By Ross Forman
Providence Catholic has skated alongside the elite high school teams in Illinois for years.
Now it’s those same elite teams who are skating alongside, or, behind Providence Catholic.
The Celtics are off to a strong start in the 2015-16 season, with a 6-0 record, including a 6-4 season-opening win over defending state champion Glenbrook North, a 6-0 thumping of fellow Catholic League power St. Rita, and 6-1 crushing of Loyola Gold on Sunday, September 13, at Center Ice of DuPage in a preseason tournament championship game. The Celtics, in fact, outscored their five tournament foes 35-8 en route to the title…and also en route to the state’s first No. 1 ranking.
It’s the Celtics at No. 1 to open the season, followed by New Trier Green, Glenbrook North, Loyola Gold and last season’s state runner-up, Benet Academy, rounding out the top five.
Many longtime local hockey insiders say it’s a wide open field after those five, perhaps the most balanced scene in quite some time.
Rounding out the top 10 are St. Ignatius at No. 6, followed by Barrington, Maine Township, St. Rita and Rockford. The next tier of teams includes Stevenson, the Kings (winners of the preseason Gator Cup, hosted by Crystal Lake South), Hinsdale Central, Notre Dame and Glenbrook South. (See below for the full Top 20.)
“It’s easy to pick those top four teams – because they each play as a team. And that’s what really separates those teams from the rest of us. They play as a team all of the time and don’t have lapses; they don’t go off course from what they want to do,” said Joe Gotfryd, head coach at St. Ignatius, in his eighth season.
St. Ignatius could be a top challenger this season for the Kennedy Cup from the prestigious and competitive Chicago Catholic Hockey League. The Wolfpack varsity plays its home games at Johnny’s Ice House West (2550 West Madison Street) in Chicago, while the JV Wolfpack plays primarily at Southwest Ice Arena in Crestwood.
St. Ignatius has 12 returners, and 20 freshman into the program.
The varsity anchors are seniors Dylan Gilbert, a right-handed shooting right wing; and Jack Fischer, a left-handed shooting defenseman.
“We had some really good players graduate last year, including the leading goal-scorer in the Catholic League,” Gotfryd said. “We now have a lot of young players, which is a problem we’ve wanted to have.”
Gilbert is a talented, multi-sport athlete who also excels in baseball. “He shoots the puck as well as anyone you’ll see,” in the local high school game, Gotfryd said. “Jack Fischer was thrown into the fire as a freshman defenseman – and he’s gotten tougher, better, smarter every year. He’s as steady on defense as anyone in this league, and he’s grown into a leadership position that will really help the younger players.”
The Wolfpack feature senior goalie Dan Engel, who is a returner, and junior Andrew Kash, who played for the Wolfpack as a freshman.
Two of the breakout players this season for the Wolfpack could be sophomore defenseman Ryan Haraldsen, who shoots right-handed; and sophomore Dominick Varallo, a right-handed shooting center.
Here is the season-opening Top 20 Illinois High School Hockey Rankings, compiled by Ross Forman:
- Providence Catholic
- New Trier Green
- Glenbrook North
- Loyola Gold
- Benet Academy
- St. Ignatius
- Maine Township
- St. Rita
- Hinsdale Central
- Notre Dame
- Glenbrook South
- Naperville Central
- Neuqua Valley
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.