|Notre Dame's Joey Indurante (left) and Devin Hapanovich have played hockey together for years. According to Hapanovich, the pair first took the ice together as squirts in Franklin Park almost six years ago. |
"Joey and I have played hockey together since we were kids," Hapanovich said. "We have played with and against each other for a long time. We practiced together and played together. Obviously we know each other really well."
This season, though, the pair did something different. They played on the same line for the first time in their young careers.
The results for Notre Dame have been instantaneous, if not, revitalizing.
The 1-2 punch of Indurante and Hapanovich has helped revive a proud Notre Dame program that just three years ago struggled to field a team.
Last season the Dons, who won state titles in 1976 and 1992, failed to qualify for the Blackhawk Cup's Varsity Red Division tournament, the top level for high school teams.
This season the Dons (35-10-4) finished third in the Metro Central regular season standings behind Prairie Ridge and Barrington and qualified for the Blackhawk Cup Red Division as a No. 25 seed.
"We knew we had to come together as a team this year," Indurante said. "Compared to other years, this year we connect on and off the ice. Before, we just played hockey. We connect on a personal level now. We are all friends."
The friendship of Indurante and Hapanovich on the ice is one reason for Notre Dame's revival.
Both finished in the top-10 in the Metro Central in scoring, albeit for different styles of play. Indurante, a speedy junior, is the finisher and the pure goal scorer. He had 27 goals, the second most in the conference, and 38 points in 23 conference games.
Hapanovich, a gritty senior, is the set-up man, who does the dirty work along the boards for every puck. Hapanovich posted 20 assists, tied for the third most in the Metro Central, and 30 points in conference play.
"Devin and I have a good relationship on the ice," Indurante said. "We have played together since we were young. So we really feed off one another. We've had a great year."
RAISING THE BAR
Another reason for Notre Dame's turnaround can be attributed to changing the Dons' expectations of themselves, coach Shawn Brown said.
"I think expectations were pretty low in the past," Brown said. "They just wanted to stay in games and just be in games. We raised the bar this year. We know we can win games through hard work and effort."
As a result, Notre Dame is looking for better competition come next year. Team President Ray Czarnik said the team has petitioned the Metro North in order to rejoin the conference.
Notre Dame, which also played trial games in the Catholic League this season, was an original member of the Metro North.
"(The Metro North) is the best and most competitive level for high school hockey," Czarnik said.
'A TOUGH GAME' AHEAD
Notre Dame will get a full dose of what the Metro North has to offer in the first round of the Blackhawk Cup state tournament. The Dons will face No. 8 Glenbrook North in the opening round Tuesday at 8:45 p.m. in Northbrook.
"It's going to be a tough game," Brown said. "Glenbrook North is really fast and really skilled. They are more of a smaller, quick team, but they are great on odd-man breaks."
Glenbrook North's list of accomplishments this season is extensive. The Spartans (44-8-7) won the Chicago Fall Classic Tournament in October, the Gator Cup Tournament in December and the Metro North regular season title with a 19-2-3 conference record.
In the Metro North regular season, the Spartans were led by juniors Adam Goldblatt (14 goals, 32 points), Jayson Megna (14 goals, 27 points) and David Tulig (23 points). Junior goaltender William Dodge topped the conference with a .934 save percentage.
The Spartans have also faced and beaten some of the best teams in the state this year in top-ranked New Trier Green, No. 2 Fenwick and No. 4 Glenbrook South, their neighborhood rival.
Glenbrook North coach Mark Brunner said the Spartans' schedule is designed to prepare them for the state playoffs. Last season, Glenbrook North lost to Neuqua Valley 2-1 in overtime in the Blackhawk Cup quarterfinals.
"The majority of our games are competitive," Brunner said. "This team also has a habit of treating all of its opponents the same. We try to improve every time out. We worry about what we do. We feel as if we play our game, we can dictate the outcome."
Brunner, though, still expects a hard-hitting, close game with Notre Dame.
"I am expecting everything Notre Dame has to offer," he said. "They are a good hockey team and the underdogs.
"But in the state playoffs, everybody is fighting for their lives."