Indians face No. 9 BG/H/W in Combined Division state tournament game
By Ross Forman
The moment that might have defined the season for Lane Tech came late last October, when the Indians played host to New Trier White at McFetridge Ice Rink in Chicago. The Trevians were undefeated at the time, yet Lane Tech triumphed, 5-2.
The win “gave us a lot of confidence moving forward,” said Lane Tech head coach Jason Newman.
After all, the Indians entered the season having graduated 11 from last season after losing the IHSHL North-Central Division Championship Game in overtime.
And this season they were skating in the top-tiered Champions Division.
They have shined all season.
“There’s no question that this year’s team has exceeded my expectations,” Newman said. “l was a bit apprehensive about moving up to play in the Champions Division, (but) am very proud of our guys for finishing fifth in the league’s top division. There was more parity in the North-Central this season than I’ve ever seen, as any one of the 13 Champions Division teams had a chance to win each night, regardless of whom they were playing.”
Lane Tech finished with a 10-8-6 regular-season record, and its 26 points was only behind New Trier White (37 points), Lake Forest (36), Loyola Maroon (33) and Leyden (29).
“From a skill standpoint, we’re a lot better than we were at the start of the season. We’ve also improved defensively. However, I think the most important thing for us right now is to not become complacent, and continue to work hard and improve each day in preparation for (the) state (tournament),” Newman said. “When our (team) president, Tom Merkel and I took over the program four years ago, we had no ice contracts, no coaches, no uniforms, and we could barely field two teams. We now field three competitive teams, and there has been a tremendous amount of interest from youth hockey players all over the city (of Chicago) who want to learn more about our program. We’re looking forward to continuing that trend and are grateful for all of the players who have contributed to our growth, particularly our graduating seniors who have spent the duration of their high school careers with us.
“One of the things I’m most proud of this season is the consistent work-ethic our team has shown. We may not be the most talented team, but we battle from the time the puck drops until the (final) horn sounds, which is something we’ve done for much of the season. I’m also very pleased about how our players interact with one another, and the leadership that this team has compared to our teams in years past. We’re a tight-knit group that has endured some adversity, and I think that will help us a lot moving forward. We have several players in our locker room that have been a part of our program for all four years of their high school careers, yet many of them are first-year varsity players. Having a group of kids that enjoy playing with one another, and appreciate being a part of our program, makes it a lot easier for us to get the most out of them. It’s been a pleasure for me to coach this team, and I believe the best is yet to come.”
Newman, 44, a Chicago resident who also works as an attorney and realtor, is in his seventh season coaching, his fifth at the high school level, and his fourth at Lane Tech. He was the St. Ignatius JV coach during the 2012-13 season. Newman also coached the Chicago Young Americans Bantam ’97s for two seasons (2010-11, 2011-12), finishing second-place in state both seasons.
Newman’s playing career included time with the Niles Rangers, Glenview Stars, Glenbrook South JV, Suffield Academy varsity (Suffield, CT).
“I was a hard-working player who thrived in a grittier, blue-collar role. So, I’ve always preferred players who give their best effort and are willing to sacrifice themselves for the team,” he said. “I’m fortunate to have made several lifelong friends through hockey, and I often remind our players that they have a small window of time as teammates, and that they should make the most of the opportunity so they never look back on it with regret.”
There certainly was no regret on the Lane Tech bench this past Jan. 16, during a 2-1 win over Latin School of Chicago. Will Booker’s game-winning goal that night came after the team killed off a 5-on-3 power play late in the game. “It turned out to be one of our biggest wins all year,” Newman said.
Lane Tech united players from Lane Tech, Taft, Northside Prep, Lakeview, Von Steuben and DePaul Prep.
The co-op Indians earned the No. 8 seed in the Combined Division of the state tournament and will face No. 9 BG/H/W on March 3 at the Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville. The winner of that game will then, potentially, face No. 1-seed Waubonsie Valley in the elite eight.
“I think the Combined Division is totally up for grabs this year, definitely more so than in recent years,” Newman said. “There are several teams that have a chance to reach the championship game. We’re fortunate to have earned a first-round bye, but we know BG/H/W has won state two of the last three seasons, so the fact that we swept them in the regular-season means nothing at this point. Right now, beating BG/H/W is the only thing on our minds, and if we’re able to do that, we’ll focus on whomever we face next. Our goal is to make a deep run in state, and I don’t think there’s any doubt that when we’re at our best, we’re a tough team to beat.”
Lane Tech has several highly-skilled players, starting with senior captain Zach Sockol (Lane Tech), a forward and four-year varsity player. “He’s our leading scorer and an excellent two-way player who’s as important for us defensively as he is offensively,” Newman said.
Senior forward Jack Merkel (Lane Tech), “is having a great season as one of our leading scorers,” Newman said. “He’s got a positive attitude and solid work-ethic and is also one of our captains. Jack was named MVP in our league’s All-Star Game.”
Senior defensemen Jack Sheahan (Lane Tech) and Will Heffernan (Lane Tech) “are top-notch defensemen, both of whom are vital components to our success,” Newman said. “We’re happy they both joined us for their last year of eligibility after concluding their travel hockey careers. Sheahan was selected to the All-State Team and Heffernan could have easily been chosen as well.”
One of the biggest surprises at Lane Tech has been the play this season of junior forward Eric Pazini (Von Steuben), in his first varsity season.
“He’s having a breakout season,” Newman said. “He’s not only one of our leading scorers, but he’s also been a great two-way player, someone we rely upon to kill penalties and be accountable in our zone.”
On The Bench With … Lane Tech Head Coach Jason Newman
Favorite NHL Team: Chicago Blackhawks
Favorite NHL Players: Patrick Kane, Aleksander Barkov, Scott Nichol
The 2019 Stanley Cup Champion Will Be: San Jose Sharks
Hardest Slapshot on Lane Tech: Will Booker
Most Accurate Shot on Lane Tech: Will Heffernan
Fastest Skater on Lane Tech: Marcos “Candy” Maldonado
Players Who Could Be a Coach One Day: Zach Sockol, Frank Rodriguez or Daniel Jorgensen
Hockey Pet Peeve: “When players take bad penalties.”
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.