By Ross Forman
John Ross is the epitome of determination and dedication, always focused on improving every single shift, of every single game, and every single practice – and he’s motivating a community, not just a team, with every stride he takes on the ice.
Ross is a 17 year-old junior, playing left wing for New Trier’s second junior varsity team. He’s the team captain, one of two, along with three assistants – certainly a selection based on his business-like attitude on the ice and for his maturity among a freshmen-filled roster. This Trevian team has no seniors and two juniors, including Ross, and the other suffered a season-ending injury; and there are only two sophomores.
“I definitely feel like a leader on the team, and being voted captain definitely shows that others would agree. I just make sure to work hard on the ice and off,” Ross said.
Ross has been working extra hard for the past year or so – and he has to.
When he was younger, Ross learned to skate and would go to free skates at local ice rinks with his family a few times a year. However, he really only knew the basics of skating and it wasn’t until last winter that he learned how to hockey-stop and skate backwards.
“I still have a lot of room for improvement in my skating efficiency, which will lead to improvement in speed. I’m also still getting used to skating with a puck, and keeping my head up while handling it,” he said.
This past summer, Ross, a Glencoe resident, registered for a hockey clinic run by New Trier JV coach Randy Schlesinger so he could develop enough skill to, hopefully, land on a house league team. At one of the clinics, Schlesinger approached Ross between shifts in a half-ice scrimmage and asked whether he was planning to try out for New Trier. “I just sort of shrugged, but when he told me I had a shot (to make one of the school’s two JV teams), I decided to go for it,” Ross said. “He made sure I didn’t take this as any kind of guarantee, but just knowing that I was even within range was good enough for me.”
New Trier tryouts were held over several consecutive days this past August in Winnetka, with scrimmages lasting about 75 minutes. Ross admitted that he “felt pretty clueless” during tryouts compared to the others.
He just didn’t know what to expect.
“Shift after stressful shift I tried my best, skated my hardest, and tried to remember all of the things that I had learned in the proceeding weeks,” Ross said. “But after each day of tryouts, as the (school’s three) varsity teams were decided one by one, and more focus was diverted to the remaining players, I still felt lost out there, and honestly wasn’t expecting much.
“I was enjoying the tryouts, however, which were full-ice scrimmages, and I made the best of them as if they were my last few hours skating with the future New Trier players who I had been skating with through the summer.”
Ross was both shocked and ecstatic to learn he made a New Trier team.
“I remember pacing around the kitchen after the last tryout, trying not to think about the results that were to be posted (online) at around midnight,” Ross said. “Around 9 or 10 o’clock, I decided to refresh the page once more, and that’s when I saw the roster appear. At first I looked away, and after reading the names that were not limited by the screen, I began to scroll slowly with my right hand, peering through the fingers of my left hand, with which I was shielding my eyes. I knew that it was a longshot, but I still wanted to make the team so badly, as it was my only chance to play hockey almost every day (as) house league was only once or twice a week.
“When I saw my name on the roster, I basically just gasped. I ran over to my mom, who had seen my expression and was already on her way to embrace me. After all of my mom’s teary congratulating, I called my best friend and told him the news. I went to bed with the grin still plastered to my face.”
Ross said playing hockey – on a team – has been stressful, especially as the least experienced player in every game. But it also makes him proud.
“I’ve wanted to play hockey for years, but I dismissed it (because) everyone said it was the kind of sport that you had to learn as a toddler,” he said.
Ross has changed his goals for this season several times.
At first, he just wanted to play house league. Then he wanted to make a New Trier team.
Once he made the Trevians’ JV team, his goal was to score his first goal. Once that happened, he wanted to keep scoring and improving.
And that’s where he’s at now – on a line with sophomore center Alex Wallace and freshman right wing Cray Taylor.
Ross sports jersey number 75.
“Though my main concern has been to score, I have noticed major improvement in my defensive awareness,” Ross said. “Early in the season I felt like I had a goal against my line, if not more than one, every single game. But we have been working on team defense a lot in practice, and I have noticed that my line has played much smarter defensively. Of course, this is an improvement that the whole team has made, not just me or my line, but I must have improved along with them. I’ve been improving on all the little things too, (such as) knowing what to do, when to do it, how to skate, where to face, who to watch, (and more). These are all things that don’t exactly come naturally.
“I basically started from scratch, and because there is so much room for improvement in every aspect of my game, I have been improving many folds in all of them.”
Ross credits his New Trier coaches for his improvement as a player – and his teammates, too. “(They) have always given me tips and answered my questions, no matter how stupid they may seem, and they contribute to my development significantly,” he said.
Ross said hockey certainly is a sport that you can pick up at any time; you don’t to skate in mites just to make a high school team, for instance.
“As hard as it was to learn the game and pick up skills as quickly as I did, the hardest part was just showing up on the first day,” he said. “I often felt out of place, like I was making a mistake. It was easy to feel embarrassed in that kind of situation, but I just forced myself to ignore it.
“I (previously) saw hockey as the kind of sport that your parents had to choose for you when you were a little kid, but I’m sure there are other guys like me, who realized the greatness of hockey on their own, and I hope that they are able to realize that playing hockey is not such an intangible goal as it seems.”
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.