By Ross Forman
New Trier vs. Loyola returns to the United Center to aide a former Rambler
Paul Thomas was a senior forward for Loyola Gold team during the 1994-95 season, in what was one of the best teams/seasons in school and, arguably, Illinois High School Hockey history. With about 2:30 remaining to play in a scoreless state championship game against archrival New Trier Green, Thomas tallied. His goal proved to be the game-winner.
It certainly was good to be a Rambler that spring day 20 years ago, as Loyola won state, 1-0, without letting in a single goal the entire state tournament.
The team finished the season with a 50-3-4 record, including wins over New Trier in the finals of three other championship games that season, and this was Loyola’s first state championship.
“I’m sure I can speak for everyone who was on that team: that was the most enjoyable year of our hockey lives. It was the greatest team I’ve ever played on,” said Kevin Carroll, a sophomore defenseman for Loyola that season and the youngest player on the team. “It was a great game, back and forth, but at no point did we think we were going to lose. We were always confident that we were going to win that game; it was our year.”
Loyola’s 1995 state championship team is getting back on the ice – at the United Center – for a reunion against those same Trevians of 20 years ago. Sure the waistlines likely are a bit larger than they were in ’95, but the rivalry, which is now developed into friendships, will be rekindled – for a cause.
The game will be played on Sunday, March 29, starting at 11 a.m., in honor of former Loyola teammate Kyle Shellberg, who passed away in 2010 after an accident in the Colorado Rockies. Both teams will be raising funds to contribute to a memorial scholarship, which will be given annually to a deserving Loyola hockey player to help with the cost of the upcoming season: click HERE to donate.
Their fundraising goal is $25,000.
Shellberg was a third-line roll-player/grinder, Carroll said, “and just the nicest, kindest guy you have ever met. He was a fantastic guy who always had a smile on his face, on and off the ice.”
Carroll, now 36 and living in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood, was a four-year Rambler, and also a member of the 1996 Loyola repeat state championship team, along with Shellberg and six other members of the 1995 team.
Players from both ’95 teams, Loyola and New Trier, started talking late last year that the 20th anniversary was upcoming. They considered renting a local rink for a scrimmage, followed by a few post-game beers. Danny Wirtz, a goalie for Loyola in 1995, then chimed in, saying that if there was going to be a reunion game, it would be played at the United Center.
“It is extremely meaningful and we’re extremely excited,” to be getting back together for this reunion game, Carroll said.
Only one member of the ’95 Loyola team is not confirmed to be playing, with one member flying in from Montana to attend.
Loyola coach (then and now) D.J. LaVarre will be on the bench.
Tom Gullen, a fixture for decades at the Winnetka hockey program, will coach New Trier’s team. At one level or another, Gullen coached almost all Loyola and New Trier players in this reunion game.
“It’s going to be good to see some of those [New Trier] guys again … and it will be good to beat them again,” Carroll said.
The Trevians were coached by David Cromer in 1995. Peter Martay was one of the team’s top players.
So what’s the bet on this game?
“There hasn’t been much banter back and forth, yet, but I’m sure it will pick up. They have had to listen to us chirp for 20 years, and we don’t plan on giving that up … let’s just say the confidence on our side is still there; it should be a fun day,” Carroll said.
Ross Forman has written about Illinois high school hockey for more than 15 years, and is the only sportswriter to have covered Illinois High School hockey every year during that stretch. He played locally and then at Indiana University before becoming a referee. Ross was a referee for the State Championship game several years ago at the United Center. Contact Ross by email at Rossco814@aol.com.