Staying hot is Central hockey's goal

A run of impressive wins to close the regular schedule has team eager for postseason

The high school hockey journey is a long and grinding one, starting in local rinks in September and culminating with the state championship at Chicago's Uniter Center in mid-March. As the Hinsdale Central Hockey Club's varsity team heads into the final stretch, the squad is showing signs of hitting its bladed stride at the right time.

Head coach Spencer Anderson said team confidence is high after sweeping all eight of its games in the silver division of Illinois West league's seeding tournament to determine placement in the state bracket.

"We made it a goal to go undefeated through that and we were able to accomplish that," he said.

The spotless record was threatened in the finale Jan. 20 when the Red Devils found themselves trailing the visiting DuPage Stars 1-4 in the second period. Four unanswered goals by hosts - on senior night, of all occasions - preserved perfection in thrilling fashion with a 5-4 triumph.

"Good teams find ways to win," Anderson said. "Watching the kids step up and have that belief has kind of energized us going into the playoffs."

Senior Oliver Harris said the comeback victory was a dream finish.

"The whole locker room was hyped after that. It was so fun," he said, speaking after practice Saturday at the Willowbrook Ice Arena. "High school hockey is fun because your friends come to the games, and you see your (teammates) at school. At rivalry games, everyone gets rowdy."

Speaking of rivalry, senior goalie Miles Anderson was sidelined by suspension early in the season for fighting in a game against arch-nemesis LT. He acknowledged learning a hard lesson.

"After I came back I was felt like every game is precious and I need to play every game like it's my last," said Miles Anderson, who attends Benet Academy but joined the Central hockey club last year. "I came in my junior year, and they were super-welcoming. I love playing with them."

Sophomore Derek Daze cited a 5-2 win over a talented Plainfield squad in October for revealing what was possible.

"We got momentum because back then Plainfield was high in the rankings, and we were supposed to lose to them," Daze said. "That gave us confidence."

Fellow sophomore Eddie Yu said that confidence came to the fore in the recent seeding games.

"We knew we were pretty good going in," he said.

"This team works hard and plays hard," Spencer Anderson said. "We don't have the most skilled team, but we do have skilled players. Each guy plays for one another, from our goaltender to our offense to our defense."

Injuries go with the rough-and-tumble territory of the sport,

"We've fought through some pain and discomfort, for sure," he said.

Team leader senior Will Romberger, who's battled back from shoulder and knee issues during the season, said building a close-knit culture has been a focal point since a preseason team bonding retreat to Wisconsin. After going 8-7 in the conference tiering round September through November, he said that camaraderie has really kicked in.

"We proved through those (seeding) games as well as some of the nonconference games we played against top teams that we really can compete with anybody," Romberger said. "We have to come prepared and come with the mentality that we can win."

Harris, recalling his freshman experience, said being a mentor to underclassmen has been especially rewarding.

"It's fun having an older guy to look up to. It's good that we can become those older guys and mentors," he said.

Spencer Anderson spoke to the desire to give comrades in their final year a memorable send-off.

"Every one of those guys in the locker room wants to make sure that we're playing for our seniors," he said. "You never know when your hockey career is done, and you can never get that time back. We want to make sure that we're playing hard every day.

"I'm so proud of all the guys who bought in this year. This team has some grit. A lot these kids were asked to play different roles, and they've stepped up," he added.

Both coach and players expressed appreciation for the community support the team has received, and he hopes fans enjoy the action. That support is eagerly sought this week as the Red Devils vie for the West Cup to close out the Illinois West conference season. That means having to defeat (who else?) LT in a first-round best-of-three series. The Lions took Sunday's opener, so raucous Devils fans are encouraged to help turn the tables in game two at 6:35 p.m. Saturday at the Willowbrook Ice Arena.

"This team won't go down without a fight," Spencer Anderson said. "They're going to play an absolute war of a series between two really good hockey clubs."

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean