The co-op club featuring players from Buffalo Grove, Hersey and Wheeling is 2-12-3, putting the Stampede in next-to-last place in the 12-team league, only ahead of Latin School of Chicago (1-16-2, 4 points).
But BG/H/W hasn’t ruled out a run at state and a return trip to the United Center.
“This team has competed against some of the best teams in state. Although we have been inconsistent, this team is capable of beating anyone on a given night,” said BG/H/W head coach Chris Waters, who has been coaching for 13 years, 10 at the high school level and 5 at BG/H/W.
“It is going to take more consistent play to win three or four in a row to get to the UC, but, we have proven we can compete with anyone.”
Waters, 37, a Libertyville resident, is the special education department chair at Glenbard West High School.
The Stampede was 15-30-8 last season.
“Last season was a tough season; we only had 5 or 6 upperclassmen on our roster and had a large leadership and talent void after our successful three-year run near the top of the state rankings,” Waters said. “We started off the season with a lot of growing pains, but improved as the season went on. In the state playoffs, we beat Lane Tech, who we had lost to twice earlier in the season, and then gave the eventual state champion, Waubonsie/Metea, a tough game in the quarterfinals.
“This year’s team is still young compared to most varsity teams. We only have 12 upperclassmen. Many of our players come from house league or bronze/silver travel teams, (so) it is our goal as coaches to develop these players so we can compete against some of the best teams in the (state) who are made up of nearly all upperclassmen who played at the highest levels of hockey. Our record this year is not necessarily where we want it to be, but we have competed against some of the best teams in the Scholastic League, Catholic League, and from Indiana/Ohio. We need to be more consistent with our play, but it has been fun to see these players push themselves on and off the ice.”
BG/H/W is anchored on goalie Evan Wurzbacher (Hersey), a four-year varsity player and, unquestionably, one of the best in Illinois. Conor Meehan is the back-up, and yet he’d likely be the starter for many other teams. Both have kept BG/H/W in games this season.
“We have had a tough time finding consistent scoring,” Waters said. “Seniors Nolan Newash (Hersey) and Anthony Henriksen are starting to find the back of the net more often, and everyone else is learning their roles, so we are hopeful going into the end of the season.
“We knew it was going to be more of a rebuilding year in many areas. If I had to pick out a surprise though, it would be our ability to compete with some of the top teams. We have tied or played in one-goal games against Barrington, New Trier Blue, New Trier White, Culver Academy and PREP.”
One highlight moment was when Newash scored a game-winning goal in a shootout of a preseason tournament victory over Edwardsville. Recently, sophomore Blake Trossman scored with the goalie pulled to tie a game against New Trier Blue with under a minute (remaining to play).”
Senior forward Anthony Henriksen (Hersey) is one of the BG/H/W captains and not only provides scoring, but is key providing energy and grit on the ice. Newash is the team’s leading scorer. Senior defenseman Max Pekay (Wheeling) is a gifted skater who has a knack for getting the puck to the net, Waters said. Senior defenseman Nicholas Krueger (Hersey) is a solid, stay-at-home player with strong leadership skills.
“We are loaded with talented sophomores, led by forward Dom Wachal (Hersey) who is a gritty player, tough skaters, and has great playmaking ability,” Waters said. “Defenseman Sean Fink (Hersey) is a great skater and plays with an edge.
“Our younger players are starting to get more comfortable with our team systems and the speed of varsity hockey, so they are seeing a larger role, which could lead to more success going forward.”
Junior Braxton Ersoy (Buffalo Grove) is one to keep an eye on as he is always around the puck, has great speed and a nice shot. Junior Conor Meehan (Hersey) has been playing behind a four-year varsity player and three time all-star, Evan Wurzbacher, and he continues to improve in every start.
“I have been coaching in this league since it started and this, by far, the year with the most parity at the top,” Waters said. “Typically, you will see 2 (or) 3 teams with lopsided winning percentages at each level, but I think we have 7 teams that can win the division this year. These teams have beat or tied the likes of GBN, Benet, Stevenson, Glenbard, Waubonsie/Metea, Barrington, Saint Viator, and Carmel (Indiana); proving that teams from our division can compete with anyone else in the state.”
On The Bench With … BG/H/W Head Coach Chris Waters
The 2020 Stanley Cup Champion Will Be: “No clue … (am) hoping the Blackhawks can figure something out.”
All-time Favorite Chicago Blackhawks Player: Chris Chelios
Hardest Slapshot on BG/H/W: Nolan Newash
Most Accurate Shot: Nolan Newash
Fastest Skater: Braxton Ersoy
Best Playmaker: Dom Wachal
Player Who You Could See As a Coach One Day: Ty Nagy
Coaching: “After playing for a brief stint at University of Illinois, I knew I wanted to get into coaching after college. I contacted two of my first coaches, Tom Miller and DJ LaVarre, to see if I could help out. I coached for a year under DJ at Winnetka (2007-2008) and then for two years at Falcons (2008-2010, around Miller). I started coaching Warren JV during my third year as well (2009-2010). The following season, I was named Deerfield’s hockey director and varsity coach and coached there four seasons. We had some very special players there and I was fortunate enough to have Bill Polovin and Marc Eisenberg as two of my assistant coaches who were not only great mentors, but became two of my close friends. At Deerfield we won the White Division State Championship in our first season and were the regular-season champions in the first year of the IHSHL North-Central Division the following season. Bob Wagner called me in the spring of 2015 and I started at BG/H/W. In 2015-2016, we won the Combined Division State Championship in an overtime thriller over Glenbard. The following season, we won our regular-season conference and post-season conference titles, but lost in the semifinals (of the state tournament). The 2017-2018 season was one of the best seasons in BGHW history; we won the regular-season conference, post season conference, and the state championship for the second time in three years.”
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.