By Ross Forman
It wasn’t the way to start the season that the Fox Valley Hawks wanted, or any team would want.
They were 0-3, with two shutouts – and that was just three days into the season.
“We played some teams (to start the season) that were just better than us, and we were missing some players for various reasons, too,” said Fox Valley head coach Phil Gabrielsen.
The Hawks were blanked 3-0 by Naperville Central, lost 5-1 to upstart Libertyville, then fell 1-0 to Warren.
Fox Valley finally found the “W” column on Sept. 16, with a 5-0 win over Nazareth, and also this season has defeated the Kings, LZMW, Warren and D211 Chiefs.
Fox Valley is 5-5-1.
“When we started playing games in our tier (of the North Central Division), things worked out for us. We were playing against teams more at our level,” Gabrielsen said. “Ultimately, I think the guys see that those early losses, against strong teams such as Libertyville, will help us long-term.”
Fox Valley lost most of its 2017-18 team to graduation, but now is heavy on upper classmen.
“I think it’s going to take the first part of the season just to get going, especially since we have some early-season injuries and an almost all-new defense,” Gabrielsen said.
Fox Valley is a co-op of players from Kaneland, Geneva, Batavia, St. Charles North and St. Charles East.
Gabrielsen is in his fifth season with the Hawks, has coached Illinois high school hockey for 23 years and has been involved in Illinois hockey for 25 years. He is a former Illinois High School Coach of the Year award-winner and has been a past coach for the Illinois Showcase team.
He is assisted by Mark Sokniewicz and Pete Garvey.
“I think we’ll be OK this season, fighting for one of the top spots in the (North-Central) Gold Division, if we can get healthy and keep things going in the right direction,” Gabrielsen said.
Fox Valley lost 5-2 to Crystal Lake South in Geneva on Oct. 21.
“Sometimes we’re just looking to make that special play, special pass. Ultimately I think we’ll put (more) pucks in the net,” Gabrielsen said.
Senior captain Johnny Ambrogio (St. Charles North) is a powerful forward who also plays football. Another key forward is senior Adrian Osborne (Batavia).
Returning on defense is senior Emerson Stopen (St. Charles East) and junior Ian Bain (Batavia), though Bain is out with a broken ankle.
Junior Hunter Christerson (St. Charles East) and junior Ben Grizaffi (Batavia) have stepped in strong on defense.
Returning goalie Roberto Torres, a senior from Geneva, and senior Nicholas Csekme (St. Charles North) have been splitting time so far.
Senior second-year varsity player Joe Mullaghey (Geneva) could be the breakout player.
Senior forward Danny Shaughnessy (Geneva) is one of three three-year varsity players on the team, and Gabrielsen is expecting another standout season from him.
“Realistically, I think we can go far in the playoffs for the Gold Division,” which also features Crystal Lake South. New Trier Gray, the D211 Chiefs, Warren and Nazareth, among others, Gabrielsen said. “As far as the state tournament, last year was a complete surprise, that we made it to the elite eight. The kids are all pushing that we can do that again (this season), maybe even take a step further. But, there are a lot of very good (Combined Division) teams in the state, including BG/H/W, Libertyville, Lane Tech, Glenbard, AWF, and others. It’s definitely going to take some hard work if we want to (make it to the final four).”
Fox Valley left the Suburban League two years ago and then considered its options, including joining the Illinois West. Instead, the Hawks opted for the North-Central, particularly because of its early-season tiering.
The Hawks have one home game in November, on the 18th against Warren, which will be played at the Leafs Ice Centre in West Dundee. The team will be traveling to Barrington, Franklin Park and elsewhere for games in November, and will played in the PREP Thanksgiving Tournament at West Meadows Ice Arena.
Fox Valley played in the Stevenson Thanksgiving Tournament last year, but with the Stevenson varsity tournament being played in Gurnee, it was mostly a logistic decision for the Hawks to instead challenge in the PREP event.
Fox Valley’s second varsity team (Gray) plays in the North-Central Champions Division, which is a mix of second varsity and JV teams, including Lake Forest, PREP and BG/H/W JVs.
Fox Valley also has JV teams in the North-Central Gold JV and Silver JV Divisions.
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.