By Ross Forman – Carmel Catholic has played more games this season than the school has played in, perhaps, any past season. After all, the Corsairs are skating in the Scholastic Hockey League and the Chicago Catholic Hockey League.
They are 26-30 overall, but with 5 losses in their last 6 games, heading into their Feb. 24 home game against Hinsdale Central in Vernon Hills. Carmel, with the No. 12 seed, is scheduled to play No. 5 Providence on Feb. 29 in the Red Division state tournament game in Bensenville.
“It’s been a very fun season, but it also has been a grind at times playing in two leagues,” said head coach Scott Vettraino. “There have been multiple times this year we have had 6-7 games in 8 or 9 days. We’ve played New Trier Green six times already this season. I am not sure Carmel Catholic has ever played New Trier Green once prior to this season. And early in the season we were out some key players for a good length of time.
“We’ve beaten some really good Top 10 teams this season. We also have lost some games we shouldn’t (have lost). I think our players and the team overall feels very confident going into state playoffs.
“We have a lot of experience and the team is very fast. But, we also have been inconsistent at times.
“We had a stretch when we were out some key players. We were losing a lot of games in that stretch. During that time, our entire team stayed very positive and remained confident. That could have broken many teams. When we got everyone back and healthy, we went on a 14-2 run.”
Vettraino, 48, who lives in Lake Villa and is a Regional Sales Director for BoneSupport AB, has been coaching for 20 years. This is his fifth season on the Carmel bench.
Vettraino also previously has coached in NCAA Division III and the USHL.
“We beat some really good teams this year that Carmel has never beaten before,” he said. “Hopefully there will be more memorable moments to come … I know we are very capable.”
Carmel went 9-16-0-0-2 in the Scholastic Hockey League, including wins in their last three league games.
Sophomore forward Bryce Stensrud led Carmel in 27 Scholastic League games with 8 goals, 17 assists. Senior forward Joe Davis had 10 goals, 10 assists. Senior forward Zach Stafiej added 11 goals, 8 assists.
Senior forward Casey Roman, the team captain, also has been a key player, as has senior defenseman Josh Vogt.
Some of the key newcomers this season have been freshman defenseman Kyler Gornick, sophomore forward Nolan Herubin and sophomore defenseman Niko Kempa.
“We had a stretch of games this season that we only played Top 10 teams and also a good chuck of our SHL season when we were out key players for 10 to 15 games,” Vettraino said. “I think, if we had everyone healthy and, in the lineup, we could have at least gone .500 in league (play).
“(The) team has grown and improved with their confidence. We have played the best teams in the state multiple times. I think the ‘intimidation factor’ of playing those teams is gone. Our guys know that, if they play the way we are capable of playing, they can compete with any team in the state.”
Stafiej has 6 multi-point games among 16 Scholastic League regular-season games, including a 4-assist game against Glenbrook South. “Zach is a dynamic player, one of the fastest skaters in the state,” Vettraino said. “I coached Zach years back when he was a squirt on my son’s team at the Ice Dogs. We won the Wolves Cup championship that year.”
Despite a large group of seniors, Vettraino is optimistic the Corsairs will remain among the top tiered teams next season. “We have a good group of JV players that are ready to come up to varsity,” he said. “We are returning one of our goalies and we have two good goalies playing JV this season.
“I have a great coaching staff with Paul Novak, PJ Eberhardt and Scott McCandless. This is an outstanding group of kids and they’ve worked very hard this season. I know they still have a goal they want to accomplish.”
On the Bench With … Carmel Head Coach Scott Vettraino
The 2020 Stanley Cup Champion Will Be: Tampa Bay Lightning
All-time Favorite Chicago Blackhawks Player: “I am from Detroit, (so) my favorite all-time player (was) Steve Yzerman. If I were to pick a Blackhawk, it would be Tony Esposito.”
Hardest Slapshot on Carmel: Casey Roman, Lucas Novak and Kyler Gornick
Most Accurate Shot: Joe Davis
Fastest Skater: Zach Stafiej
Best Playmaker: Bryce Stensrud
Player Who You Could See One Day as a Coach: Matt Fecteau
All SHL Academic Team Members: Lucas Novack, Sam Smith, Niko Kempa, Zack Gedville, Evan Morabito, Sean Fath, Josh Vogt, Harry Smigielski and Kyler Gornick
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.