By Ross Forman
Chuck Rahn – a longtime hockey coach, mostly in the south suburbs of Chicago, including Lincoln-Way High School – died Dec. 18, 2018, at his home, surrounded by family after a long battle with brain cancer. He was 60.
“Coach Chuck” is survived by his wife, Gina, and sons Anthony and Chuck, along with their families.
“My father had an immense and wide-reaching effect on youth hockey in the south suburbs of Chicago,” said Coach Chuck’s son, Chuck. “His coaching career spanned (more than) 30 years through a multitude of different hockey programs. The sheer number of young lives he coached over the years was astounding. He had a true passion for the game and made sure he taught it to all of his players. There is an entire generation of players that he had the privilege of impacting.”
Such as, Chris Sabey, now 35. Rahn coached Sabey as a squirt AA and peewee A player in the mid-1990s for the Joliet Jaguars.
“He was so passionate in the locker room before the game,” recalled Sabey, who lives in Chicago. “He knew the players on the other team, their strengths, their plays, and always had a counter-attack to shut them down. It was not only for games, but for practice, in the car to and from the rink; he was always fully present, happily ready to give you and the game all of himself.”
Sabey, who works in business development for Groupon, said Rahn stressed “the importance of being a smart, disciplined hockey player, (one who doesn’t) make ‘bonehead plays’ or take stupid penalties.” Rahn also pushed “the importance of good sportsmanship and respect for the game, referees, opponents, your team, teammates, your family; as well as the importance of skating every (shift) like it was your last (game), and that you will play how you practice,” Sabey said.
“Coach Rahn laid a foundation for me in my game and amateur hockey career that still gives me pleasure and joy to reflect on to this very day. He always thought of hockey as a game, something to be enjoyed at all times. It was a real struggle for him at first when he starting coaching higher and higher levels of the sport. He never enjoyed playing one player more than the next and he wanted to make sure everyone got a chance to play. He was a very big proponent of practicing like you play. If you cheated yourself in practice, you wouldn’t be ready for the real thing.
“Coach Chuck always believed that effort and drive would beat out skill every day of the week. A great family friend of ours once showed my dad a poster (Rahn) made that my dad loved. (It said), ‘A loose puck doesn’t know who’s bigger, stronger, or drafted higher, but it knows who gets there first.’
Rahn started coaching locally in the late-1980s in the St. Jude organization. He then coached for the Chicago Hawks and Joliet Jaguars, with numerous tournament titles over the years. Rahn also spent time coaching for the Orland Park Vikings, and in the 1998-99 season, he was on the Lincoln-Way High School JV team bench.
He moved to the Lincoln-Way High School varsity team in 1999-2000 and led the club to a league and playoff championship.
“My senior year at Providence Catholic, we had a top-ranked team in the state well over halfway into the season; we were very talented,” Sabey said. “(Rahn’s) son, Chucky, and our other friend and teammate Ryan May had been playing together pretty much since squirts when we all played for Coach Rahn.
“(Rahn was) coaching the unranked Lincoln-Way varsity team our senior year. After we had blown a third-period 5-2 lead with 10 minutes left (to play) in a Kennedy Cup semi-final game to a very good Fenwick team, and got upset in the sweet 16 (round) of the (state tournament), we had the public school league championship left (to play) against Coach Rahn’s Lincoln-Way team.
“All these years (later), I haven’t given credit where credit is due. I grew up in Frankfort and knew a lot of the Lincoln-Way players and would make excuses when Lincoln-Way (players) would remind me over the years (about the loss to Lincoln-Way). But only now have I realized that talent alone doesn’t win you a championship, and Coach Rahn and his team proved that that night,” by defeating Providence.
Rahn coached his son Chuck from age 4 until he went to high school.
“He always said that they won (that game against Providence) because they were the better-coached team – he was right,” Chucky Rahn said. “He also never let me forget that they beat us, even years later after I was done playing.
“That (season), the league (had) an all-star game and I was lucky enough to play in it. My dad was coaching the other team, but they let me switch sides so I could play for him one last time. That was the last game I ever played competitively. I know dad loved that game.”
Rahn’s coaching resume also included time on the bench for the OPRF JV team, Chicago Chill, Hinsdale Central JV and Chicago Fury.
Off the ice, Rahn had a passion for boating. He also was an avid visitor to numerous toboggan hills on the south side of Chicago. “He would climb up and down the large set of stairs as part of his exercise routine – and he took it a step further,” said the younger Chuck Rahn. “Most people would be lucky to do 10 trips up and down the stairs. But, before he got really sick, he used to go every year on his birthday and do as many trips up and down as his age – 55, 56, 57, etc. He did it every year.”
Rahn had two sisters (Karen and Debbie), one brother (Ken) and of course his beloved granddaughter, Amelia. “There was nothing in this world that could come close to making dad as happy as when he spent time with Amelia,” said the younger Chuck Rahn.
“He always loved spending time with people. At every event my father attended, he was always the first to arrive and the last to leave. Spending time talking and interacting with others was one of Coach Chuck’s favorite things to do. He was notorious for trapping people who just wanted to say ‘Hello’ into a 20-minute conversation that my mother and I would have to interrupt politely so the people could get on with their days.”
Rahn grew up in Mount Greenwood and didn’t play hockey as a kid. Instead, he was hooked on baseball. He didn’t start playing hockey until later in life.
“He (played for) a team called the Renegades and that group stayed in touch over the years and used to have a weekly ice rental at a local rink where they (would) get together and play,” said the younger Chuck Rahn. “One of the other group of guys that played with them had a connection to Chris Chelios, and during the (NHL) off-season, Chelios would still come to the rink and play with the guys. I remember dad taking me week after week in the offseason when I was still a very young hockey player to see him skate on the same ice as Chelios. He also used to bring other players from the Hawks with him occasionally. I remember Ed Belfour came one week, but he didn’t play goalie.”
Nick Pollos, who is now the hockey director for the Vikings Youth Hockey Club that skates out of the Arctic Ice Arena in Orland Park, met Rahn during the 2008-2009 season when Rahn was an assistant coach with Pollos on the newly-formed Chicago Fury.
“Chuck and I had very similar coaching styles, yet we each had our own approach to teaching,” Pollos said. “Chuck was very strong in his faith and led his life with his faith at the forefront. His energy was what made him so unique. He was animated, high-energy yet patient. Chuck and I were a great example, if there is such a thing, of two people being so similar yet so different.
“I had so much respect for Chuck, seeing how he treated people and his players. He was a tough coach, yet caring and supportive. Chuck never wanted the spotlight. When his team did well, it was all about the kids. If they struggled, he took the blame. He was a class guy.”
Pollos added, “During the final weeks of his life, he would have his wife drop him off at the rink, just so he could be around the club, watching practices, saying ‘Hello’ to everyone. He knew his time was coming, yet the rink was where he felt at home, felt a part of and felt he was surrounded by family.
“Chuck and I spoke often in his final weeks; we spoke of how lucky we are to be coaching this great game. A true example of Chuck’s character was prominent in his final weeks, when we spoke at the rink. He was more concerned with how I was doing, having suffered a heart attack (last) May than talking about himself and the challenges he was facing. He was more worried about me. He was sincere.”
Added the younger Chuck Rahn, “Coach Chuck truly loved to see his players grow and develop. He enjoyed meeting the families and building relationships over the years, even after he wasn’t coaching their kids anymore. It was the comradery and family-like atmosphere that dad loved the most about coaching over the years. In all my years playing and watching Coach Chuck from the stands, I have never met someone more passionate about coaching and developing youth passion in hockey than Coach Chuck.”
One of Rahn’s final wishes was to donate his brain to the Northwestern Brain Tumor Research Center for research. And it was done.
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.