By Ross Forman
In this, his 22nd season coaching local high school hockey, Bob Veller moved into a new role, one he admittedly was looking forward to. Veller shifted from the head coaching role for the D211 Chiefs varsity team to the program’s Black team, its varsity 2 team that mostly plays a JV schedule.
“It is more of a teaching opportunity and chance to develop the players to get ready for the Varsity 1 team,” Veller said. “Our team has done a great job moving forward after a bit of a slow start.”
The team was winless in its first four games of the season, but has continued to push forward in the Champions JV League of the North-Central Division.
“I think we have done very well,” so far this season, Veller said. “We limit the goals-against and PIMs and have been very competitive against all the teams in our division, which is great to see. The team gets along very well, so it makes the season much easier. We have added some new players to a mix of a solid core of players that have been here since freshman year.”
The team’s strength is its “willingness to learn and have fun, no matter what the situation,” Veller said. “We keep our emotions in check and don’t let the game get away from us either way.”
Some of the key players are freshmen Aiden Halloran (F/D, Fremd) and Matt Ruzanski (F/D, Fremd), along with sophomore returning goalie Daniel Baker (Fremd) and sophomore returning forward Gavin Bolanos (Fremd).
The Chiefs are co-op of players from Conant, Hoffman Estate, Fremd, Schaumburg and Palatine.
“We had a slow start (to the season). I think we needed time to play and come together like most teams,” Veller said. “Adding some new players to our returning players changed the team a bit from spring, so it just takes time for everyone to get on the same page.
“I think one of our biggest improvements have been in puck control and making smart decisions. Steve Klima, the varsity Grey coach and I, try to run a lot of mini games at practice. It keeps practice fun and the kids work hard, but it also allows them to find creative ways to control the puck, create opportunities and communicate. For some of the players that is a change from just skating and typical drills. It takes players a bit to figure out what the mini games are for without the coaches telling them upfront, ‘OK, today we are working on break-out or puck-support or power play.’ When they realize what they are working on and the light bulb goes on, it is great to see the difference in games.”
Two shining stars on the Chiefs bench are John Walter Delaney (Palatine) and Will Hoefke (Conant). “These two play well together in many different situations and are very coachable,” Veller said. “It makes my job easy when you can tell a player, ‘Do this, not that’ or ‘Try this next time,’ and you see it on the ice during the next shift.”
Veller, 45, who lives in Buffalo Grove, is the Rolling Meadows Park District Superintendent of Ice Arenas. He has coached the Chiefs for seven years.
Veller started his coaching ride in 1996, with the Fremd JV. He coached Palatine/ Rolling Meadows from 1997-1999, then was the Fremd varsity coach from 2000-2004. He went to the Saint Viator bench (varsity and JV) from 2004-2011.
In addition, he has coached Tier II teams and was the Rolling Meadows Renegades Tier III hockey director from 1999-2009.
“I think the (North-Central) league did a great job putting the divisions together,” Veller said. “There are some top teams in our division that are just more consistent than others. We have played the teams on top to a win and a loss in either league games or tournament games. So, you get the old saying, ‘Anyone can beat anyone,’ and that makes for a great division.
“I like the growing trend of kids playing high school hockey. The increased pressure kids face in school limits the amount of time they have to spend at the rinks. Having practice after school and having 90 percent of our games close to home makes our schedule much easier to handle with the homework load most of our players have. I know a number of players are working toward the Harper Promise program. They are limited in the amount of school they miss and have to complete a certain amount of volunteer hours. At the Chiefs, school comes first, so our kids miss 1-2 days of school for hockey at the most. We also use players from D211, PREP and BGHW to help the Renegades with class and summer camps so they can meet their volunteer hours.”
On The Bench With … D211 Chiefs Varsity Black Head Coach Bob Veller
Favorite NHL Team: Chicago Blackhawks
Favorite NHL Player: “Growing up, (it was Jeremy) Roenick; he could do everything. Currently, I like (Jonathan) Toews; I don’t think he gets enough credit for things he does away from the puck that don’t stand out on the highlights.”
The 2019 Stanley Cup Champion Will Be: “I can’t cheer for another team in the Central (Division). I do like to see new teams win. I think it would be cool to see Columbus or Buffalo who are playing pretty well right now.”
Hardest Slapshot on Chiefs Black: Lukas Lisowski
Most Accurate Shot On Chiefs Black: Aiden Halloran
Fastest Skater on Chiefs Black: Will Saccone
Player Who You Could See As a Coach One Day: “Will Saccone … maybe not in hockey, but he has a great, positive attitude and is comfortable in that leadership role. He will be good working with players in any sport.”
Best Coaching Advice Ever Received: “Pat Smith, my peewee and bantam coach, and also the first person to coach with … Without saying it, he stressed that hockey was always more than what you see or do on the ice. It was the friendships, being a better person, being a better player, always having fun and having a passion for the game. He was always part of the team, not just someone we played for. I try to coach both my 14U and high school teams with that in mind, a passion for hockey and having fun.”
Hockey Pet Peeve: “Not being ready to play, (be it) no neck guard, no mouth guard, forgetting your jersey, etc. I know there is a lot going on, but these things seem so simple yet so hard to do every time.”
Hockey Superstitions: “Probably try to do the same things before games if things are going well. Nothing too crazy.”
It’s a Fact: Was a member of the Fremd High School 1991 state championship team.
Injured As a High School Senior: That led to a passion for teaching. “I was able to combine teaching with pre-hockey classes and assistant coaching after college. That was a great combination for me.”
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.