By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half
WARREN – A passion for hockey runs through the Staskowski family.
Craig Staskowski grew up in Sterling Heights playing the sport. For the past five seasons he’s been the successful varsity hockey coach for Rochester Unified, and his eldest son is named after Cam Neely, the former Boston Bruins star forward.
Staskowski, 42, is the vice president of the Michigan High School Hockey Coaches Association, and next season he’ll begin his two-year term as president.
But juggling responsibilities at work and home often leaves little room for outside interests such as coaching. The increasing demands of coaching, notably a growing time commitment, are taking their toll on many coaches in all sports.
Staskowski knows this all too well. He knew, eventually, his stay in Rochester was to be short-lived. His place of business and his home are in Macomb County, and traffic is most often a nightmare going west into Oakland County during peak travel time.
“It’s such a commitment to coach,” he said. “The drive after work was 30 or 35 minutes depending on traffic. I was able to make it work, but how long can you do that? I have two boys, and both will play hockey.”
This past spring Staskowski saw an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. The varsity coaching position at Warren DeLaSalle opened, and Staskowski was hired in May. As difficult as it was to leave Rochester, here was a chance to remain in coaching for years to come.
All in all, Staskowski and his wife, Lindsay, couldn’t be more pleased with the move. His place of business is a mile and a half away from DeLaSalle, and the drive to Mount Clemens Ice Arena where the Pilots practice is a 10-minute drive from his home.
The Staskowskis have two sons and the eldest, Cam, is 8 years old and in his second year playing travel hockey in nearby St. Clair Shores.
“I absolutely have more time to spend with my family,” Staskowski said. “It’s way more convenient. It’s a long-term commitment for me.”
Convenience wasn’t the only factor. Staskowski is a competitive person, and he’s intent on building the program at DeLaSalle to where it can compete on the same level as other members of the Detroit Catholic League like Birmingham Brother Rice, Detroit Catholic Central, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s and U-D Jesuit.
Staskowski’s teams at Rochester won four Oakland Activities Association Red titles and twice reached Division 1 Regional Finals.
“Athletics is a big part of the equation at DeLaSalle,” he said. “They’ve have success in other sports. I would like our hockey program to be as good, or better, than those at C.C. and Rice. We want to win a regional and state championship. And so far we’re doing pretty well. We haven’t lost a game in regulation. And we beat U-D for the first time since 2011. And we beat them twice.”
The rivalries within the league are fierce. A team’s success is a measuring stick for how well it can compete at the state level. Staskowski graduated from Sterling Heights High, located a few miles north of DeLaSalle, and one of his best friends in high school was Don DeDonatis, who had two RBI in DeLaSalle’s 14-2 victory over Grand Ledge in the 1993 Class A Baseball Final.
“I always had great respect for the Pilots,” Staskowski said. “One of my assistant coaches, Tom Taylor, is a DeLaSalle alum. Our sons are best friends and play on the same travel team.
“I don’t know what it is about DeLaSalle. It’s something different whether it’s an all-boys school or what. The kids are polite. They’re really good kids. I know the football coach (Mike Giannone). He works at the school, and I’m sure we’ll get to know each other better.”
Giannone just completed his first season at DeLaSalle after he too left a successful local program at Macomb Dakota.
Greg Esler is the longtime basketball coach at DeLaSalle. Esler also cut his teeth coaching at another school (he left St. Clair Shores Lake Shore after the 1993-94 season) before coming to DeLaSalle. Even though Esler said times have changed, one factor remains constant.
“Kids want to be disciplined,” he said. “Whether it’s in a public school or private. There’s so much more going on now with the students with cell phones and social media. The communication is different.
“Giannone and I have a great relationship and we believe we should share kids. There’s so much specialization going on now. (Giannone) has been to our practices, and the kids know we have a good relationship. I’ve met (Staskowski) a few times. All of us want to win. If you have a good program and demand respect, you’ll be successful.”
DeLaSalle was 7-2-1 heading into its holiday break. A Dec. 9-10 trip to Marquette resulted in a loss and a tie, both in overtime.
The Pilots are led by senior left wing Thomas Hernandez, who had 30 points heading into the break. Senior Greg Pine is the center on the top line, and the two are not only best friends, but live next door to one another.
Splitting the duties in goal are junior Brandon Compton and sophomore Andrew Grewette, both of whom were on the junior varsity last season. The top defenseman is junior Jordan Kovacs.
“Pine and Hernandez compliment each other so well,” Staskowski said. “Jordan has been outstanding. You can put him out there against any line.
“I don’t even like to mention individuals because we have a great deal of depth. Yeah, we have that good line, but you have to have depth. Depth is a big part of being good.”
Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.
PHOTO: Craig Staskowski (middle, standing) directs his new Warren DeLaSalle hockey team during a game this season. (Photo courtesy of the Warren DeLaSalle hockey program.)