By Ross Forman
Ethan Chesney still remembers when his family was to house a Swedish hockey player a few years ago during the Krolak Cup, the annual international tournament that brings youth players from Sweden to the Chicagoland area.
Ethan was paired with Albin, and Ethan admitted that, at first, it was “weird having a kid that you never met before staying in your house.”
But Albin and Ethan quickly developed a strong friendship, such that, he “felt like a brother.”
“My family bonded so quickly with him and after the tournament was over, I was very sad to see him leave,” said Chesney, who was playing for the Hoffman Estates Wolf Pack that season. “Some of my teammates didn’t even talk to their Swedish friends after they left. But Albin and I messaged one another every day. He came back just a few months later to stay with me for two weeks and this time it wasn’t for hockey. We did so much together over those two weeks. Again, when he left, it was so upsetting.
“Living so far apart and in such different time zones, it is hard to stay in touch, but we did every day for almost a year.” And this past summer, Ethan and his mom visited Sweden for two weeks. Of course, Ethan hung out with Albin.
“It was the best vacation of my life,” Chesney said. “I learned and did so many different things that I would not be able to do here. We hope to see one another every summer.”
Yep, the friendships of hockey have long skated off the ice, too.
Ethan said his friendship with Albin, established through hockey, and solidified off-the-ice, “is my favorite memory from hockey.”
Now 15 and a sophomore at Burlington Central High School who lives in Elgin, Chesney is a center for the Leafs U15 CSDHL team, coached by Mike Rucinski. The right-handed shooting Chesney is in his first season with the Leafs after past seasons skating for the Wolf Pack, Express and Northwest Chargers.
Ethan admitted that he wasn’t sure how he’d communicate with Albin when he arrived from Sweden. Hockey silenced that fear.
“We all spoke the same language, hockey, so it was a good way to meet,” he said. “(The experience) definitely taught me not to be nervous about new and different experiences and just go for it.”
There were five teams in the Krolak Cup, including Chesney’s Wolf Pack. Others playing were the Hawks, Cyclones, Jaguars and the Brooklyn Tigers (Sweden). The first game of the tournament was the Tigers against the Cyclones.
Chesney and his team watched, supporting their Swedish friends.
“The Tigers scored two quick goals and we were going crazy,” Chesney recalled. “The Cyclones ended up coming back and the game ended up tied, 2-2.
“As the tournament went on we did a lot of fun things. One of them was a skills competition. I ended up winning first-place for the most accurate shot.
“The last game we played in the tournament was against the Tigers. We ended up getting smoked, 8-1, but it was a super fun experience to play against kids that you never even knew just a week earlier. The skill (of the Swedish players) is much different than ours and it was fun to watch their game play throughout the tournament.”
The Krolak Cup was “one of the best experiences I ever had because I got to meet and play with a whole team full of kids from a different country. I learned a lot about hockey in Sweden and what they do different than we do here,” he said.
Flash-forward to this season – Chesney is focused on a state championship and improving his play to, ultimately, play junior hockey or college hockey.
“(The) team is a tight group of friends,” Chesney said. “We come from different clubs and areas. We have players that are local (and others) from Peoria, Iowa, and Rockford. Not having the game history together made it hard to come together at the start. (But), we had an early-season tournament in Kalamazoo, Mich., and we really formed as a team on the ice and off. Mid-season, we are still a tight team. We have our good games and our bad (games), but we stick together and practice hard to fix our mistakes and get better.
“One of our biggest strengths is that we get along together and don’t argue. Usually when a team doesn’t get along well, they complain a lot and get down on each other. We do a pretty job at keeping ourselves motivated and ready to play.”
Chesney comes to the Leafs after winning the Wolves Cup NIHL Championship as a second-year bantam for the Wolf Pack.
“I am a center, so I like to be helping out wherever the puck is at all times,” Chesney said. “Sometimes I will stay back and help out with the defense or in the high slot if no one is there, but I am usually down low helping in our zone to break out the puck. Another thing is that I play defense on the power play. I like to be the one (who) sets up the play and gets it into the zone.”
Chesney is a leader, though one of the smallest players. He stands 5-foot-3 and weighs only 110 pounds.
“I don’t hit that often, but I can’t be afraid to hit or get hit because then it messes up my game,” Chesney said. “I think that, because I am on the smaller side, I have learned to have better puck-handling skills and anticipate where the play will be. I still have a lot (to improve in) my game and will continue to learn and work with what I can control. My size isn’t really one (thing I can control). I always will be one of the smaller players on the ice, but I think I can develop better skills instead of hitting.”
Chesney praised many of his past coaches for pushing him to work hard and focus on long-term goals. One of his biggest influences was Greg Duckson, who is now coaching in Minnesota.
“He always taught me from my mistakes instead of just yelling at me or the team,” Chesney said. “He showed the players respect and we respected him in return. I have always valued him as one of my best coaches.
“My parents and family have also been a huge, positive influence. Having three younger brothers who also play hockey, our schedule is pretty tight. We have to work together and be patient and helpful in order for all of our schedules to work. Somehow we are all still able to make our commitments to our team and get where we need to on time. My parents have always told me that if I commit to a team, I need to work through it, good or bad. It has made me be a better teammate and player.
“Having such good positive influences has made the negative ones less affective and noticeable. Whether it be a negative teammate, a disrespectful coach, or just bad games, having good coaches and support of my family has kept me positive and motivated to be a better hockey player.”
Around The Rink With … Ethan Chesney
Jersey Number: 18
Learn-to-Skate: “When I could walk my parents put me on the ice. I picked it up pretty quickly, from what they told me.”
Fatherly Advice: “My dad grew up playing hockey, so that is what I was encouraged to do. Once it was my choice, I wanted to keep playing.”
On Fishing: “I have fished since I was little and like fishing anywhere. I usually take my brothers to a pond nearby. If I have an opportunity to go on trips or go to a new place, I usually try to make it work. I have several different poles and lures and enjoy learning more about it.”
Fish-Tale: “I was about 10 years-old and my grandpa took me to a pond by our house that has a pier (and) we were going to fish for about an hour. I was so excited to go and couldn’t wait to catch a fish. Finally, I got one (and) jumped up in excitement … and fell right into the water off the pier. I dropped my pole and my grandpa had to pull me out (of the water). I was laughing so hard and figured it was time to go home, which was OK because my grandma had Dairy Queen Dilly Bars waiting for me. My pole is still in that pond.”
Fishing For Hockey: “I would say (fishing) is the complete opposite of hockey. It is the one other thing I enjoy, yet it is a calm, quiet, individual sport. I wouldn’t ever chose it over hockey, but it is nice to have another interest that is so different.”
Favorite NHL Team: Chicago Blackhawks
Favorite NHL Player: Jaromir Jagr
Favorite Sport (other than hockey): Fishing and golf
Favorite Pro Athlete: Brett Favre
Favorite app: YouTube
Favorite TV Show: Hawaii Five-O
Favorite Sports Movie: Miracle
Hardest Slapshot On Your Team: Justin Hubble
Teammate Who, Someday, Will Make A Great Coach: Logan Hartje
Best Local Jerseys (other than the Leafs): Ice Dogs
Worst Local Jerseys (other than the Leafs): St Jude
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.