AWFM Motivated to Skate Back to the United Center

By Ross Forman

AWFM had a great season a year ago, but head coach Matt Benton admitted that, despite a 30-4 overall record and 111 goals for and only 34 against, the team “definitely came up short in the state tournament.”

The co-op Renegades were the No. 7 seed in the Combined Division state tournament last season and lost their first game, 3-2 to No. 10 Latin School of Chicago.

This year’s Renegades are motivated to return to the United Center.

“I’m very excited to see what this year’s team can do,” Benton said. “They are a very talented, energetic bunch. They all have one goal: to take a trip back to the United Center.

“It was (a) strong season for the club (last year) winning the Cougar Cup championship,” but the program wants more.

Benton, 31, lives in Villa Park and is in his sixth season coaching AWMF and also is the owner of Puck Star. Under his guidance, the Renegades have won the IHSHL Hayes-Suburban Division league championship four years straight, and one state championship.

This year’s team is driven by discipline, he said.

The Renegades opened 4-0.

“The team plays great position-play and has adapted to new rules quit well,” he said.

Key players this season include senior wing Joe Mazzone (Willowbrook), junior defenseman Tanner Merrill (Addison Trail) and senior goalie Aidan O’Connor (Montini).

“All of our players have their own roles on (the) team,” Benton said.

Some of the key newcomers are sophomore Logan Fauk (Willowbrook), sophomore Jack Martin (Montini), sophomore Ryan Kranicki (Willowbrook), sophomore Jonathan Nasti (Addison Trail) and junior Dino DiGrazia (Addison Trail).

“All (of our newcomers) have contributed in different ways to the team; (I) couldn’t be happier with the work that they have put out,” Benton said.

DiGrazia might be the team’s breakout star, one of the best this season in the nine-team Hayes-Suburban Division, which includes the COBRAS, Homewood Flossmoor and Nazareth, among others.

“Dino is an absolute workhorse, on and off the ice,” Benton said. “I think he will really surprise some people with the points he puts up.”

On The Bench With … AWFM Head Coach Matt Benton

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Hardest Slapshot on AWFM: Tanner Merrill
Most Accurate Shot On AWFM: Dino DiGrazia
Fastest Skater on AWFM: Anthony Triantafillos
Best Playmaker on AWFM: Joe Mazzone
Player Who You Could See As a Coach One Day: Jacob Hagopian

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

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