Evan Puppolo had personal motivation this season for the BG/H/W Stampede, a mix of players from Buffalo Grove, Hersey and Wheeling. But, when the final buzzer sounded on the season -- in Thursday night's elite eight round of the state tournament -- he was right there with his dad, who was part of his drive for the past year.
"About 20 years ago, my dad went to the (Massachusetts) state championship (game) and his team lost. So it's always like a fight throughout the family; I want to be better than my dad, and win the state championship," Puppolo said days before the quarterfinal game against co-op Waubonsie Valley, which the Stampede lost, 6-2, in Bensenville.
Mark Puppolo skated for state as a junior at Longmeadow High School; his team lost and didn't return to the final game in his final season. Evan, a senior in his third season skating for the Stampede, attends Buffalo Grove and is heading to Iowa in the fall.
The Stampede lost 2-1 in overtime of the 2013 Combined Division state championship game, falling to perennial power Rockford.
"I think about (my dad not winning state) a lot," Puppolo said.
Puppolo, 18, of Arlington Heights, centered the team's third line, along with left wing Jack Coffaro, a senior at Hersey; and Ryan Maurer, a junior at Hersey.
Puppolo was, arguably, the heart of the Stampede this season.
He was, after all, the team grinder. John Cappuccitti, Patrick Myers, Michael DeSalvo and Brien Martin were the team's flashy forwards, each with more than 20 points, led by Cappuccitti's 26, in the 19-game North Central Division regular-season. Puppolo, meanwhile, was listed with only 2 assists in 19 regular-season games and no goals, though he said he did in fact tally a few.
The Stampede went 14-2-3 in the North Central regular-season, tying rival Maine Township for second-place (31 points), 2 points behind Highland Park. The Stampede then went on a roll in the league playoffs, ousting New Trier Blue and Maine Township, and then winning back-to-back games in the best-of-three league championship series over Highland Park.
"Evan is, no doubt, the hardest working player on the team," said Cappuccitti, a senior at Hersey who also has excelled in soccer and will be kicking the ball for Loyola (Chicago) in the fall. "His work ethic alone makes him one of the leaders on this team. Coach (Dave Barra) says it all the time, and we all see it, we feed off his work. We get energy from him, from his play."
Puppolo often lined up against the other team's top line, and he silenced top scorers whatever way needed. "He's not afraid to put his body out there, take a hit … he does it all for the team," Cappuccitti said. "The kid gets rocked (on some hits), but, as we often say, if you're not working harder than Puppolo, you better check yourself.
"He is a leader on the team who wants to be on the ice to stop their best line."
Puppolo was key to the Stampede's game-winning overtime goal in the deciding game two of the best-of-three series over Maine Township on Feb. 19 in Niles. Puppolo skated the puck into the Maine zone, absorbed a crunching hit that sent him to the ice, though he was able to send the puck to Brad Koch, who then sent it to Drew Downey, who tallied the goal.
Puppolo earned the assist.
"It was really awesome (to win that series) since they are our top rival." Puppolo said.
Puppolo skated on the team's penalty-kill unit and tallied a few short-handed goals this season. He also has watched from the bench while others shine offensively -- and he's fine with that, too.
"I try to motivate everyone," Puppolo said. "I know what my job is on the team, and I know what my job is to help the team win."
Puppolo's life off the ice also is hockey-focused as he works at Total Hockey in Glenview. "I'm hockey all the time, 24/7," he said, laughing.
But his final season ended a bit earlier than he hoped.