Annual season-ending awards named, with Ray the top defenseman
By Ross Forman
His first game for Loyola Gold was one that Parker Ray never will forget.
Ray was a freshman on the school’s top varsity team, one that always is a perennial powerhouse. The Ramblers were facing Providence Catholic, another Illinois power, at the Arctic Ice Arena in Orland Park. “I remember, I played horribly,” Ray said.
Flash-forward to Monday night, March 13. Ray and his Ramblers were again skating against Providence. It was the semifinals in the Red Division of the Illinois High School Hockey State Tournament in Bensenville – the No. 3-seeded Ramblers against the No. 2 Celtics.
Ultimately, it was Ray’s last high school game – the same match up as his first-ever.
Providence cruised past Loyola, 5-0, to advance to the state championship game at the United Center against New Trier Green, 8-2 winners over Benet Academy in the second semifinal of the night.
Ray never will forget this loss to Providence, either.
“Playing for Gold for four years has been extremely fun,” Ray said before the Providence game. “It is has taught me many things (and) I have developed immensely as a hockey player, (and) also become a better person. It has taught me how to develop the skills to deal with certain situations that can be beneficial in the rest of my life. Gold is a brotherhood and is unlike anything I have ever experienced. The alumni base is huge and if you meet someone who has played for Gold 30 (or) 40 years ago, there is an instant connection and that is something I love about Gold.
“It has been an amazing four years.”
Ray was a rarity at Loyola Gold: a four-year player.
The list of four-year Gold players is limited, very limited. Players such as Kevin Carroll, Josh Desent and Axel Lifvendahl come to mind quickly. There might be a few others, too. But not many.
Ray shined in the Gold spotlight.
“To be a four-year player for Loyola Gold is a huge honor and something I am extremely proud of,” Ray said. “Not many people get to play for such a prestigious hockey club for four years and have a legitimate shot at winning state every year. I am very thankful that Coach D.J. LaVarre took a chance on me four years ago. It was a huge accomplishment for me.”
Though Ray’s ride is over, his legacy will live on – at Loyola, and beyond. Ray is the 2016-17 Defenseman of the Year, one of the honors I have compiled for more than a decade. (See below for a complete list of my honorees, both boys and girls, from the 2016-17 season.)
“My freshman year on Gold went very well, (except) I was little timid with the puck and didn’t have much confidence. I was playing against 18 year-old men who were a lot bigger and stronger than me,” he said. “I finally starting settling in the end of my freshman year and developed a lot more confidence. My defensive partner was Cal Callahan for the majority of the year, who was the best player in the state at the time, so that also boosted my confidence knowing that if I messed up he had my back.”
As a freshman, Ray envisioned being the Gold captain – an honor he wears on his jersey this season. He was the team’s assistant captain last year.
“I wanted the opportunity to be able to try to lead a team to a state title,” he said. “Having the ‘C’ on my jersey was a very big honor; (it) meant a lot to me considering so many great players wore it before me, (such as) Danny O’Grady and Axel Lifvendahl. Those guys were unbelievable leaders and I strive to be as good of a leader as they were.”
Ray said he is “a way better” defenseman now than when he first skated for Loyola.
“Freshman year I was pretty small and did not have much muscle,” he said. “I realized that if I wanted to eventually be a leader and top player on Gold I was going to have to put in the work. I worked out hard every summer and did my best to develop my skating skills. Making the team (my) freshman year, I was forced to mature at a faster rate than the rest of the kids my age. I was hanging out with kids who were two, three and four years older than me. This was a big factor in growing and improving myself as a person.”
Ray’s moment to shine this season, so far, was the team’s Senior Night game against Glenbrook North.
He also recalls a moment from that freshman campaign that sticks out – against Green, no less. He scored his first playoff goal.
“The puck was shot from the point on the power play; it hit the boards behind the night, and popped right out to me around the bottom of the left circle, and it shot it past the goalie before he could slide over, Ray said.
More From The Pages of Parker Ray:
Lives in: Chicago
College plans: Will attend the University of Iowa, where he will play on the school’s club team. He plans to major in business.
Favorite NHL Team: Chicago Blackhawks
Favorite NHL Player: Patrick Sharp
Favorite NHL Defenseman: Duncan Keith
Favorite Sport (other than hockey): Golf
Best HS uniforms (excluding Loyola): GBS alternate jersey
Worst HS uniforms (excluding Loyola): “Any of New Trier Green jerseys.”
Hardest slapshot on Loyola Gold: Ben Odle
Toughest Loyola Gold forward to stop in one-on-one drills: Danny Stevens, “because he has quick feet and is super-fast.”
Jersey number: “I wear No. 27 because before I came to Loyola I was number 25. After I made Gold, Axel Lifvendahl was No. 25 and there was already a No. 24 and No. 26. I didn’t want to wear Michael Jordan’s No. 23, so I chose 27, which was the next closest number to 25.”
Off-ice: Ray enjoys golfing. “It keeps my mind off hockey and helps to refocus me for the next season. It is something else where I can be competitive and stay active. I also enjoy fishing and hunting.”
Pre-Loyola Gold: He played for Chicago Jets most of his childhood, and was then coached by Kevin Delaney, “who helped develop my fundamentals.” He also played AAA for the Chicago Fury.
On Blackhawks’ defenseman Duncan Keith: “I try to model my play after Duncan, (who) is a lock-down defenseman (whose) main priority is to not let the other team score. Having said that, he picks and chooses his opportunities to get involved offensively and this is exactly how I play. I will get involved in the offensive rush every once in a while, but my main goal is to not allow any goals against while I am on the ice.”
On his competitive drive: “I don’t show it externally, but I hate losing. I like to be the best at whatever I do and if someone else is better than me at something, it pisses me off and motivates me to be better than them.”
Ross Forman’s 2016-17 Illinois High School Hockey Season Awards:
Forward Of The Year: Tommy Cahill, New Trier Green
Runner-up: Benjamin Granato, Neuqua Valley
Defenseman of the Year: Parker Ray, Loyola Gold
Runner-up: Andrew Maynard, Naperville Central
Goaltender of the Year: Ryan Iaciancio, Providence Catholic
Runner-up: Thomas Moran, Loyola Gold
Coach of the Year: Bob Melton, New Trier Green
Runner-up: Chris Waters, BG/H/W
Girls Forward of the Year: Lily Cataldo, Glenbrook South
Girls Defenseman of the Year: Kendra Nealey, Latin School of Chicago
Girls Goaltender of the Year: Tianna Lavalle, Loyola
Girls Coach of the Year: Mike Glass, Loyola
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.