By Ross Forman – Junior defenseman Cian Duffy secured the 3-2 victory for Maine Township over host Waubonsie/Metea on Oct. 19 in Naperville with a shootout goal.
That came in the 16th round.
“We’ve been lucky so far to have some really memorable moments,” this season, said Maine head coach Greg Mrofcza.
There was, for instance, the game against Wheaton West on Nov. 15 in Park Ridge. “(We scored) a goal to give us the win in regulation-time, (but the goal) was waived off, ruled to have been scored just after time expired,” Mrofcza said.
Maine’s first and third shooters in the shootout, Brendan Kerrins and Dylan Walker, each tallied “insane moves (to score) and our goalie stonewalled the first four shooters from Wheaton West to give us a big league win in front of a packed crowd,” he said.
Maine skated into the Loyola Thanksgiving Tournament with 4 consecutive wins and W’s in 5 of their last 6. But the skates seemingly fell off at the holiday weekend tournament as they lost all 3 games, though each was a one-goal loss.
“We have about half of our team from last season returning, with some very strong JV players from last season moving up as well as three players coming from outside the program,” Mrofcza said. “Our team this season will be very fast. I also think we’ll be more balanced than last season. I believe our goaltending has matured from last season and that will strengthen that position. Also, I believe we have the ability to skate fast and push the pace against even some of the elite high school teams in Illinois. We have a committed group of seniors that came very close to ending last season on a special note and want to be sure that we win our last game this season.
That said, Mrofcza admitted Maine is still “maturing as a group.”
“Early on we’ve had some troubles when things don’t go our way,” he said. “We’ve had a couple of games where we really control play, but have been unable to come up with a win. I look at this as a chance to develop our mental game and develop faith in our systems, ourselves and our teammates.
“I think the most surprising element of the year for me so far has been how we’ve played against some very strong teams. When we’re all together, we’ve looked much stronger at this point of the season than I anticipated. I thought coming into this season we would have a longer journey of developing as a group, but we have played some fantastic games early which is extremely encouraging if we use those efforts as a baseline of where we feel we can go by the end of the season.”
Mrofcza is in his 16th season coaching including 7 with Maine. He also has coached Lockport and Saint Viator JV.
“Everyone knew going into (last) season that we had a chance to be a contender for both a league and combined division state title. We had a large number of seniors and all of them were great leaders. That was the first team in seven years that won 40+ games (and we were) the first Maine team to ever make the semi-finals of the (Christmas-time) holiday tournament. We also advanced to the league championship and made it to the final four in state. I know members of that team are very disappointed they were unable to win a (state) championship, but they accomplished so much, all while being a very good group of individuals. I was extremely proud of our team last season.”
Maine finished 41-18-2 last season.
“Our best progress has been (made) toward improvement as a group and starting to develop our identity. At the beginning (of the season), I really don’t think we knew who we were and how we planned on winning, but, (in November), I really think we’ve begun to develop our identity and style and become more and more comfortable with each other, which has been really cool to watch.”
Here’s a look at some of the key Maine players:
- Caden Nowak, junior goalie (Buffalo Grove High School);
- Charlie Rutherford, senior forward (Maine South);
- Nick Ronell, senior defenseman (Maine South); and
- Dylan Walker, senior forward (Maine South).
Some of the key newcomers are:
- Will Trapp, senior defenseman (Maine South);
- Brendan Kerrins, junior forward (Maine South);
- Will Ahne, sophomore defenseman (Maine South);
- Arthur Kamierczuk, defenseman (Maine South); and
- Oscar Tilford, goalie (Round Lake).
“We have several players this year (who) we expected to go into big roles and have done a tremendous job,” Mrofcza said. “The team has the potential to reach both goals we’ve set – win the Illinois West League and win the state championship.
“We’re certainly not perfect, but the belief in our room is that we are relevant and are certainly in the conversation when it comes to being able to compete with the strongest teams in our league as well as the strongest teams in the state’s Combined Division.
“I think there are 4 or 5 teams that have a legitimate chance of being one of the final two teams (fighting for the state championship).”
In the Illinois West, Mrofcza said that there is parity throughout.
“With the exception of teams at the very top and very bottom, any team can beat any other team on any given day,” he said. “The great thing about our league is that you can’t take a night off. We’ve had the pleasure of playing in (the) North-Central (League) in the past. Our experience in both West and North-Central have been terrific. Both North-Central and West do an excellent job at the league level in terms of talking through the best options for the players in their respective leagues.”
So why Illinois West?
“It was a decision of moving toward parity in terms of as many games as possible and also moving into a position where we would be able to see clubs which we viewed as perennial Combined Division state contenders on a regular basis,” Mrofcza said. “Leaving North-Central was a very difficult decision, however, we felt that we would be able to preserve rivalries with other combined teams in North-Central and we feel we’ve done a good job at that over the past three seasons while also becoming familiar with other strong combined teams that call the West home.”
This is Maine’s fourth season in the Illinois West. Their top rivals, naturally, are Glenbard, Waubonsie/Metea and Wheaton West.
On The Bench With … Maine Township Head Coach Greg Mrofcza
The 2020 Stanley Cup Champion Will Be: “Don’t care … they won’t pay my rent.”
All-time Favorite Chicago Blackhawks Player: Jeff Shantz
Hardest Slapshot on Maine: Tom Gillespie, with Ethan Fitzgerald a close second.
Most Accurate Shot: Dylan Walker
Fastest Skater: Alex Montanile
Best Playmaker: Dylan Walker
Player Who You Could See As a Coach One Day: Oscar Tilford
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