By Ross Forman
The 2019-2020 season kicks off with the annual Pre-season Invitational, a 16-team tournament hosted by Wheaton West and held Sept. 5-8 at Center Ice of DuPage in Glen Ellyn.
New Trier Green and Waubonsie Valley, the defending Red Division and Combined Division state champions, are participating, along with perennial powers Glenbrook North, BG/H/W, Providence, Glenbrook South, Stevenson, York and Benet Academy, among others.
“This is the most competitive field we have had,” said Wheaton West head coach Keith Fahrforth. “This tournament has gained a lot of attention the last few years. The tournament (was) filled this year by the end of June, which is almost two months before tryouts take place. We are very excited to start the 2019 season with some great hockey.”
Tourney newcomers this year include Carmel Catholic, Benet and Stevenson.
New Trier Green is the defending champion, claiming the 2018 title over Glenbrook North.
And seven of the 16 teams have won a state championship in recent years.
“Our main goal with this tournament is to provide quality hockey for all teams,” Fahrforth said. “After years of observing this tournament, most coaches use this to see where their team is at. Some teams lose a lot of seniors and others are returning most of their team, but all coaches want to know where their team stands.
“Any early games in the season are a great chance for players to knock the rust off. As coaches, it’s a great opportunity for us to see what players need to specifically work on. I think every team wants to win, but the opportunity to play very competitive games this early in the season can benefit both the players and the coaches.”
Fahrforth added: “We’ve been lucky to have a great following with teams that want to participate. The one goal we always have for the tournament is having every team leave thinking they want to come back next year. Whether that’s because they won the tournament or because the competition was great, having teams interested in returning makes us feel we are running a top-notch pre-season tournament.”
Fahrforth said most games in the 2018 tourney “were very competitive and the feedback we received was favorable.”
“Our continued partnership with IHOA for this event was successful. We have a lot of great refereed games and it’s great to hear every team compliment that,” he added.
Fahrforth, 32, has been coaching 10 years – all at Wheaton West. He said his 2019-20 team will be competitive.
“Our goal is always to make it to the United Center and win a state championship and I believe everyone on this team believes we can do that,” Fahrforth said. “We have a lot of players (who) are ready to step up and fill the shoes of players who graduated. This might be one of the more cohesive groups we have at the start of a season, which is exciting because they will grow to bond more and more throughout the season.”
Wheaton West’s strength anchors on its work ethic, Fahrforth said.
“This is a team of hard workers and they are not afraid to put in the extra effort it takes to succeed,” he said. “This team will not rely on talent alone; (it) will earn everything. Every player on the team has a never-quit attitude. It does not matter who we play, or how the game is going, they will never stop working.”
The top returning Wheaton West forwards are senior Ryan Lilly (St. Francis) and juniors David Hauke (Wheaton) and Evan Ebbole (Wheaton South).
The top returning defensemen are Wheaton North seniors Nate Londres and AJ Arakawa.
“(As) I tell all my teams, they can go as far as they want to. It’s up to them to put in the work to get there. My expectations for this group are very high and I am very excited to watch them grow and improve every day,” Fahrforth said.
Wheaton West JV Black won back to back state titles, which should have an impact on this year’s varsity, as the team is built “with quality players who have a desire and will to succeed,” Fahrforth said. “We have seen the passion from those players and that will drive them to be successful at the next level.”
On The Bench With … Wheaton West Head Coach Keith Fahrforth
Hardest Shot on Wheaton West: David Hauke
Most Accurate shot on Wheaton West: Daniel Hauke
Wheaton West Player who is Best on Penalty Shots: Nate Londres
Best Stickhandler on Wheaton West: Evan Ebbole
Tournament Info: Go to preseasoninvite.com
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.