By Ross Forman
It was 10 or 15 years ago when I was officiating an adult league hockey game in Buffalo Grove for the top-tiered division. Brock Hanna was a right-handed defenseman – a strong, fearless player who would occasionally rush the puck up the ice, but usually was just rock-solid on D.
We clashed right away.
Brock, you see, was a physical player, never afraid to check a foe, though the league was, of course, no-check. Brock would check someone, my arm would go in the air and I’d signal the penalty. Usually, it was roughing.
It wasn’t long into my time refereeing in the league with Brock that we talked. Well, it was more like, I talked, explained what and how I would call games. He listened and with a smile disagreed politely. But he quickly learned how I called the game.
We never had a disagreement again.
In fact, for years Brock would get a penalty a game, every game. He’d check someone, my arm would go in the air signaling the penalty, and almost before I blew my whistle, he was skating to The Box. Brock knew I was going to call it.
He never argued. Sure, I’m certain there were penalties that he didn’t agree with, but he never swore, never slammed his stick. He respected the call and skated to The Box.
I wish all players were like Brock.
About five years ago Brock and I became friends on Facebook, and we’d often message back and forth – about the Blackhawks, about hockey penalties, about my marathon running, and more.
I always would start a chat with a very simple message that I know he liked. I’d write: Go To The Box, Now! Meaning, I was penalizing him via Facebook – and he’d go, though he first wanted to confirm it was only a 2-minute minor penalty, not a 5- or 10-minute penalty.
Though I hadn’t seen Brock in years, we still messaged every few weeks.
He said nice, touching comments to me a couple of years ago when my Mom passed.
And he has said some very flattering comments multiple times about my officiating, which meant so much coming from someone who truly loved the game of hockey.
In mid-December of 2013, days after I ran the Honolulu Marathon, Brock sent me a congratulatory message, then added: “I am sorry to say that I am on IR (Injured Reserve): cancer. It’s no joke.”
Yep, Brock had Stage 3b Melanoma. He said at the time, “Ugly diagnosis, optimistic prognosis.”
In early 2014 I told Brock that my marathon coaching for Team In Training supports the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) – and one of the cancers we battle is, melanoma. Brock was so happy.
Every summer from 2014-2016, I wanted Brock to speak to my Team runners before a training run and he agreed, without question, saying it would be an honor. I wanted him to speak in Chicago, early on a Saturday morning, which could have been a problem getting there from his north suburban home. He didn’t hesitate; he agreed. Meant so much to me when he said about LLS, “It’s a great cause, and the least I could do.”
Unfortunately, he never spoke to my Team – mostly because of work and hockey commitments.
Still, when he committed to talk, I asked him for some personal info – and that’s when I learned so much about Brock. As he said:
“(Was a) mediocre Junior-A (hockey) player, went into USMC after getting waived for final time; became a carpenter; raised my family, married, 4 kids, got melanoma diagnosis in 2007, was told I beat it in 2012; they were wrong. Stage 3 (in) November 2013, surgery, chemo, failed. Stage 4, March 2014, surgery, chemo, radiation, diagnosed with brain metastasis May, 2014.”
He added, with his normal humor: “Feel great for a guy with serious problems.”
Brock passed away Tuesday, Nov. 22. He was 52. I heard the news between periods of a game I was officiating, ironically in Buffalo Grove – probably the way Brock would have wanted it.
I met Brock on the ice. I really got to know Brock off the ice. Such as the fact he graduated from Roosevelt University with a 4.0 GPA on the GI Bill.
Brock was a railroad engineer for Amtrak whose hockey career included time skating for the youth Chicago Patriots at McFetridge Ice Rink in the city, and adult league play in Skokie, Rolling Meadows, at Johnny’s IceHouse in Chicago and elsewhere. His junior-league time was with the Chicago Hornets.
Brock played Saturdays at 6 a.m. in Buffalo Grove with a group of area veteran skaters. He skated in the 6 a.m. games for the past 10 years. With the exception of the last two weeks (or when he was ill), he never missed. At his last skate three weeks ago, he was spitting up blood, but still playing strong.
Brock wouldn’t let cancer or his illness stop him from enjoying life and playing the game he loved.
As so many have said this week, Brock was the toughest player on the ice, without question.
He also coached, serving on the bench for youth teams at McFetridge and was an assistant for Fremd High School.
I’ll never forget something Brock told me shortly after my Mom passed: “I am sure of one thing: she was very proud of her little boy. You honor her with your entire life, and how you treat others. A real gentlemen.”
On Nov. 16, I told Brock for what I now know was the last time to “Go To The Box, Now!” He laughed, then said:
“I kid around with you, but the truth is … whoever gets you for a ref is lucky. You are very good at it. Consistent and fair. Keep it up.”
Brock – thanks for everything on and off the ice. You are missed, especially in The Box!
* Visitation for Brock Hanna will be Friday, Nov. 25, at 2 p.m., followed by services at 3 p.m., at The Glen Club (2901 W. Lake Ave.) in Glenview. His burial and grave site service is Saturday, Nov. 26, at 2 p.m., at Graceland Cemetery (4001 N. Clark St.) in Chicago.
*Before Wednesday night’s Rivalry Games (varsity and JV) between Highland Park and Deerfield, played in Vernon Hills, there was a moment of silence before the varsity game to honor Brock. Also, many players had a sticker on their helmet with B.H. written on it. The HP varsity won, 9-0. The HP JV won, 6-0.
*Brock is survived by his wife Janine, sons Eric, Ryan and Andy, and daughter Cassidy. Andy has played for the Falcons Hockey Association (FHA) and is currently on the Bantam Gold team. From serving our country in the U.S. Marines to donating his time to FHA as a volunteer coach, Brock has always been there for those he loves. The Falcons have a created a gofundme page, and hopes you can assist the Hanna Family during this very difficult time.
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.