By Ross Forman – Campbell Wagener was a freshman, playing in his first home game for Evanston Township High School. “I had never seen so many people in the rink at one time, and the crowds only got better as the season went on,” he remembers.
Then as a junior this past season, he represented ETHS in the annual All-State Game, played in Bensenville.
Now the offensive-minded defenseman is ready for his senior season and though the past six months have been nothing short of unpredictable, Wagener is more than ready to shine brighter than ever.
“I used the quarantine period to work a lot on strength and conditioning – for hockey and golf. I was running team Zoom workouts three times a week, keeping people in shape but also allowing everyone to interact and socialize,” he said.
“A majority of the seniors from my freshman year really took me under their wing and made me the best possible player I could be as a 14-year-old playing against 17- and 18-year-olds. Since they have graduated, they have stayed in touch and helped me achieve what I have accomplished.”
Wagener, now 17, is a lifelong Evanston resident, wearing uniform No. 6 for the Wildkits.
“Last season was great; we had a lot of depth and beat some good teams,” said the right-handed-shooting Wagener. “Hovering near the No. 1 seed all year in our conference, we went into the playoffs playing really well. Unfortunately, we were unable to succeed in the round-robin (of the playoffs) and were knocked out before the semis.”
Wagener and his teammates are ready to erase that memory.
“Hopefully, we can play some games (this season) and show everyone what this team we have can do. I feel like this is the strongest team we will have had in my four years of playing varsity hockey. Peter Gallun, the other freshman who made varsity with me and I both have a solid feeling we can make a run in the state playoffs, and that’s what both the team and I are striving for.”
“Campbell’s athletic prowess and impressive skill set are obvious, even to the most casual hockey spectator, as soon as he takes the ice. What isn’t innately obvious is his mental dexterity and composure under pressure within the game. It is very clear that he has been able to translate the inner calm necessary for his golf game to his on-ice performance,” said Evanston’s new head coach, Christian Grunnah.
Evanston finished 12-8-2 in the Champions League of the IHSHL North-Central Division. Lake Forest, Warren, New Trier Blue and PREP finished the league’s regular season tied for the lead, each with 31 points, followed by New Trier White (30) and Evanston and Deerfield (26).
As Wagener preps for his senior season, he’s just hoping there is one. “I would hate to spend my senior year practicing all year without any games. I would do anything for one last home game.”
And certainly, for one more goal, or more. “I love scoring and skating with the puck, but can also play some solid defense,” he said. “Throughout the past couple of seasons, I have been near the top of the point’s leader board for our team.”
Wagener also has played four years of varsity golf for Evanston, and once shot a 69 at Wilmette Golf Club.
“I started playing golf when I broke my femur. I had two surgeries and was unable to participate in contact sports for a while, so I picked up golf and ever since it has been one of my favorite things to do, and competing for my school has been awesome,” Wagener said. “I made it downstate last year as an individual, which gave me a lot of confidence as the hockey season started ramping up.
“Hockey has definitely helped me gain power and strength for golf, but unfortunately they both mess me up, and I notice that my golf game worsens as the hockey season starts up.”
Wagener said his college plans for a year from now are still undecided, though he wants to study medicine.
Slapshots With … Campbell Wagener
Favorite NHL Team: Chicago Blackhawks
Favorite NHL Player: Nathan MacKinnon
Favorite Sports-themed Movie: Miracle
Favorite Pregame Meal: Spaghetti and meatballs
Best hockey tip you have ever received: “(It applies to) golf too: ‘Don’t think, just do.” – Golf Coach
The Quote: “Breaking my femur definitely shaped my athletic career, and I (give) a lot of credit to that experience for the athlete who I am today.”
ETHS teammate who you could you see, someday, as a hockey coach: Kofi Hopps
Most accurate shot on your team: Peter Gallun
Fastest skater on your team: Peter Gallun
Best HS jerseys (other than ETHS): Lake Forest
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.