Fox Valley Hawks ‘Are Having Fun’ in North-Central Gold Division

By Ross Forman – It has been an up and down season so far for the Fox Valley Hawks, a co-op of players from five schools: St. Charles East, St. Charles North, Geneva, Batavia and Kaneland.

“We play some good games, then don’t come ready to play in others,” said Fox Valley head coach Phil Gabrielsen.

The Hawks have had two 4-game winning streaks, most recently with wins Nov. 10-17 over LZMW, the Kings, Libertyville and Lane Tech.

Fox Valley is skating in the Stevenson Thanksgiving Tournament in Buffalo Grove.

“Overall, the coaches are happy with (the team’s) play,” Gabrielsen said. “Our worst loss has been by 3 goals, (which) means we have been in every game.

“The kids like to come to the rink and are having fun, so that’s the most important thing. We need to keep having fun, working hard and hope the rest of it works out.”

Fox Valley is coming off a solid 2018-19 season, including a 1-goal setback to eventual Combined Division State Champion, Waubonsie Valley.

Fox Valley also last season only lost 1 regular-season game after Thanksgiving.

“My final thought on last season is the comments the graduating seniors made at our end-of-year banquet, about how much fun they had playing for the Fox Valley Hawks. That’s most important,” he said.

The Hawks finished 24-14-4 overall, 14-6-4 in the Gold Varsity Division of the North-Central League.

“Half of the team this year is new to this level of hockey, so we must be patient as coaches and let them learn and make the adjustments,” Gabrielsen said. “We try to keep things simple; too many coaches over-complicate the game. It is a simple game and the kids need to know that. They have enough going on with school, work, college visits and family, among other things. They don’t need hockey to add to their stress level.

“A strength (of this) team is comradery; this team really gets along well. As a program, we stress it with all our teams; we do team functions away from the rink to help (with comradery). Coming from multiple schools, we need these kids to bond and get along as quick as possible, then it makes the on-ice easy to teach and learn.

“On-ice, I think our team speed, when we use it, (is a strength) and being smart with the puck. We still must learn more, but we see it improving every game.”

The team also must improve its back-checking, playing both directions, Gabrielsen said. “Players are not taught that enough before they get to this level. They all want to play one direction and it takes a while to get them to learn backchecking. Also, doing it the proper way, not to just come back, but to do it with a purpose. We also get too relaxed during a game and give the opposing team good chances and then play too much in our end. We need to stay at a higher level every shift, every game. It is tough to do for an entire season.”

After losing its season-opener, the Hawks notched four consecutive wins – over the Leafs, D155, Crystal Lake South and D211 Gray.

“The players are starting to make the necessary adjustments to play at this level. They have improved since the first day, so we are going in the right direction,” said Gabrielsen, 53, who lives in Geneva and is a production account manager for Master Graphics. He has been coaching for 27 years, 25 of those at the high school level.

Gabrielsen coached at Naperville North for seven seasons, St. Charles East for eight seasons and York twice for four seasons total. He won the Metro West regular-season championship, Metro West playoff championship, Suburban League regular-season championship and the IHOA Sportsmanship Award.

The Hawks have had basically the same coaching staff for his six years: assistant varsity Black coach Mark Sokniewicz; goalie coach Pete Garvey; Gray coaches Dan Bednarek and Chris Bednarek; JV Blue and White head coach Steve Sokniewicz; JV assistant Kyle Wiley and the only new coach, Devin Spellman.

“I never would of thought we would have four teams and especially again this year with some of the other clubs expanding the number of teams they have,” Gabrielsen said. “The board and coaching staff have done a great job and it shows with the number of returning players committed to our program. Like I said, we try to keep it relaxed for the players, maybe too relaxed at times. Our practices are late at night, so with a school-first philosophy, we need to be understanding with the players if they need to miss.”

The Hawks feature two new goaltenders, both of whom have been a “pleasant surprise,” Gabrielsen said. Senior Anthony Chiefari (Geneva) and junior Joe Widick (St. Charles East) have progressed through the program.

“Our penalty-killing has been strong, not that we have taken a lot of penalties, but with the new emphasis on enforcing rules, the coaching staff knew we needed to improve the PK and the following players have done well for us: senior forwards Zach Stege (St. Charles East), Kyle Caithamer, Nick Butzler and Vinnie Cerone (all from Batavia), and Joe Gitchel (Geneva). Also the defense has been strong, including seniors Ian Bain and Jake Granger (both Batavia), and senior Tanner Davidson (St. Charles North).

“Another surprise has been the play of some of our juniors, including Jack White and Chris Petri, both from St. Charles East; and Owen Anderson from St. Charles North. They all have stepped up their game to play at this level,” Gabrielsen said.

The Hawks also feature senior forwards Blake Connelly and Joe Dunklau (St. Charles East), defenseman Ben Grizaffi (Batavia) and defenseman Hunter Christerson (St. Charles East).

Key newcomers include senior defenseman Zbigniew Adamczyk (St. Charles East), defenseman Tyler Schneeweis (Geneva) and senior forward Conner Handly (St. Charles North).

“We really need everyone to contribute and any given night it can change,” who is the breakout star, Gabrielsen said. “The team knows that and tries not to leave it up to any one player to do something each night.”

So how far can the Hawks go this season?

Too early to say, Gabrielsen said.

“Some nights I would say we can go pretty far and then, like I said, we play a game that may not be our best,” he said. “At this level, you need to bring your best every night and once we start to do that, we will have a better idea how far we can go. We have scheduled some non-conference games against some teams in higher divisions or other leagues, and there will not be any easy games in the Stevenson Thanksgiving Tournament.

“I think the run we made last year was great for our program and some of those guys are still here. So, I hope they can bring that intensity again in the playoffs.”

On The Bench With … Fox Valley Hawks Head Coach Phil Gabrielsen

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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

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