By Ross Forman
Optimism is high on the Red Devils’ bench.
The Red Devils are 14-4 heading into 2019 in the IHSHL West Division. They are in third-place with 28 points, tied with Wheaton West, and only trailing league-leading Glenbard (34 points) and Waubonsie Valley (30).
Hinsdale Central has won its last 8 league games.
“Our season started with a two-month delay in getting our practice ice up and running. That put us behind our development plan, so we are trending as we expected,” Swoyer said. “We have a great group of players. We lost 12 players to graduation, (so) the coaching staff worked hard to find players that would build on what we started. We are very happy with the players who joined our program.
“We worked through the adversity of limited ice (this season). We jumped into some tournaments and did some other things to work around our challenges, but looking forward, we have our practice ice scheduled and facilities in place.”
The new Willowbrook rink features a Hinsdale Central locker room. “This is a first-rate facility that gives us a home,” said Swoyer, whose previous high school coaching run was at Lake Forest for five years starting with the 1989-90 season. “The locker room has private stalls for each player on both our JV and varsity teams. The rink is just over a mile from school and the players are able to come to the rink immediately after school. That was our functional vision and we will be in full swing the second half of the season.
“We have a very strong team with players that have the passion to play and compete. The boys have come together well and have started to bond now that we have a more regular schedule and facility they can call home. We have the skill set to make a run at the end of the season and expect the team to continue to play better together.”
The Red Devils are anchored on speed and skill. Plus, they are a fun team to watch “because we encourage creativity and the players know they have the freedom to make plays,” Swoyer said.
But, their biggest weakness also is their strength. “Given the skill set of our players, it is hard to get everyone on the same page and execute a plan,” Swoyer admitted. “Once we get that executable plan out there and manage a balance to be creative, we will be a very hard team to beat.”
Swoyer, who lives in Hinsdale, is the owner and founder of Hockey Biomechanics, Inc. After leaving Lake Forest, he has coached every level from mites to college. He has coached for the Flames, Huskies, Chicago Hawks, Lake Forest College and Team Illinois, among others.
Swoyer grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and played for the Rochester Americans before moving on to play four years of NCAA college hockey.
“When I was 9 years-old, I played for a guy who was the head coach of Brockport, a NCAA Division III program in Rochester. He had so much structure on and off the ice, to this day, I fall back to the lessons I learned from him,” Swoyer said.
That knowledge learned years ago is coming to light in the Hinsdale Central locker room.
Seniors Jackson Seymour and Rocky Araujo are both returning players and have led the team in points all season.
Senior defensemen Matt D’Aprile and Conal O’Kane joined the team this season and each has contributed in so many ways beyond what you see on the score sheet.
Junior Jack Ferrino joined the team this season, “and he is a very skilled player with a lot of speed. His compete level separates him in games and he is a pleasure to coach,” Swoyer said.
Sophomores Zach Laskowski and Michael McCormick have made huge contributions so far. “We are looking forward to seeing them play as upper classmen and being part of building an elite program,” Swoyer said.
Other key players are: junior goalie Rhett Bergevin, junior forward Nick Daly, junior forward Cade Sweeney, junior defenseman Aidan Dufort, and sophomore forward Michael McCormick.
“With our rink facility in full gear, we continue to see an improved team game,” Swoyer said. “Our focus is on the defensive side of the puck in the second half. Playing smarter hockey defensively is a key ingredient to going deep in the playoffs.”
Matt Johnson, who played on the JV last season, could be a varsity breakout player this season. He is rock solid on defense.
And, Zach Laskowski, too, who has moved from forward to defense. “I felt his ability to see the ice and move would work well with our style of play,” Swoyer said. “I would say that he is now a better defenseman than forward. But we take advantage of his versatility and throw him up on forward when we need to.”
So what’s up out West?
“I think the Illinois hockey community underestimates the quality of our league,” Swoyer said. “We have made a point this season to play teams outside our league and have found the top half of our league is as good as any other teams we played from other leagues. It pains me to hear people say that our league is not as strong as some other leagues; that is a perception that will change in time. I have been doing this for a very long time and I have not seen many leagues better organized and managed with more passion.”
The West could be won by Glenbard, or Maine Township, or OPRF, or about five other teams, maybe more.
Swoyer’s coaching resume also includes time in Russia, China and elsewhere abroad.
“I spent time in Russia, coaching camps and participating in an international skating symposium that compared different styles and theories of skating,” he said. “I (have) worked with the Swedish Hockey Federation and ran sessions to teach coaches how to teach skating. I spent time in China and ran a player’s development camp.
“Coaching players that do not speak English can be a challenge, but it did force me to be more visual in my teaching techniques.
“It’s hard to change the way a player skates in the middle of the season. Many times, it becomes counterproductive. I avoid doing too much of that during the season. The time I spent in Sweden made an impact on my perspective of the possession game.”
Swoyer, through his Hockey Biomechanics, Inc., has worked with more than two dozen NHL players and pros in Sweden. “Working with world-class players helped refine techniques and concepts we teach at Hockey Biomechanics,” he said.
“We are very proud of our program at Hinsdale Central. We have great parents’ support and players that have begun the process of embracing a championship culture. We have worked hard to make this one program with two teams. We share an incredible locker room facility and have coaches that work with both teams, not just one.”
On The Bench With … Hinsdale Central Head Coach Jim Swoyer
Favorite NHL Team: “I really don’t have a favorite team. I love the NHL and realize the better the Chicago Blackhawks do, the better it is for our hockey community here in Illinois.”
Favorite NHL Player: “I worked with a lot of pros, but Joe Pavelski is a standout in my mind because of his approach to his own development and how committed he is to always try to get better in every aspect of his game. He was one of the most fun players to work with, truly a great guy.”
The 2019 Stanley Cup Champion Will Be: “Maybe Toronto … (I can) only imagine how that fan base would respond after all those years.”
Hardest Slapshot on Hinsdale Central: Matt Johnson
Most Accurate Shot On Hinsdale Central: Rocky Araujo
Fastest Skater on Hinsdale Central: Nick Daly
Player Who You Could See As a Coach One Day: Jack Ferrino
Best Coaching Advice Ever Received: “Take time once in a while to be sure you shake hands and look into the eyes of each player.” – Keith Magnuson.
Hockey Pet Peeve: High Stick. “Anything with a player’s stick up in the air, other than when they are tipping a shot in front of the net. Nothing good can come from your stick 6, 12 or more inches off the ice.”
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.