By Ross Forman – Anthony Arnoni, a four-year varsity player for co-op Leyden, is a left-handed shooting defenseman who is excited, to put it mildly, for the home stretch of his senior season.
“It is very hard to pinpoint one single (hockey) memory, but I would definitely say that the state hockey tournaments have been my favorite,” he said.
The 2020 Illinois High School Hockey State Tournament culminates at the United Center in March with three state championship games (Red Division, Combined and Girls). Arnoni and the Eagles will look to upend defending Combined Division State Champion Waubonsie/Metea, a tall task no doubt as the reigning champions have been ranked in the state’s Top 25 all season and Waubonsie/Metea features some of the most skilled players in the Illinois – and Waubonsie/Metea is in a 3-way tie for the regular-season title in the Illinois West Division.
Arnoni’s final state tournament also will be his first—as an openly gay hockey player.
The 17-year-old Franklin Park resident who attends East Leyden High School is still undecided on his schooling plans for next fall. He came out after his junior season.
“I had an immediate outpouring of positive reactions (after coming-out),” he said. “My family, friends, coaches, teammates and others were super happy. I figured the locker room atmosphere would change, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. Everyone was extremely (supportive); you would have thought nothing had happened.
“School became easier; hanging out with friends became stress-free, and life just got more fun. It definitely was the right thing to do for my mental health.”
Arnoni, who previously played for the Franklin Park Panthers, said Leyden head coach Pat Terretta immediately “reassured me that (the coaches were) by my side.”
His teammates also have been supportive, starting with his defensive partner Daniel Determann, a longtime and close friend.
The players also have talked about off-ice relationships, good and bad—including Arnoni.
“Sitting and talking with my teammates one day and discussing our boy/girl troubles,” he began, “This is one memory that resonates with me because I remember thinking to myself how, a conversation that I was never really able to participate in, I was now being listened to just as my other teammates are used to. I thought how beautiful it was that these people still cared about what was going on in my life, regardless of whether it was a boy or girl.”
Arnoni has received worldwide responses and support since coming-out, including coverage in the Chicago Tribune. He has had people reaching out to him ranging in age from 14 to 60 from such countries as Turkey, Poland, Canada, Hungry, France, and the Dominican Republic.
And even from Anderson Cooper, the famed CNN broadcaster.
“I received an email from Anderson Cooper, (who) congratulated me and told me how inspiring my story had been,” Arnoni said.
“All you have to (do) in life is (be) a good person and a good friend to others. It (doesn’t) matter (your) sexual (orientation).”
Arnoni has only heard an anti-gay comment in one game. “Almost every team that we played has been respectful and not crossed the line when trash-talking,” he said.
The Eagles, with a mix of students from East Leyden, West Leyden, Ridgewood and Elmwood Park, lead the 9-team Gold Varsity league of the North-Central Division with a 15-5-4 record, 34 points. Fox Valley and New Trier Gray each have 31 points, followed by the Kings (28 points) and Crystal Lake South (24).
Arnoni has 2 goals, 3 assists in 22 league games.
Senior forward Kyle Lamphere leads Leyden with 17 goals, 16 assists in 24 games. Senior forward Dominic Capozzi has 12 goals, 9 assists, while freshman forward Daniel Bagnole has 8 goals, 12 assists. Capozzi leads Leyden with 6 game-winning goals.
“For the amount of talent that we lost after last season, we are doing very well,” Arnoni said. Personally, “I want to continue being a playmaker on the ice, (helping) the team on every shift.
“I would not consider myself to be a point-scorer or the goal maker. However, I am always in open lanes, passing the puck, and allowing plays to be made.”
Arnoni added: “Last January I (was) a scared boy who didn’t have a clue about the events that (were) about to unfold. I (was) desperate for someone to reach out and help, or guide me in some way, to show me that everything is going to be OK. “Today, I (am) a completely new person, yet someone who hasn’t changed at all. I am still the same loud, annoying, funny person that I have always been, except I now have a stronger sense of self-confidence and joy when I look into the future.”
And soon Arnoni’s future, and all of Leyden’s, will be the 2020 Illinois High School State Championship, with all eyes focused on the United Center.
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.