After a 6-1 win over Lyons Township, the Red Devils down Sandburg 5-0, then slipped past Wheaton West 2-1.
“We started the season in Minocqua, Wisconsin, with Gary and Jake Suter for a long weekend of battle camp. Rather than do another tournament, we skated twice a day, did a zip line course and let the kids bond. We have a tight group of players and a great locker room this year,” said Hinsdale Central head coach Jim Swoyer, who led the team to a 14-6 record in its first 20 games, including games against powerhouses such as Benet Academy, Stevenson, Glenbrook North and Providence Catholic.
“We competed hard and had some great games, and a couple bad ones. (I am) very happy with the beginning of our season and look forward to a strong end.
“We continue to work on keeping our heads and playing as much 5-on-5 hockey. We are getting better possessing the puck and taking control of the game. Recently, we have figured out how to win some games that we did not play well in.”
Hinsdale Central is coming off a 32-15-5 record last season, the second with the current coaching staff. The team advanced to the sweet-16 round of the state tournament.
“We pride ourselves on the concept of being one program with two teams, JV and varsity,” Swoyer said. “We were able to start our season in the new Willowbrook Ice Arena where we have a single locker room for both teams, where all the players have their own stalls. When we refer to the ‘locker room,’ it is more than a figure of speech. The upper-classmen play an important role helping the JV team develop and get (acclimated) to the life of a high school student. All of this is a critical part of the culture and benefit of playing high school hockey.
“Both the JV and varsity teams are skilled and play the same style. The boys are close and support each other on and off the ice. Last summer, we were able to schedule over a dozen games for both JV and varsity with the best teams in the state. This has significantly strengthened our schedule and has made it the most challenging schedule our program has ever had. We are proud of our record thus far and expect it to help prepare us (for a) deep (run) in the state tournament (for) both teams.”
The Hinsdale Central varsity stands at 21-9-1, while the JV is 25-5-1.
“Both the JV and varsity teams are fast and play a good puck-possession game. The varsity really does well moving the puck and creating scoring chances,” Swoyer said. “We would like to get our goals-against average down from 2.94 to below 2.5. In the last 11 games we are at 2.45, so we are getting there.”
The team’s passion is prevalent, Swoyer said.
“We have some players like Louis Naphin who played JV last year and has stepped up and become a solid defenseman for us. We are able to put him in any situation against any team and he does it. There are others who have stepped up, too,” Swoyer said. “Niko Dimitriou, also a JV player last year, has turned it on as of late and (is) seeing the ice a lot more.
“On our JV team, we have a lot of freshmen who have made a name for themselves in this program and we are very excited to see them develop and be big-time contributors to (the) varsity team in the coming years.”
Hinsdale Central was up 3-1 on Saint Viator with 15 seconds left to play … but had to settle for a tie.
“I tip my hat to the coaching staff and players of Saint Viator, and thank them for a great teaching moment,” Swoyer said.
Against Providence in late-October, the Red Devils lost one of their top forwards in the first period to an injury, yet they hung together and defeated a state power.
“We expect to win the Illinois West Division and are shooting to be the first team from Illinois West to win a state championship, not in the Combined Division,” Swoyer said. “Our JV team is a top 5 team in the state. We have played the best and either beat them or played within one-goal.
“We do skills sessions with both teams from time to time. We work on special teams with both teams together. This is a better use of ice time and great teaching moments for the JV. We also have what we call Black Aces Practices. We stole the term from the NHL when they assign players as ‘Black Aces.’ Those are the minor league players who are part of the group of players that will move up and play in the NHL. We add another 6 or 7 players to our varsity and run fast-flow practices similar to those we did when I coached at the college level.
“JV is having a great season, which is positive for next season.”
Swoyer, who lives in Hinsdale, is the founder of Hockey Biomechanics, Inc. He has been coaching for 30 years, 8 years at the high school level and 3 at Hinsdale Central. His coaching resume also includes time with Lake Forest High School, the Flames, Huskies, Hawks and Lake Forest College.
So who stands out this season for Hinsdale Central? Here’s 5 to watch:
1. Junior forward Michael McCormick
2. Senior forward Jack Ferrino
3. Junior defenseman Zach Laskowski
4. Junior goalie Ben Ognibene
5. Sophomore defenseman Jackson Haag
McCormick was recently moved from wing to center, “and that has made a big difference on our top line,” Swoyer said. “He is skilled and can finish, (yet) the best attribute of his game is, he is smart; he knows the game.”
On The Bench With … Hinsdale Central Head Coach Jim Swoyer
The 2020 Stanley Cup Champion Will Be: Boston Bruins
All-time Favorite Chicago Blackhawks Player: Dennis Savard
More Hawk Talk: “I really respect Steve Konroyd, how he breaks the games down. I have played with Savard and coached with Steve; both great hockey guys.”
Hardest Slapshot on Hinsdale Central: Matt Johnson
Most Accurate Shot: Michael McCormick
Fastest Skater: Nick Daly
Best Playmaker: Zach Laskowski
Players Who You Could See As a Coach One Day: Will Misicko, Chet Daker and Zach Laskowski
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.