By Ross Forman
In an elite-eight round of the 2013 Illinois High School Hockey State Tournament, a Sandburg rookie named Eric Simkowski assisted on the first goal of a game against Naperville North.
“It was amazing to me, (then just) a freshman making an impact in a big game on our way to the Final Four,” said Simkowski, now a senior, and certainly a leader for the same Sandburg Eagles.
Simkowski – known to his teammates as Sims or Simkow – is an 18-year-old in Eagles’ uniform No. 42, the same number his older brother, Greg, wore for the school.
Simkowski celebrated his 18th birthday on Wednesday (Dec. 2) and lives in Orland Park. The 5-foot-10, 200-pounder shoots right-handed and centers a line with fellow seniors Trevor Hansen (LW) and Zack Stapleton (RW).
Simkowski is a four-year varsity skater with quite the hockey resume. Just consider his Sandburg feats:
- Tied for 18th in the Illinois West Division scoring as a freshman, helping the Eagles to the state final four and the West Championship.
- Switched to defense as sophomore to further assist the team.
- Finished fourth in West scoring as a junior (and back as a forward); was the West All-Star Game MVP; named All-State; and a member of Illinois team for the annual America’s Showcase.
- Named a team captain in his senior season for the second year in a row.
“I started skating at 3 years-old,” Simkowski said. “I played in Orland’s house league (for) mite (and) squirt, (then) joined the Vikings and played there from my first year of pewee until my last year of bantam. My final year of bantam, I was on the Bantam Elite team where I was assistant captain.”
At Sandburg, he is following some quite familiar skates – those of his older brother, Greg, now 26, who is married and working for US Bank in Milwaukee. Greg graduated in 2008 after four varsity seasons for Sandburg – and the two are the only brother combo in school history to each make varsity as freshmen, be team captains, and Illinois Showcase members.
“I watched (Greg) when I was growing up,” Eric said. “Since I started playing, he has spent many hours with me working and teaching me the game. I could not ask for a better brother.”
Simkowski uses his speed and strength to his on-ice advantage, but also can play a skilled game. “That’s what I feel sets me apart from other guys,” he said. “My size gives me the ability to compete with any team we face and play a physical game when necessary.”
Simkowski models his game after Jonathan Toews, naturally.
“He is an amazing player and leader,” Simkowski said of the Chicago Blackhawks’ super center.
So how far can Sandburg go this season?
“Just like any other team, (the key is) getting hot at the right time; that’s crucial,” he said. “We are a young team that has started to grow up and could surprise some teams at the end of the season as conference and the state playoffs start.”
Sandburg this season is senior-strong, starring Shaun Fox, Ryan Fox, Trevor Hansen, Kyle Kallberg, Jake Cartwright, and Zack Stapleton.
“There are so many stories I could talk about (from my high school hockey career), but what sticks out to me the most is meeting all the guys I had played against (during) my high school career at the All-State game and (on the) Illinois Showcase (team). It was awesome getting to know them.”
- More Simkowski: He has played football at Sandburg, is the sports editor for the Sandburg Aquila (newspaper) and plays golf as often as he can.
*Photos courtesy of Eric Simkowski
- Waubonsie Valley built a 3-0 lead in the championship game of the 12th annual Stevenson Thanksgiving Tournament, played Nov. 29 in Buffalo Grove. Stevenson was able to make it 3-1 in the final minute of the second period – and that was just the start of heroics for the host school. The Patriots tied the game, 3-3, and then won the title with less than 3 minutes remaining in the second 10-minute sudden-death overtime period. Freshman Seth Cohen tallied the game-winner. Meanwhile, York claimed the JV title at the Stevenson Tournament, also defeating Waubonsie Valley.
- Benet Academy overcame a 2-1 deficit in the third period en route to a 5-2 win over New Trier Green on Nov. 29 to claim the championship in the 44th annual Loyola Thanksgiving Tournament, played in Wilmette.
BENET MOVES TO NO. 1:
Benet has pushed its record to 25-3 and sure was dominant in the prestigious Loyola tournament. The Redwings defeated Barrington 6-1 on Thanksgiving Day, then trounced Glenbrook South, 9-0. On Nov. 28, Benet defeated St. Ignatius 9-1, then the Redwings stopped the host Ramblers, 2-0, in the semifinals. Benet opened the season with 13 consecutive wins, including victories in that stretch over York, Neuqua Valley, St. Rita, Glenbrook North and Providence Catholic. The three Benet losses this season have been to Notre Dame, Brother Rice and Providence Catholic – and those three setbacks have been by a total of four goals. Benet is now the new No. 1-ranked team in Illinois. (See rankings for the complete Top 20 High School Rankings, as of Dec. 1, 2015.)
Here is the new Top 20 Rankings (as of Dec. 1, 2015) for Illinois High School Teams, as compiled by Ross Forman:
- Benet Academy
- New Trier Green
- Glenbrook North
- Providence Catholic
- Loyola Gold
- St. Rita
- Brother Rice
- Notre Dame
- Maine Township
- Waubonsie Valley
- New Trier Blue
- Neuqua Valley
- Highland Park
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.