By Ross Forman
Defending state champion Stampede (Combined Division) will be tested early – games against Providence, Maine and Glenbrook North in the first week of the season.
The magic of that March night isn’t forgotten, and never will be.
Nick Christianson, then a junior and captain of the co-op BG/H/W Stampede, was in front of the goal, tied up with a defenseman from Glenbard in the Illinois High School Hockey State Championship Game (Combined Division), played at the United Center.
Meanwhile, Nick Iliescu found Will Busby in the slot, and Busby scored the game-winning goal.
“It was crazy; it all happened really fast,” Christianson said in early-September as the Stampede sets out on a journey, it hopes, back to the United Center in defense of the club’s first-ever state title.
Busby’s goal was the biggest ever for him personally and the club, as the 3-2 overtime win over Glenbard brought joy to Buffalo Grove, Hersey and Wheeling – the schools that form BG/H/W.
BG/H/W finished 33-17-5; Glenbard ended 27-22.
But now the Combined Division teams, and all in the state for that matter, stand at 0-0…with dreams of a state championship holding strong for so many as September means the new season is upon us.
“Being out on the ice for the winner, right there, and getting to watch that puck go in a couple feet in front of me,” is my career highlight, Christianson said. “I would say for most of us, (that win) was the highlight of our hockey careers, so far. That’s what you work so hard for, and to be able to win in front of all our fans made the experience that much better.”
Playing at the United Center was “surreal,” Christianson said. “Every time I see a clip or old picture, it makes me want to get back (there) this year even more. Playing in front of all those fans, in that element, is something none of us will ever forget.”
Christianson, 17, an Arlington Heights resident who attends Buffalo Grove High School, is in his fourth season on the BG/H/W varsity. He’s a center in jersey No. 2, while his brother, sophomore Tyler Larsen, wears No. 22. The older Christianson brings a versatile style of play.
“I take a lot of pride in my play in the defensive zone and love contributing on the offensive side of the game as well,” he said. “I like to play a good two-way forward style of hockey and really try to do some of the little things.
“On and off the ice I’m a leader. I can also play in any situation (needed) and (can) be effective out there.”
Christianson said skating for the co-op club, with players from other schools, has been a blast. His teammates are his best friends, he said.
“Getting a chance to represent your school is what makes the high school hockey experience great,” Christianson said. “Say what you will about the quality of play between high school and travel hockey, (but) I played Central States for several years before high school and I can tell you that the first time I got to play in front of a crowd of a couple hundred of my classmates as a freshman, I knew that playing BG/H/W was where I wanted to be for the rest of high school.”
Christianson is undecided on his college plans for next fall, though he is considering several Midwest schools, including the University of Iowa, University of Illinois, and University of Missouri.
So, can BG/H/W repeat?
“I’m very excited to get the season started (and) looking forward to beating Maine,” Christianson said. “We have a good group and a lot of different guys who bring different abilities to the table. The best part about our team last year was our coaches got everyone to accept their roles and that definitely made us a more successful team.
“We are fortunate enough (this season) to have three Central States (players join the team). That will definitely help us fill the spots of last year’s (graduating) seniors and get back to the United Center. On top of that, we have the core group returning with more experience and young guys who are ready to step up into larger roles. It really comes down to preparing all season for state playoffs…(and) we will be prepared.
“I think overall we will be a more skilled team than we were last year with some of the new players we have. It’ll be exciting to get out there and see where we stand right from the start.”
BG/H/W jumps right into the fire pit, opening with games against Providence, Maine Township, and then York.
MORE NICK CHRISTIANSON:
Hobbies (beside hockey): Fantasy football – “I play Draft Kings every week.”
Favorite pro hockey team: Chicago Blackhawks
Favorite pro hockey player: Matt Duchene
Best High School hockey uniform: Providence
Worst High School hockey uniform: Maine
Favorite TV show: Breaking Bad
Favorite movie: Goodfellas
More sports: “I play roller hockey more than I do ice. On weekdays, there’s a 5:30 game every day at the rink in Buffalo Grove and if it isn’t raining, that’s where you’ll find me. I also play in major tournaments, like State Wars over the summer.”
Hockey stripes: “I’m going into my fourth year as a referee, (which) definitely gives you a different perspective from a playing standpoint. You definitely are a lot more understanding and have a lot more respect for officials when you are one yourself.”
Started playing hockey: At age 6 or 7.
Early hockey memory: “Playing at Addison when I was a mite…I remember that was the first time I ever scored (a goal).”
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.
State Championship photo by Ross Forman; all other photos courtesy of Nick Christianson