‘Special group’ of Blue Devils focused on deep playoff run
By Ross Forman – The Warren Blue Devils want to skate alongside the elite teams in Illinois.
More so, Warren wants to be an elite-level team – and this season has been a great stride in that direction.
Warren is among a 4-team tie for first-place in the 12-team Champions League of the North-Central Division. The Blue Devils are 15-6-1 and their 31 points are the same as Lake Forest, PREP and New Trier Blue. New Trier White (14-6-2) is inches away from the top spot with 30 points.
The Blue Devils have scored 74 goals in 22 North-Central games, the second-most scored. And they have allowed only 43. Only PREP (41) and New Trier Blue (42) have allowed fewer goals in North-Central games.
“This is a special group,” said Warren head coach Doug Placko. “We have a lot of diverse experience and perspective which fosters creativity on the ice. These guys show up to the rink ready to work and expect to be successful every game. This season, we have a large senior class (that) wants to make a statement for our program in (its) final season. Although we have named captains, we have a solid group of veteran players who all contribute to leadership responsibilities and aren’t afraid to be vocal and hold each other accountable.
“This is a highly skilled group. One of our greatest strengths is, depth. We have four lines that can, and have, all produced and contributed to our success. The coaching staff knows that if we need someone to step up, score a goal, kill off a penalty, etc. we have a full bench of men that are ready and capable of doing whatever is asked of them. Another strength is our penalty kill. While we have been plagued with playing shorthanded, I would argue our penalty kill units are some of the best in the state.
“When we are firing on all cylinders and playing our game, we are very tough to play against. There have been a few times this year when we have not played our game and got pulled into playing our opponent’s game plan. Still happens occasionally, but we really try to dictate and control the play.”
Placko, 33, who lives in Grayslake and works in marketing for Discover Financial Services, has been coaching for seven years – this is his third in the Warren program. He began coaching in 2012 at the Winter Club in Lake Forest, coaching squirt AA with a good friend. Over the next 4 seasons, he followed the same group up to the bantam level.
Many of those players are on the Lake Forest High School varsity team this season. So obviously it’s “bittersweet” when Warren battles Lake Forest, he said.
Warren varsity assistant coaches are Michael Schumacher and Jacob Makway, and Warren hockey director is Scott Makway.
Placko is quick to pass praise to them.
“We have a very diverse group with a few players who came to us this year from different club teams,” Placko said. “You never know how quickly the team will be able to gel given the limited amount of time together at the start (of the season). (It was a) great job by all of our players and coaches identifying what we wanted to accomplish and pulling it together early in the season. I think we have surprised a few folks around the league.”
Take, for instance, perennial power New Trier Blue.
In early January, the two teams faced off in Winnetka. Warren was down 1-0 in the first period after spending almost half of the period short-handed and having a goal disallowed. “We stuck to the game plan and battled hard until finally tying it up midway in the third period with a big goal by junior Alex Joyce,” Placko said. “After a power play opportunity late in the third, senior Evan Detina scored the game-winner, assisted by junior Andrew Cacioppo, with :03 left in regulation-time.
“That goal is a testament to how hungry this group is.”
Warren has two talented goalies: senior Gabe Detina (1.90 GAA in league play) and junior Ben Winkler (2.00). “Both have been lights out,” Placko said. “(They) have split games this season and both have given us the best opportunity to win every night.”
Other Warren stars:
** Senior forward Evan Detina, who is the leading goal-scorer in the league (19 goals, 3 assists in 22 games). “He plays with unreal intensity and competes every night,” Placko said. “He has great speed, vision and impeccable accuracy. He has been crucial to our offensive success.”
** Senior forward Tyler Gould is a veteran leader “with some of the highest hockey IQ I have seen,” Placko said. “He has remarkable stickhandling skills, great vision and unbelievable ability to make plays. Ty is so quick and shifty, and has a knack for finding the back of the net.”
** Senior forward Ryan Murphy is a fast, physical, multi-faceted player who consistently contributes at both ends of the ice. “(He is), arguably, the most powerful skater on the team. He plays every game with an in-your-face intensity that makes any opposing defenseman’s night a tough one. His game is entertaining, to say the least.”
** Junior forward Alex Joyce is a hard-working, power forward who relentlessly beats on opponent’s breakout, forcing turnovers and offensive zone opportunities. “He plays physical and can finish. He is a contributing factor on our power play as well,” Placko said.
** Senior defenseman Luke Schoenbrunn is a leader who “quarterbacks” the team’s breakout, Placko said. “He possesses excellent work ethic, rarely loses a puck battle and is difficult to strip the puck from. Luke is a shut-down defenseman, but can jump in on offense when a lane is presented.”
** Sophomore defenseman Clayton Bewick is quiet by nature, but his game does all the talking, Placko said. “He is a consistent shut down defenseman, who never quits on a battle. (He has) sound positioning, great vision and playmaking abilities. (There’s a) bright future ahead for Clayton.”
** Sophomore forward Jack Meyers, one of 5 sophomores on the team, is third on the team in league scoring, with many of his points coming in the form of highlight reel assists. “Jack is an excellent playmaker who can drive to the net and finish,” Placko said.
** Junior Andrew Cacioppo is a skilled player who has contributed as a forward and defenseman. “He has good speed (and) stickhandling ability, (is) relentless on the forecheck and executes on the power play. When needed, he plays big at the blue line as well.”
“The start of this season was unique,” Placko said. “Our varsity roster is comprised of mostly returning Warren Blue Devil players, but also consists of many new players to our program who opted to play high school hockey. You can imagine the time it took for this group to acclimate to new teammates and create chemistry with each other.
“Early in the season, we went on a 3-game skid while we were working to get everyone on the same page. This was a huge wake-up call for our group. Once aligned, we didn’t lose a league game in the month of November.
“With a group of players with this level of talent, watching them evolve from (a) collection of individuals to a great team has been our greatest improvement.”
Warren is a team that no one wants to face in February, and yes, the Blue Devils could skate late into March.
“There are some very strong teams competing for the same (ultimate) goal, but, when our group is ‘on,’ we feel we can challenge any team in the state. I believe in our guys and would love for them to have that opportunity,” to skate at the United Center, Placko said.
“The Champions League has been competitive with many great teams and players. Every opponent played us hard. There is no taking a ‘night off;’ you have to come ready for battle every game,” in the North-Central.
On The Bench With … Warren Head Coach Doug Placko
The 2020 Stanley Cup Champion Will Be: Washington Capitals
All-time Favorite Chicago Blackhawks Players: Past: Jeremy Roenick; Present: Patrick Kane
Hardest Slapshot on Warren: Senior captain Trevor Kane
Most Accurate Shot: Evan Detina
Fastest Skater: Ryan Murphy
Best Playmakers: Jack Meyers and Tyler Gould
Player Who You Could See As a Coach One Day: Tyler Gould
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.
Categories: Hockey Headlines