Despite losing 11 players to graduation and with only two seniors on the Carmel varsity roster, there’s still optimism aplenty this season on the Corsairs’ bench – just as the team carried into the 2023 state tournament, highlighted by a sweet 16 round overtime win over Providence Catholic.
“I really like this team ... it is fast and moves the puck. In the past, Carmel leaned heavily on one or two players. This season, we have more of those type of players plus they know how to play together,” said Paul (PJ) Eberhardt, in his 25th season coaching overall, his 8th year at Carmel and his 4th as the varsity head coach.
“We are excited for the season. We have solid goaltending. We are returning key players who are only sophomores and juniors. We are a younger squad, and this group really puts in the effort and will continue to improve. This group has fun at the rink. I am amazed how hard and smart this team practices.”
The Corsairs went 1-2 in the 2023 Preseason Invitational, hosted by Wheaton West. Carmel stopped Highland Park 6-0 in its opener, but then fell 5-1 to defending state champion New Trier Green. The Corsairs lost their third tournament game, 4-3, to Edwardsville.
Eberhardt said Carmel’s biggest woes heading into the season are the team’s health and depth, mostly because it is the smallest program in the SHL.
Eberhardt said Carmel’s biggest bright spot is the team’s “outstanding younger core” from last season, now juniors, including defenseman Ben Vavra, and forwards Deacon Rose, Ryan Capulong and Aidan Gammel. “Goaltending is a tremendous strength,” he said.
Junior Tommy Steiner posted a 91save percentage last season and junior Gavin Stanley won numerous noteworthy games last season against top teams in the state.
Freshman forward Max Vavra is expected to have a solid impact and is “someone to watch,” Eberhardt said.
The team’s second- and third-leading scorers from last season – Rose and Capulong, respectively – are returning, each poised to continue their offensive run.
The Corsairs also are expecting solid offensive contributions from returners Aidan Gammel and Rocco Lagori. “You’ll enjoy watching this group move the puck and make plays,” Eberhardt said.
Carmel’s defense is solid, with big defenseman who can skate. The team’s top scoring defenseman, Ben Vavra, and Carmel’s only seniors, Gabe Morabito and Tommy Preda, lead their D.
Carmel’s penalty kill was near the top of the SHL last season. They must improve their powerplay, Eberhardt was quick to point out.
“The SHL is the best league in the state and every game is close; you have to be ready to compete for every win just to make the playoffs,” he said. “There are no gimme games in the SHL.”
Carmel’s breakout players this season may be Aidan Gammel and Rocco Lagori, both set for their second varsity season.
“Players often breakout after they adjust to varsity hockey and both of these two are excellent skaters,” Eberhardt said.
Eberhardt said the team’s goals for the season are simple: Make and advance in the SHL playoffs.