By Ross Forman
Paul Manning, the new head coach at Brother Rice, is crystal clear about his goal for the program: win the Kennedy Cup, first and foremost. Then shoot for the Illinois State Championship.
“The Kennedy Cup is the most important (accomplishment); I want each boy to hoist the cup,” Manning said. “The Kennedy Cup stands for tradition. My brother played for John Duran back in the late 1970s (and) John was instrumental in starting the (Chicago) Catholic Hockey League. It is the most important trophy – win that first, and think state second.”
But that means Brother Rice must skate past league front-runners Benet Academy, last season’s state runner-up; and Providence Catholic, which was ranked the No. 1 team in the state in early-September.
“These boys have some real skill and determination. I just need them to stay focused and out of the penalty box,” Manning said. “My hope is to be the team to beat. I would like to be at the top of the league. With the returning powerhouses Benet and Providence, we know we have some catching up to do. I am sure they will be the class of the league.”
Manning knows about Brother Rice’s “solid foundation hockey-wise,” and he plans to expand it. “I am impressed with the current talent and look forward to helping them win,” he said. “I was not going to take this position until I met with school administration. I am very impressed with the (school’s) athletic director, Phil Cahill; the head of admissions, Tim O’Connell; and vice president Brian Barkowski. They have been very supportive of the hockey program and that drew me into taking the position. They have been very welcoming to me, despite my past rivalry.”
Manning, you see, has his roots in Mt. Carmel. He began his youth hockey career at St Jude in 1973. He then played for Mt. Carmel, winning three Kennedy Cup titles and three state championships. After graduating, Manning played Division III hockey at St. Norbert College in Wisconsin.
Now 46, Manning lives on the far southwest side of Chicago. He is a Craft Beer Specialist for Wirtz Beverage.
In 2007, he returned to St. Jude to share his love of the game as a coach for all ages and levels from ADM to Bantams. In 2010, he coached a team to the NIHL President’s Cup and the Wolves Cup, and he also that year was named the AHAI Coach of the Year.
From 2007-2014, he’s coached mites, squirts, peewees and bantams.
This is his first time coaching a high school team.
“I have always wanted to coach at this level. I am extremely excited for the opportunity and look forward to the challenge,” he said. “I originally got involved (coaching) when my kids started playing the game in 2007. Tom Kursowski was the Hockey Director at St Jude and approached me to get involved in coaching. Tom and I knew each other from my playing days – he was the coach at St Lawrence when I was playing for Mt Carmel. It sparked the fire and I coached multiple St. Jude teams at (all) levels.”
But Manning admittedly wanted more.
“I love teaching systems and how the game is played from a systems standpoint,” he said. “I coached under Craig Ferguson last year at the Bantam CSDHL Minor level. He helped me understand the details of what it means to coach and how to convey those details to the kids. I have known him for many years and always respected his coaching. He built the St Rita program in the 2000s and I hope I can do the same at Brother Rice.
“I want to get the Brother Rice boys to a deeper understanding of the game. In the process, (also) remind them that hockey can mold your life. The relationships I formed on the ice have transpired into career opportunities and family networks. I want to demonstrate to these kids that hockey is not about the winning and losing, but (rather), the camaraderie as well as the competition.”
Manning was the Catholic League leading scorer as a junior, “with great linemates and goalies, who are still part of my life,” he said. “Playing on a team creates bonds that last a lifetime. I hope I can share that experience and create an environment for these boys to bond with each other. I want them to feel like they belong and they matter.”
There are no senior forwards for the Crusaders this season, yet the crew is “very talented and hungry to win,” Manning said. “We need discipline and teamwork. If we can find positive momentum they will have a winning season. I was taught by my old coach, Tom Kurow, that the most important trophy is the Kennedy Cup. I will never forget how that felt to accomplish that for my school. This is the priority for the Brother Rice program.”
Brother Rice scored 10 goals in its first two games. Led by Ryan Hanacek, Brett Bagus and Timmy Kirkwood, “we have players (who) can put the puck in the net,” Manning said. “To have two or three (who) can score is usually a luxury, but I feel I have five.”
The Crusaders’ defense will be solid, featuring DJ Smalarz, Sean Dunne, Jake Conrad, Bryan Follenweider and Luke Engel. Senior goalie Colton Edling will be backed up by sophomore Josh Moro.
“The (Chicago) Blackhawks great success in the last few years has spawned a growth of hockey and the Catholic league is benefitting,” Manning said. “When I took over as the hockey director at St. Jude, we had about 175 kids in the program. There now are more than 450.
“I believe with a sound structure at Brother Rice that I am putting in place, the program will flourish.”
Manning added: “I wanted to take my coaching to the next level, (and) feel it was the right time. I am not getting any younger and coaching is a blast. My old college roommates, Jon Grzbec and Andrew Schlie, have been involved in high school coaching for years. I have talked to them several times about their experiences with coaching at this level and that has helped motivate me to take on this role. Giving back is very important to me. I want these kids at Brother Rice to not only succeed at hockey, but flourish as young adults.”
Players To Watch: Brother Rice junior forwards Ryan Hanacek, Timmy Kirkwood and Brett Bagus could have break-out seasons. “They have tremendous talent,” Manning said.
- The award for Best Fans This Season, So Far goes to the loud, laughable bunch cheering for LZMW, the co-op of players from Lake Zurich, Mundelein and Wauconda, coached by Steve Sarauer. On Sept. 23, when LZMW defeated D155, there were about 20 fans wearing the popular onesies, just as the Chicago Cubs did earlier this season. I wonder if Coach Sarauer will be wearing a onesie at future games. As for the battle against D155, LZMW won, 5-1, anchored by two goals from Remi Mueller and two goals from Kolby Lapple. Sebastian Medina also had two assists. Nicholas Michelsen had the lone D155 goal, assisted by Brennan Kelly and Rich Gajdzik.
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.