By Ross Forman – In her first year of girls’ hockey, Madison Ross was admittedly “absolutely petrified” of the puck and the game. It was too fast and intense for her to comprehend.
“During one of my first games (that) season, my skate became untied and I was terrified it would fall off. I called my father to the bench to tie my skate, but before he could arrive, my shift was up. In a blur of a moment, I stepped on the ice, took the puck up, and scored my first-ever goal,” she said. “The rush of adrenaline and my dad’s smile when I finally returned to the bench to tie my skate helped evoke my undying love for the game.”
Flash-forward to the 2020-21 season. Ross is now a focused, fast, gritty right-handed-shooting right wing for the co-op Latin girls’ team. The 17-year-old Chicago resident, who is a senior at Jones College Preparatory School, has shined on the ice for the Romans and the Chicago Jets 16U girls, her club team last season.
“During my freshman year of club hockey with the Chicago Jets, we were playing in the first state game of the season, and if we lost, our season was over,” Ross said. “During the first period, our team was (playing poorly) and we were down by a few goals. Coach Jacques (Joubert) was not pleased, and I felt this overwhelming need to get on the ice and do something. My next shift, I forgot how my legs burned and how my head ached and skated as hard as I could. I felt like I was on fire. Through the next shifts, it seemed like I could be everywhere at once. My parents later told me they’d never seen me play with that intensity my entire career.
“Our team managed to get on the board and (soon tied) the game. Early in the third period, while chasing after a puck, (my) skate lodged in a crevice on the ice and I did a 180-(degree) turn while my knee faced in the other direction, immediately tearing my ACL. After being carried off the ice, I tried to convince myself that I was OK and tried to walk. My knee immediately buckled, and I knew it was over. I watched from the stands as my team scored and won the game. It was the most beautiful feeling, knowing I left everything I could on the ice. Unfortunately, I needed surgery and nine months of physical therapy to get back on the ice, but I am proud to be able to say I worked as hard as I did.”
Ross, who wears uniform No, 89, said Coach Joubert has been the most influential person on her career.
“At the beginning of my hockey career, I was not much of a contributor. For (my) first three years of hockey, I scored no goals and lost every game. When Jacques became my coach, there was a shift in my perspective of the game. He made me see the game in a light that gave a spotlight to its complex systems, required work ethic, and raw passion,” Ross said. “He was the type of coach (who) didn’t use fear tactics to scare his players into working hard; it was something he expected. And while my team struggled for the first couple of years, we eventually found our rhythm and passion, and became the first Chicago Jets girls’ team to win the NIHL Championship, as well as placing first and second in other nationwide tournaments throughout the year.
“Some time ago, I didn’t want to pursue hockey as anything more than just a means of exercise. I remember saying to my family, ‘I just want to have fun with it again and I don’t want to dedicate myself to it.’ It was the Chicago Jets that helped me regain my passion for the game, and it was Coach Jacques who made me truly understand that if we want to excel in something, it requires a balance of practice, dedication, and grit. Coach Jacques set the standard that if you weren’t giving your every last breath, sometimes literally, into developing your game, you were unable to improve.”
Ross was the Latin captain last season and she had 3 goals, 9 assists in 14 Metro Girls league games, plus 2 goals and 1 assist in 10 Scholastic League games.
“Before our world devolved into an unprecedented era of confusion and chaos (this past March), my season was something that kept me going through the stress of school, standardized testing, and volunteering in my community. It was something that made my exhausting weeks of little sleep and lots of anxiety more manageable, and as you might imagine, (hockey) was a great outlet for stress,” Ross said. “My 2019-2020 season was a time of personal growth, on and off the ice. As varsity captain of the Latin Romans, I had to think about how to set the best example for my teammates and myself, whether it was during our routine warm-ups or during a 10:30 p.m. practice. It meant, for the first time in my life, (I was) someone who led warm-ups instead of following them. It meant giving pre-game speeches to stimulate excitement and adrenaline for my teammates and coaches. It meant using my position of power for things as big as helping my teammates and myself be the best we can be, or as little as (talking) with the referees (about a questionable) call.
“To say that (last season) has prepared me for taking on leadership roles in the future would be an understatement. I owe it all to my friends and coaches at the Latin Romans Hockey Organization and the Chicago Jets Hockey Organization.”
Ross added: “I always imagined that my 12th grade would consist of competitive hockey, time with friends, and ending my time at Jones College Prep. I now realize that I might have to adjust this to fit our unfortunate reality. While I wish I could experience the rush of scoring a goal or winning a game, I understand we all have to make sacrifices for the safety and well-being of our fellow humans. I also realize how lucky I am to still have the chance to skate with my friends and teams. This season, I aspire to continue learning what it takes to be a leader, and how to make the most positive impact on my hockey community. I am dedicated to becoming the best hockey player I can be, even if it means skating sideboards or intense conditioning. Even though this season isn’t exactly how I would picture my last season of high school hockey, I’m so lucky to be surrounded by the people in my organizations and community.”
Ross said her puck-handling has improved heading into the season, which should also lead to more goals.
“I say with complete confidence that my team has the capabilities of whatever we set our mind to,” this season, Ross said. “If we are able to compete for the state championship, I undoubtedly believe my teammates and I are willing and capable to put our strengths together and make it all the way.”
Ross is truly the epitome of the phrase student-athlete. She takes all honors and AP classes, and is part of a Model UN club at school. She is an avid reader, enjoys politics and is a student- activist.
“I’m a bit disappointed that this year won’t be the same as last, but I consider myself so incredibly lucky to spend time with the loveliest teammates and coaches I could wish for,” Ross said.
“My father plays beer league with some friends every Monday night, and one of his friends, Coach Efren, is one of the head coaches for the Chicago Blackhawks Special Hockey Team, a team that provides children and adults alike with developmental disabilities the amazing opportunity to play hockey. I joined the team as a freshman and have had the most amazing time making friends and working with kids from 5 to 55. The past three years have been absolutely incredible, and I’ve had the best time coaching and watching these great players progress on the ice.”
Slapshots With … Madison Ross
Favorite NHL Team: Chicago Blackhawks
Favorite NHL Player: Patrick Kane
Favorite Sports-themed Movie: Miracle
Favorite Pregame Meal: Chipotle
Celebrity you’d most like to meet: Tom Holland – “I have the (biggest) crush on him.”
Best hockey tip you have ever received, and from who: “If, during a hockey game, the only thing you find yourself thinking about is the game, you deserve to be there” – Christian Hmura (Chicago Bulldogs Hockey around 2010)
Teammate who you could you see, someday, as a hockey coach: Margot Bettman
Hardest slapshot on your team: Annabelle Merkel – “I have the bruises to prove it.”
Most accurate shot on your team: Elena Eisenberg
Fastest skater on your team: Rosie Klein
Best HS jerseys (other than Latin): Fenwick
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.