By Ross Forman
Fenwick is shooting for the first girls’ hockey state championship in school history, and many around Illinois not wearing the Friars’ black and silver attire are well aware of the team’s strengths.
Fenwick is the No. 1-seed in the state tournament, with its first game set for March 7 at the Edge Ice Arena, starting at 6:40 p.m., against Latin School of Chicago.
“The No. 1 seed in the state tournament is definitely a big accomplishment for the team, based on their play through the first half on the season, but they understand it’s just a number and means nothing without the solid play to back it up,” said Fenwick head coach Mason Strom, who has been coaching 14 years at the high school level, eight at Fenwick. Strom previously spent five years at OPRF as a head coach, three as the boys’ varsity head coach.
In his run at Fenwick, he has one state championship appearance, four semi-final appearances and eight Scholastic Division appearances.
Strom, 32, lives in River Forest and is a broadcasting teacher at Maine South.
Fenwick finished the Metro-Girls regular-season with an 11-0-2 record and 24 points – one more than Naper Valley and Loyola. They outscored regular-season foes 68-9, allowing the fewest goals of any team.
“The team is having a lot of fun. They enjoy playing together and with such a large group of seniors (9), they are keeping the team focused on leaving their mark on Fenwick girls’ hockey history and trying to make the season last as long as possible.
“Last season’s team was the most successful Fenwick girls’ team there has ever been, having lost only five games all season and appearing in the Scholastic Cup Championship for the first time. Although the girls were happy with their success, they weren’t satisfied with where we finished, losing a couple of one-goal games to Glenbrook both in the Scholastic Cup and state tournament. The approach this season has been to play every game like it’s an elimination game.
“This year’s team is hungry. That’s the best way to put it. There is a large group of seniors that have been improving as a group each season and (they) know there is a tough road ahead, but (they) want to be playing in the last game of the year. Everyone on the team plays for each other and they want to see their teammates succeed.”
There were 10 girls’ teams battling for state bragging rights. Latin School of Chicago’s second varsity and Barrington have already been eliminated, but all others are eyeing the powerful Friars, particularly No. 2 New Trier, No. 3 Loyola and No. 4 Latin School.
The girls’ state championship game will be played at the United Center on March 22, starting at 4 p.m.
“The strengths of this year’s team is their attitude and their drive,” Strom said. “They respect the game and the need to play two-way hockey. They want to score on every shift and keep the puck out of our net at all cost.
“We have a lot of depth and talent on the team, players that can skate the puck end to end at times. Our improvement has really come with our ability to move the puck and play as a team.
“We are excited (for the state tournament). The games in the girls’ division are always very spread out from round to round, and with the single-elimination format, every game is intense. Even with the No. 1 seed, we have some very formidable opponents ahead of us and embrace the challenge.”
In a season filled with magical moments, none stand higher than when Emmy Franciszkowicz scored with 2.3 seconds left in a December game against Naper Valley. “The goal was a stunner and gave us a 2-1 win,” Strom said. “It was a big goal because I think it was the goal that started building our identity as a team for the season.”
A tie this season also was memorable.
“Believe it or not, the highlight game of the season so far was a tie against New Trier,” Strom said. “Last season, first-place in the tiering round came down to a game between us and New Trier. We lost 4-1 and ended up in second-place. This season, we played them in our last game of the tiering-round and they were the only team who could knock us out of first-place. We were down 3-2 late in the third period when we pulled the goalie and senior forward Emmy Franciszkowicz scored to tie it and clinch first-place in the standings.”
Other key Fenwick players this season include senior goalie Lena Flores, senior defenseman Sarah Steadman, senior forward Erin Proctor, junior forward Ellie Kaiser, senior defenseman Caroline Jenkins, senior forward Ceci Jenkins, senior forward Kelly Millins, and others.
“Everyone has stepped up and given their all in a way that has put us near the top of the league,” Strom said. “I’d say the best surprise of this year’s team has been the freshmen and new players. Many of them have stepped into big minutes on the ice and have made an impact right away.”
Strom added, “I have been coaching for a long time and there are always little things you remember about certain players and the different seasons you coach. This year has been so incredibly memorable and whatever happens in the final four weeks of the season, this is a special group of players to coach, and I have had the pleasure of coaching with three Fenwick girls’ alumni this season, who show a pride in this club that is an amazing example to our players.”
On The Bench With … Fenwick Girls Head Coach Mason Strom
Favorite NHL Team: Chicago Blackhawks
Favorite NHL Player: Bobby Hull (all time), Dylan Strome (current)
The 2019 Stanley Cup Champion Will Be: “Can any stop Tampa Bay?”
Hardest Slapshot on Fenwick: Sarah Steadman
Most Accurate Shot On Fenwick: Erin Proctor
Fastest Skater on Fenwick: Kelly Millins
Player Who Could Be a Coach One Day: Caroline Jenkins
Best Coaching Advice: “You can’t coach your team and ref the game at the same time … just accept what happens, mistakes and all.” – My Wife
Hockey Pet Peeve: Lazy back-checking
Hockey Superstition: “Gotta learn to tape your own stick.”
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.