It has simply been a matter of not letting up. This has been the difference between this year’s Buffalo Grove/Hersey/Wheeling Stampede and last year’s club.
“Where we had the talent last year,” Stampede coach Chris Waters said, “it just came down to one bad game. This year we have just had our collective foot to the floor and gone hard every night.”
After a 9-0 stomping of Nazareth Academy Sunday night in Franklin Park, the Stampede (24-9-4) have five regular season games remaining before the Illinois High School Hockey League North-Central Champions League playoffs begin. To keep things different and interesting, the team will partake in an out-of-town tournament in South Bend, IN, the weekend of Jan. 26-28.
“We will get a chance to play some teams we would normally not play during the regular season,” Stampede forward Connor Kelly (Buffalo Grove) said. “It will be good for us to play against some different competition.”
This season, Kelly has taken on more of a leadership role with a different twist.
“I think this year for me I have been playing more of a 200-ft. game,” he said. “I have been more focused on my defensive play and not just being in the offensive zone scoring or looking to score. I have taken more pride on my defensive game. But it has not just been me. We have some great defensemen who are doing great at joining the offensive rush when we get out of our zone.”
Make no mistake: Kelly has a scoring touch that will always be there. Just ask Nazareth Academy which saw Kelly score 3 goals and add 2 assists during the Sunday night contest.
“I guess if anything, it was a game we were supposed to win by a large margin and we did,” he said. “Otherwise we did not get anything out of the game.”
While the play of Kelly has helped this season, the play of junior forward Eric Kurpiewski (Hersey) has not gone unnoticed.
“For me this year I have noticed my playmaking skills have really developed,” Kurpiewski said. “I have also tried play a more physical game and just not let up. I think we were guilty as a team of letting up in January and February. This may have cost us in the end last year.”
Kurpiewski has not been without his share of bumps and bruises this year.
“We were supposed to practice Monday night,” he said. “But our coaches gave us the night off which really helps at this time of the season because it is a grinding season. I had one concussion this year which I am over. There is, I feel, a lot more drive to win every time we go out on the ice this year than last.”
Kurpiewski points to playing better competition as one big reason his club has done so well this year.
“With a win over Glenbrook North and a tie over New Trier Green, we feel we can not only play with anyone in the state, but we can bet these upper teams,” Kurpiewski said.
The Stampede’s record could be even better, according to coach Waters, who feels their record should not even have that many losses on it.
“I think six of the nine losses we have this year we beat ourselves,” Waters said. “The contributions we have gotten from people like Kurpiewski and Kelly have been what we expected. What I have really liked, however, is the play of our defensemen. Anyone of our six defensemen can step up on any given night and be the best one on the ice.”