By Ross Forman
The road to the United Center skates through New Trier Green, as always.
The defending state champion Trevians are reloaded and, perhaps, even more talented than a year ago, when Green skated past arch-rival Loyola Gold at the United Center for the Red Division title and the Illinois High School Hockey State Championship, yet again.
“I think we will have a little more offense than last year’s team. Question is, will this year’s team have that same grit, that same passion as last year,” said Green head coach Bob Melton. “I think this year’s team is every bit as talented as last year’s team, maybe a little more talented. But that doesn’t always mean anything.
“I think it’s going to be a very good team, with four returning defensemen, four returning forwards, plus some skilled forwards moving up (from the New Trier) White team.
“The biggest question mark is, goaltending – when will goalie Preston Watt return, if he can return?”
Watt, a junior who blanked the Ramblers in the state championship game, had open-heart surgery this summer.
“He’s been in big games and is really an excellent goaltender,” Melton said. “The perfect scenario is, he returns in mid-October,” but there is no definite return-date. Watt was 37-2 last year, with a 1.48 goals-against average.
The Trevians went 61-7-1 last season and will anchor the upcoming season on three star defensemen: Magnus Sivertson, John Kane and Brian Dolby.
“I’d put these three among the top 10 in the state. They’re fast and aggressive; each can play offense and defense,” Melton said. “Dolby and Siverston matched up against Loyola’s top line last season at the United Center, and they did a great job.”
Daniel Budington could be Green’s top scorer, a title he had last season on White.
“He’s a real offensive-minded center,” Melton said. “No one may know him now, but, at the end of the season, everyone will know him.”
The Trevians will skate in a stronger Scholastic Hockey League this fall, as Saint Viator, Carmel Catholic and OPRF have joined – and each was a top 15 team last year.
The league also features defending champion Loyola Gold, Glenbrook North, Glenbrook South and Stevenson, among others.
“It’s going to be a great SHL season,” Melton said. “I think it really helps us to play (against) top competition throughout the season.”
Green opens play Sept. 5 in the Pre-Season Invitational Tournament, held at Center Ice of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, a 16-team tournament hosted by Wheaton West. The Trevians’ first three games are against Maine Township, Waubonsie Valley and Highland Park.
“It’s always been, win (state), or it’s a bust season,” Melton said. “Prior to coming to Green, I think we won state four times in 15 or 17 years. Since I’ve taken over, we’ve won 13 times in 22 years. (Winning state is) the standard – it’s our No. 1 goal to start the year.
“Last year’s team played with a lot of heart, a lot of passion.”
Last year’s team also was motivated by the sudden passing of assistant coach Alex Pegler.
“They rallied behind that, to win in his honor,” Melton said. “The team played with a purpose (last season). Loyola was an excellent team, and Loyola defeated Green a few weeks earlier in the SHL Championships. So, by no means were we a given to win it last year.
“Thankfully the team peaked down the stretch and pulled together. Last year really was awesome.”
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.