Remembering Illinois High School Hockey History-Makers

Proviso West in 1974 Won The First-Ever AHAI High School State Championship


By Ross Forman

The first-ever Illinois High School Hockey State Championship Team, from the 1973-74 season, was the Proviso Pacers, representing Proviso West High School.

“At times I cannot believe it’s been 45 years, (yet) other times it seems like yesterday,” said Marc Arturi, 61, who lives in Elmhurst and is a driver for Meal Village, Inc. He grew up in Westchester, played on Westchester Park District teams, for the Elmhurst Huskies, and then the Pacers. Arturi, who wore jersey No. 10, started out as a left wing, then dropped back to left defense because he was one of the few guys who could skate backwards exceptionally well. He graduated from Proviso West in 1975, then attended Triton College in River Grove.

“As I recall, the Proviso Pacers were a pure team with all players and coaches attending Proviso West,” he said.

Head Coach William “Wild Bill” Whealy“ had been building the team for two years prior to the state championship squad,” Arturi said. “The process was like a game of dominoes, beginning with a handful of guys who each brought in other friends from different programs. In the early 1970s, hockey was virtually unknown in the area. As a small community, we all knew each other and played against each other on teams like the Huskies, then when we reached high school, we all would up at Proviso West, playing for the Pacers. Through attrition, practice, skillful coaching, and a little magic, Coach Whealy found the right combination of players to win the big on in 1974.”

The Pacers home rink was the Twin Ice Forum in Oak Brook, which is now the Drury Lane Theater at the intersection of Route 83 and Roosevelt Road. “To be lucky enough to have a rink to play in back then was phenomenal, but to get the privilege of a new, then-state-of-the-art arena with two (sheets of ice) under the same roof was, well, as good as it got.” In the 1970s, there were limited local skating options, such as the outdoor rink at the Elmhurst YMCA, Ridgeland Commons in Oak Park and the old Deerfield Bubble, among others.

“Having (the Twin Ice Forum) to call home instilled a great deal of pride in all of us and was another factor driving us to win,” Arturi said.

There were about 20 players on the Pacers’ roster for the 1973-1974 season, including four goaltenders.

“I believe the key to our success was a great coaching on and off the ice. Mr. Whealy made winning a habit for us, even in our personal lives,” Arturi said. “He didn’t just talk a winning game, he led by example in his own life. We all wanted to be him. Second, (we had) a very talented bunch of guys, the best of the best. Third, our generous sponsor, Pace Promotions, and George Pace (who was) Whealy’s Army buddy, provided the money that paid for our practice ice time. We practiced three times a week and played two or three games every weekend. Mr. Pace, and other great business partners, paid for our travel, uniforms, ice time, everything. We were so good, partly because we practiced more than the other teams due to the generosity of Pace Promotions.”

 

Arturi said there “definitely” was something about this Pacers team from day one of the season.

“(Early in the season), we started winning a lot, (so) the momentum began. I remember passing teammates between classes at school and giving that ‘We got something special here’ nod from across the hall,” Arturi said.

“Proviso West (at the time) was divided by different groups of kids. They were mainly the freaks – partiers, hippies (and) long-haired lovers of loud rock ‘n roll. And the jocks – strait-laced good students, (often) with crew-cuts, who played sports and went to prom.

“Then came hockey and the Pacers,” which did not adopt the school’s nickname, the Panthers.

“We were a club (sport), not a sanctioned team; that right there made us outcasts and heroes in the eyes of our peers,” Arturi said. “We were the bridge that brought both sides together. The Pacer bench looked like a line at the unemployment office. We had guys with crew-cuts who played on the football team; we had long-haired hippies who never worked a day in their life but could play guitar like Jimi Hendrix.

“We united (through) hockey.

“We also brought parents and friends together who wouldn’t be seen with one another for all the money in the world. In the stands at a Pacers game you’d see brick-layers next to doctors, housewives side-by-side with flight attendants, all cheering for us to win. That was the real strength of our club.”

Arturi said the Pacers’ offense was skilled and talented, with speed and finesse.

“We constantly had chalkboard lessons; hours were spent practicing breakouts and skating, skating, skating was our credo,” he said.

Arturi was one of the team’s smaller defensemen, standing 5-foot-6 and weighing about 150 pounds.

 

The team also featured bruisers like John Krebs, who was an outstanding linebacker on the school’s football team. Steve Erickson, at 5-foot-11, 190-pounds, had arms and a chest like Arnold Schwarzenegger and never lifted weights, Arturi said.

Andy Lesyzysen once hip-checked a York High School player, and the opposing player flipped 360 degrees. Lesyzysen was drafted out of high school by the Chicago Americans, a semi-pro team at the time which had Reggie Fleming and a few other former NHL players.

The Pacers’ goalies were Terry Sugrue and Eddie Layton, with backups Carl Bellavia and Marty Belijung.

Others on the roster:

  • Mike Robbins, who tallied 160 goals that year, said Arturi, who added that Robbins’ slapshot was a strike, always. “We were playing LT or Willowbrook at the Downers Grove Ice Arena and he let go a blast from our (end of the ice) that beat their goalie,” Arturi said.
  • Tommy Black was a talented center.
  • Eddie Layton was a goalie who “won the big games for us with his amazing dexterity and a wicked poke check,” Arturi said.

Proviso West claimed the championship with a 7-6 win over Mt. Carmel, which Arturi said was, “a real nail-biter.”

The Pacers never again skated for the state championship.

“We’d score and they’d come roaring back to even it up,” he said. “In the midst of the most intense action, I looked at Coach Whealy and there was that calm, cool, guiding confidence on his face; this demeanor was contagious on our bench and I think key to keeping us on the winning track.

“After winning the state championship, I knew it was a fantastic achievement, but I still thought there was more to hockey for me. I had grand dreams of making the pros, especially the (Chicago) Blackhawks.

“The celebration on the ice felt like it lasted for an hour. My teammates and I crashed the goal in a giant pile on top of Eddie Layton. We littered the ice with gloves, helmets and sticks. It sounded like a million fans were roaring for us. I looked in the stands was (saw) my grandmother, who needed a cane to walk, and all I could see was her big open mouth howling as she pounded the glass with her cane.

“The celebration continued through the school year and took on a life all its own. I remember being in classes and at school activities, getting respect from other school-sponsored athletes. Guys from the football, baseball, and basketball teams were giving me the nod, when they didn’t even know my name a week (earlier). Other friends at school, who had cousins on teams we beat, were telling me how much their relative hated the Pacers.”

And, he added, “it didn’t hurt in the dating department either.”

The championship, Arturi said, still ranks among the top five greatest moments in his life.

“I’d encourage all current players, coaches, trainers, parents, and fans to go for it. You will always win, even when you lose a game or two … the experiences are all worth it and last a lifetime,” he said.

Bob Melvin, now 62, lives in Lincoln, Calif., and works as senior enterprise sales for FedEx. He grew up in Westchester, played center for the Pacers and graduated from Proviso West in 1975.

“I never had any doubt going into the (championship game) that it would be close, but that we would win,” he said. “(There were pre-game) butterflies, but once the puck dropped, they all (left) and the teams’ positive attitude prevailed, even in the (final) minutes, which seemed to take hours.

“The locker room (celebration) was crazy and, for the first time, no one was in a rush to leave.

“Understanding all the games we played, and all the talented teams there were, it seems a bigger deal to me now.”

Melvin said the team’s hard-work was key – and their unwavering support for one another.

“Freshman to seniors, everyone looked out (for one) another, like family,” he said.

That included the “Pacerettes,” the team’s official cheer squad of more than 85 girls. “They went out and raised money, selling greeting cards to buy red jerseys and sit in the stands at our games,” Arturi said. “Forty-five years later, thank you ladies; you deserve credit for spurring us on to greatness.”

Melvin added, “I miss all the guys on that (championship-winning) team, as well as (from) the teams my other two seasons at Proviso West. I have a special place in my heart for all of them, helping to make my childhood so spectacular and fun.

“I hope one day again to skate with all of them again – on the big pond in the sky.”


More Proviso Pacers Memories

Coach Whealy: “He not only was a hip, relatable student counselor at Proviso West, but he also was a decorated Airborne Ranger for the U.S. Army Special Forces. He had a Corvette and was dating a Playboy bunny. What adolescent boy would not go to the mat for a man like that?!” Arturi said.

Winning the Elite 8 Tournament: Held at the Chicago Amphitheater, Proviso West defeated St. Rita 3-2 in double overtime, with Mike Gloviak scoring the game-winning goal.

Rivalry: “Without a doubt, our arch-rival was the Oak Park River Forest Huskies. We absolutely hated each other and got into a vicious bench-clearing brawl with them (during) a key game, held at the Willowbrook Ice Chalet. “Everybody, and I mean everybody, got into the melee, even the coaches,” Arturi said. “In the midst of the scuffle while I was sparring with one of their goons, I looked up to see Steve Erickson banging two OPRF players heads together, and simultaneously I saw Erickson’s grandmother trying to enter the ice surface from the stands. She was shouting ‘Stevie, don’t fight; you might hurt them.’” Ultimately the lights were turned off to stop the fighting. “About eight cops came charging in and both teams were relegated to their locker rooms. We could only leave after all fans and OPRF was on their bus. As fate would have it, OPRF was ejected from the league because of their coaches protests and we went on to win the state championship. It could have been a completely different outcome if they stayed, I can admit that now, 45 years later.”



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