Mason Strom Mixes Officiating, Coaching
By Ross Forman
“I approach games not only from the viewpoint of an official, but a coach as well and I try to eliminate the things that frustrate me as a coach,” Strom said. “Being an official means making the tough decisions, even if they are not the popular ones because (that’s) what is right and what the integrity of the game deserves.”
Strom, 31, who lives in River Forest and is a film and broadcasting teacher at Maine South High School in Park Ridge, has been officiating for 7 ½ years – and is a Level 4 official this season. He also is in his seventh season as the head coach for the Fenwick girls’ team – which earned the No. 2 seed in the Illinois State Tournament.
“(Officiating) makes me a more complete coach, viewing the game from all three dimensions,” Strom said. “It has helped me learn all of the rules, especially the more obscure ones. I would say the biggest way officiating helps me as a coach is it really brings the values of hockey that are most important, (such as) sportsmanship and respect, to the forefront. It has allowed me to take a step back from myself and say, ‘These players aren’t just athletes, they are impressionable young women and teaching them to be good people vastly outweighs a winning-at-all-cost mentality.’”
Fenwick went 9-2-1 during the regular-season, with their losses coming in back-to-back mid-December games against New Trier and then Naper Valley. Fenwick then went 5-0-2 in Scholastic Cup play.
“This season saw our largest grade of players become upperclassmen,” Strom said. “We have made positive growth over the last two seasons and came into this one with lofty goals in mind. We have a lot of players (who) have not skated together before, so the biggest thing has been learning how to play together and learning from the mistakes we make on the ice.”
Team unity is Fenwick’s strength. “We have a great group of players who genuinely enjoy each other’s company,” Strom said. “We have improved both offensively and defensively since last season, adding a lot more depth. The majority of our team’s scoring last season came from one player, who graduated. This season, our offense has been much more evenly distributed throughout the lineup. We also are blessed with solid goaltending.”
Senior defenseman Ava Gawley is the team captain, leading a solid D crew that also includes juniors Sarah Steadman (“Great speed, great shot,” Strom said.) and Caroline Jenkins (“Great playmaker, scores timely goals.”).
Junior goalie Lena Flores has been a force all season.
Junior forward Erin Proctor has celebrated many goals this season. Sophomore Ellie Kaiser is, “Offensively dangerous from anywhere on the ice,” Strom said.
Junior forward Cecilia Jenkins is, “A true power forward with a great snapshot,” Strom said.
Junior forward Emily Franciszkowicz is a timely, scoring “big goals in big spots,” he said.
So how far can Fenwick go?
“As far as their hard work is willing to take them,” Strom said. “We’ve had three very memorable games this year: The first was a 4-1 loss to New Trier; both teams were undefeated (at) that point. The second was a 5-2 win over Naper Valley, (as) we spent the first two periods building a two-goal lead that disappeared in the first three minutes of the third period. We called a timeout, gathered ourselves, and buried three unanswered goals. The third was a game-tying goal in the final 18 seconds against Loyola.
“The State Tournament is always a fun time because the stakes of single-elimination are so high. That said, I think we will see the top four seeds make it to the semis.”
Fenwick’s first state game is Monday, Feb. 19, against No. 7 New Trier Silver.
“I think we are right where we deserve to be (ranked),” Strom said. “We had a shot at No. 1 when we played New Trier in December, and proved we aren’t quite there yet.”
Still, he added, “The team definitely has (its) sights set on the United Center, but there is a lot of really outstanding talent throughout the league and a lot of big games to be played in order to earn the opportunity to get there.”
New Trier is the No. 1 seed.
“They are the team to beat,” Strom said. “They are deep, consistent, dangerous, and fierce competitors. They had a really young team last season that has taken huge strides this season and find themselves in a familiar position atop the league.”
Strom officiates about 10 to 15 games per month, mostly NCAA Division III games. He worked the NCAA Division III Men’s Tournament last season.
Strom’s officiating resume also includes the boys’ state championship game (Red Division) in 2015, when Glenbrook North defeated Benet Academy in overtime, and it was the first year they used the four-official system in the final. Plus, he previously officiated the JV State Championship, which GBN also won.
Strom’s Fenwick players are always talking to him about officiating.
“They constantly ask me questions about why one thing was called and another thing wasn’t,” he said. “If a referee does or says something funny or strange, they constantly ask me if I know (that official).”
None of Strom’s players also officiate, at least not this season.
One of their goalies last season became an official and is still skating games this season. There have been a few more in past years, too.
“Frankly, I think all of them should because we need more female officials in the game, at all levels,” he said.
On The Bench With … Mason Strom
Favorite NHL Team: Chicago Blackhawks.
Favorite NHL Player: Bobby Hull.
Favorite Sport (other than hockey): “There are other sports?”
Favorite Pro Athlete: Marian Hossa
Favorite app: Spades Plus
Favorite TV Show: The Wire
Favorite Sports Movies: Youngblood and Mystery, Alaska
Hardest Slapshot on your Team: Sarah Steadman
Fenwick Player Who Someday Will Make a Great Coach: Sarah Steadman.
Best Local Youth and/or HS Jersey (other than your team): “I don’t really have a favorite, probably Lake Forest Academy or the Milwaukee Jr. Admirals.”
Worst Local Youth and/or HS Jersey (other than your team): Lincoln-Way
2017-18 Season: “I am very pleased with the progress we are making as a team this season and the individual improvements that many players are making. I am having a lot of fun … it is a true joy to go to the rink and coach this team. Having seven players named to the All-State Team says a lot about the positives we have experienced so far and getting to be on the bench with them for the game was a true honor.”
Looking Back: “This is my 13th season coaching overall and there have been many high points. But, I would say this has been the most steadily enjoyable season to date.”
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.