By Ross Forman
Waubonsie Valley has some large skates to fill – their own.
That’s because the 2018-19 season was truly one to remember for the co-op club, culminating with a 44-10 record and the Combined Division State Championship.
Waubonsie last season also won a couple tournament championships, including the annual Stevenson Thanksgiving Tournament, and the Illinois West Championship. The only tournament Waubonsie didn’t win was the Wheaton West Preseason Invitational, which Waubonsie missed out on a semi-final berth in a shootout loss to perennial power Glenbrook North.
“It was an interesting (state championship) game (against Glenbard this past March),” said Waubonsie head coach Jeremy Dombro. “Being up 3-1 in the third period, we put ourselves in a great spot. But a couple of bumps in the road and all of the sudden it was tied, and we were going into overtime. I would have loved to win 3-1 and watched that clock countdown to zero, but the emotions of winning in double-overtime were indescribable. The few seconds of excitement and finding coaches and players to celebrate with in that moment was such a unique feeling.”
The victory delivered relief, Dombro said.
“We felt like we had the team that could go all the way throughout the season, and just accomplishing that felt like a weight was lifted off our shoulders,” he said. “As I’ve stated, there were high expectations on our coaching staff and (from the) players, and accomplishing what we set out to do was such a big feeling of accomplishment.
“One of the biggest things that stands out to me was going through the handshake line. Glenbard, one of our biggest rivals throughout the season, is always a tough opponent. To get to the end of the handshake line and (then have) Glenbard coach Jason Hawkins hand me the game-winning puck and say, ‘I figured you might want to keep this one,’ is a testament to their club and the coaches in high school hockey.
“It was a really cool gesture and something I will always remember.”
Waubonsie students were recognized at multiple school assemblies and the City of Aurora.
“It was cool for a couple months driving by the marquee at each school and seeing a congratulations message,” Dombro said.
The team got state championship rings, which their captains designed.
Dombro admitted it was great to take a break from the sport throughout June and July, to help re-charge the battery. Dombro also ventured out of state for a few trips with family and friends. Plus, Dombro recently started a grad school program for a master’s in educational technology, so that kas kept him busy, too.
And, he turned 30 this summer, which coincided with him receiving the replica state championship trophy – a nice centerpiece at the birthday party.
Now what about repeating?
Waubonsie can, Dombro said – provided the team sticks with the same message and the same work-ethic from both its coaching staff and players, he said. “We had lofty expectations coming into last year, and we will have similar expectations this year. Making sure that we hold ourselves to a high standard all year long and finding the right ways to keep our players focused and determined to reach our goals,” is key.
“The returning players and coaches will have the mindset that we can accomplish the same goals we had last year.”
Dombro added: “Winning definitely draws attention to the club and all the players in the area. We have some players that want to come out and play for us based on the success we’ve had over the last couple years.”
Dombro, who lives in Aurora, is a math teacher at Metea Valley High School. This is his ninth season coaching, all at the high school level and all for Waubonsie Valley.
He was a Waubonsie JV assistant coach from 2011-12 season through the 2013-14 season, then moved to JV head coach for the 2014-15 season through the 2016-17 season, which included a 2nd place in state in 2015 and a JV state championship in 2016 season.
He also won the Illinois West JV Coach of the Year award after the 2015-16 season.
Dombro was promoted to varsity assistant coach, and the 2017-18 campaign was his first season as a varsity head coach – and Waubonsie then finished as Illinois West champions and state champions.
Dombro played for the Huskies and Hawks growing up. He skated for Lyons Township from 2003-2007, which included Illinois Suburban League titles at JV and varsity.
He played roller hockey at the University of Illinois.
So, what about the 2019-2020 team?
“As we go into tryouts, we’re looking for players who can fill in the right roles to help us maintain the same success we had last year,” he said. “I don’t think I can really focus on one (strength) group (for this upcoming season). I believe we will have great primary and secondary scoring. Our goaltending should be near the top of the state and defensively we look very sound.”
Waubonsie lost 10 seniors to graduation and has 10 returning players.
“I think we’ll be very solid throughout our lineup,” he said.
Especially since the Waubonsie roster features Zach Pearce, a senior forward who was the MVP of state championship game and is a four-year varsity player.
Plus, senior goalie Justin Howard is rock-solid, one of the best in the state, period.
“(Justin) had a great junior season,” Dombro said.
“We are looking for some sophomores to come in and make an impact, along with some juniors that came out for spring and want to be a part of our program’s success.”
Keys also will include seniors Alex Wilder (forward), Trent Kenyon (forward) and Nolan Cummings (defense). “These are three of the players (who) have been to the state championship two years in a row, (so they) know what it takes to get there. We’ll look for their leadership to help younger players understand the effort and focus it takes to compete for a state title.”
The Illinois West will be strong, as always, with Glenbard, Maine, and Wheaton West likely among those fighting Waubonsie for the league title. Hinsdale Central had a good year last year and should be a solid team again. Rivals Neuqua and Naperville North also should have good programs this year.
“We are really looking forward to this year,” Dombro said. “We’ve got great pieces coming in to supplement the success we’ve had over the last couple of years.”
On The Bench With … Waubonsie Head Coach Jeremy Dombro
Most Accurate shot on Waubonsie: Will Troy
Waubonsie player who is best on penalty shots: Justin Howard
Best stickhandler on Waubonsie: Zach Pearce
Best shot-blocker on Waubonsie: Nolan Cummings
All-time favorite Chicago Blackhawks player: Jeremy Roenick
The 2020 Stanley Cup Champion will be: Tampa Bay Lightning
It’s a Fact: Jeremy and his wife, Rebecca, who is a teacher, have a goldendoodle named Duncan – named after Duncan Keith.
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.