By Ross Forman – Last season, in his first game playing for the co-op Lakers Hockey Club, CJ Kaufmann was in goal when the stands were filled. His self-described “electric” style of play led to chants of “MVP” and the crowd was just as energetic.
“Last season was super fun; it brought a new energy to the program that we (can) build off of for the future,” said Kaufmann, a senior who lives in Lindenhurst and attends Lakes Community High School. His Lakers teammates also represent Antioch Community High School, Grayslake North High School, Grayslake Central High School and Grant Community High School – and the team skates in the North-Central Division of the Illinois High School Hockey League.
“I bring motivation and energy to the team, (pushing everyone) in a healthy way. I like to make sure everyone on the team feels good about themselves and is working to get better by being optimistic and helpful. I also like to include everyone in the locker room, so nobody is left out of the conversation or ever feels useless.”
Kaufmann’s hockey high is a stark contrast to what he, literally, felt as a freshman while playing for the school’s lacrosse team when, suddenly, his knees started to hurt, and he could hardly walk.
He stayed home from school for a week, yet nothing got better. In fact, things got worse – he got a fever that remained over 100 degrees for days and he started to lose weight.
He ultimately was admitted to Evanston Hospital, where he stayed for a week while doctors tried to figure out what was happening. Kaufmann then was transferred to Lurie’s Children Hospital in Chicago, “where I had every test possible,” he said.
“This was not only physically challenging, but mentally challenging as well since I battled a fever for 56 days straight in and out of the hospital, losing over 30 pounds,” Kaufmann said. “The tests seemed endless as doctors kept telling me, ‘It’s just one more,’ which is now a motto I like to live my life by.
“Eventually, after months of having no clue what this mystery disease was, the doctors figured out it was rheumatoid arthritis.”
Kaufmann ultimately missed about two months of school.
But, he said, “This experience has given me a whole new perspective on people with illnesses like this and truly how difficult it can be. People like this are inspiring and go through a lot day in and day out.”
Kaufmann, who was diagnosed in June 2018, said it affects his whole body and every joint.
“This is something I have to deal with every day of my life and (it) limits my physical activity, making easy tasks difficult at times. However, everyone has their setbacks and obstacles … this just happens to be mine,” Kaufmann said.
“Most days, the pain is tolerable, and I usually play through it. But some days it can be really bad, and I might have to take things slower. Although it may be painful and difficult at times, I still go out every day and try my best in everything I do. Besides, I like a challenge; it just means I must work a little harder than most.
“I try to be the hardest worker on the ice, so even on more difficult days my performance can still be at a higher level. I also have tried to switch up the way I play goalie, so everything is easier on my joints.”
Kaufmann had a 2.88 goals-against average for the Lakers during the 2019-20 season in league play.
His advice to others facing obstacles is direct: “Go out and try your hardest every day and never take anything for granted.”
Kaufmann, undecided on his college plans for the fall, enjoys teaching others how to play sports, especially kids. And, he’s interested in positive psychology: “I think it’s a great way to help your mind and allow you to have a better attitude towards life,” he said.
**Lakers Photos By Michael Sheedy and Jeff Lonosky**
Stopping Slapshots … With Lakers Goalie CJ Kaufmann
Favorite NHL Team: Chicago Blackhawks
Favorite NHL Player: T.J. Oshie
Favorite Sports-Themed Movie: Miracle On Ice
Favorite Pre-Game Meal: Pasta and a Kickstart energy drink
Celebrity You’d Like To Meet: Michael Jordan
Influences: “My (former) goalie partner when I played U18 Vipers during my freshman and sophomore year had a big impact on me, showing how hard-work truly pays off and (he) showed me how to push myself to lead a team on and off the ice.”
Best Hockey Tip: “Let the game come to you” – Brayden Napoli (former goalie partner)
Giving Thanks: “I am very thankful for the opportunities that I have and am grateful for all the amazing people I have in my life.”
Teammate Who You Could See As A Hockey Coach: Zach Leitza
Hardest Slapshot On The Lakers: Dane Karasek
Most Accurate Shot: Logan Hopkins
Fastest Skater: Dane Karasek
Best High School Uniforms (other than Lakers): Warren Township High School
ABOUT ROSS FORMAN
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.