of them included a state championship along with a league championship. I think that shows that we are all on the same page, with high goals in mind.”
Dombro, who is a math teacher at Metea Valley High School, has coached Waubonsie for the previous seven years. He was the assistant coach on JV from 2011-14, head coach on JV from 2014-17, which included Illinois West title and a second-place finish in state in 2014-2015. The team captured the JV state championship in 2015-16, and it won the Illinois West President’s Award for leadership in coaching in 2014-15 and was the Illinois West JV Coach of the Year during the 2015-16 season.
Dombro started playing a bit later than many – at age 10. But he played roller hockey prior to that. He played for the Huskies and Hawks growing up, then four years at Lyons Township High School where he was part of three Illinois Suburban League championships, including one against rival Hinsdale Central as a senior.
Dombro went on to play roller hockey at the University of Illinois, where he was the captain his final two season, along with playing in Nationals as a senior.
“When I left U of I, I was the second-leading scorer in the program’s history,” he said. “Although some of the guys give me flack for playing roller hockey in college, I think it gave me a very different perspective to the game of hockey. I didn’t know what to expect with roller hockey in college, but was able to play with some guys who played ice hockey at a very high level, but transitioned away from ice due to the commitment level while attending school.
“Having played at both lower and higher levels, I think that I can relate to a lot of different players, with different skill sets. I was rarely the best player on a team, but I’d like to think that I’ve always had a high hockey IQ, along with a good work ethic that helped me be successful while playing the game. I think that playing roller hockey in college really changed my perspective on the skill and possession piece of the game, realizing that those two components can take a team a long way.
“Another thing I realized growing up was that I loved to analyze games after they were played. Whether that was by myself or with my dad, we always talked about what could have gone differently and how to approach different on-ice situations, which I think I’ve carried into the coaching world.”
Dombro replaces Jimmy Frasco.
“The fact that I was able to coach hockey for a club that included kids from same school I was teaching” at was a key to pursuing the Waubonsie coaching post, Dombro said. “I never had a high school coach that was a teacher, and felt that it was a pretty unique thing. It definitely makes a big difference seeing players during the school day, and building stronger relationships throughout the year.”
Waubonsie is anchored by four key returning players: junior forward Zach Pearce (Metea Valley), senior forward Michael Alberts (Waubonsie Valley), senior forward Will Naffziger (Metea), and senior defenseman Nate Kozari (Waubonsie).
“We have the talent and desire to win Illinois West and make it back to the UC to take another crack at the state title,” Dombro said. But, he admitted, “Occasionally we take teams too lightly. We’ve had a few games where we get out to a couple goal lead, but then we take our foot off the gas and allow teams to hang around too long.”
One of the key newcomers is junior goalie Justin Howard (Metea), who has “a great work ethic (and) excellent leadership skills,” Dombro said. Plus, junior forward Will Troy “is an extremely skilled player with a high hockey IQ, who also placed third in state this year in golf.”
In addition, senior defenseman Dylan Blessing (Waubonsie) “is very skilled, with a lot of size that can play any style of hockey.”
“The first six weeks (of the season) have been great,” Dombro said. “We’ve had a lot of great games, including wins against Glenbrook South, Glenbard, OPRF, Wheaton West, and a shootout loss to GBN. We won a tournament in Madison, Wisconsin in early-November and look to carry that success into Stevenson’s Thanksgiving Tournament.
“We’ve been able to bond (well) as a team, including a thrift store trip in Madison where players had $20 dollars to create the most unique pre-game attire.”
Waubonsie started 7-1 in Illinois West play, outscoring its opponents during that stretch 33-15. Alberts is an alternate captain who is a four-year Waubonsie player and was part of the JV state championship in 2015-16. “I remember when Michael came to the program as an eighth-grader in spring, and thought (then that) we had something special in him. He has been a consistent playmaker and goal-scorer throughout his four years at Waubonsie. He has the ability to make everyone better around him, and he’s a nightmare to play against.”
Pearce had 6 goals, 6 assists in his first 7 league games – and this is his third varsity season and he too is an alternate captain. “He is an exceptionally talented player (who) has the ability to find the back on the net on every shift,” Dombro said. “He’s a hard worker and he hates losing, which translates to a win-or-die-trying attitude night in and night out. His hockey IQ is up with some of the best in the state and he is truly a game-changer.”
Dombro said the team has “lofty” goals, anchored on winning state.
“Based on the team we have, expectations should be high,” he said. “We want to establish the fact that last year’s run to the state title wasn’t a fluke, and that our program should be one to watch out for this year.
“(The team will) work hard and have fun. Hockey is a lot more fun when you’re winning, and it’s a lot easier to win when you work hard. We have a talented group, and our success will depend on us not being complacent, along with bringing the right mindset every day we’re at the rink.”
Waubonsie’s destiny in a few months could very easily fall by the stick of senior forward Andy McCoy (Waubonsie), who was a fourth line player last year, yet now finds himself in a top six spot on the team. “He’s found his scoring touch throughout the first couple of months, and is confidently patient with the puck,” Dombro said.
And junior Nolan Cummings (Waubonsie) also is stepping into a more prominent role. “He was a defenseman on our varsity team last year, and has stepped into a top four role on defense this year,” Dombro said. “He can play in any situation and logs a lot of crucial minutes on the back end.”
Dombro added: “We asked players at the beginning of the year to write about their goals, who they wanted for captains, etc. Players said that they felt the team was more of a democracy and that there wasn’t one specific individual that should be captain, but rather, four alternate captains. That was a first for myself, hearing players say that they don’t think we have/need a captain this year. It’s encouraging to see a team that holds everyone accountable and keeps pushing their teammates to get better every day.”
On The Bench with … Waubonsie Valley Head Coach Jeremy Dombro
Favorite NHL Team: Chicago Blackhawks
Favorite NHL Player: Patrick Kane
The 2019 Stanley Cup Champion Will Be: Nashville Predators
Hardest Slapshot on Waubonsie: Will Troy or Dylan Blessing
Most Accurate Shot On Waubonsie: Zach Pearce
Waubonsie Player Who Someday Could Be A Coach: Jack Flood
Best Coaching Advice: “Embrace the moment every time you’re at the rink. You are there for your players and they will always remember you for the positive impact you had on their life as a coach and as a mentor.” – Mike Svac
Hockey Pet Peeve: Long shifts
Hockey Superstitions: “I don’t have set superstitions, but I’m a firm believer that when things are going your way, don’t change a thing. I once drank hot chocolate before games for three months in high school because I had a point streak going.”
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.