When Molly Wunderlich of Riverside joined the Girls Darien Hawks 14-and-under A traveling team last ice hockey season, she wanted uniform No. 42 from her first days of playing in-house in Oak Park.
She now wears No. 73 proudly.
“I kind of just got randomly selected with it. I guess it’s the year both of my parents were born,” Wunderlich said.
The eighth grader at Hauser Junior High School and her teammates have had the number of many opponents again this season.
Playing at the AA level, the 14UA Hawks have a 45-4-4 record, captured their second consecutive Amateur Hockey Association Illinois state title March 4 in Mt. Prospect and are No. 7 in the latest national rankings. Next stop for the Hawks is the USA Hockey Girls Tier II 14U 2A National Championships in Anaheim, California, later this month.
Wunderlich began playing hockey five years ago after watching older cousins play the sport.
“I love being with the team and team bonding,” Wunderlich said. “I love shooting, stick handling around people.”
Roughly half of the Hawks’ players return from 2022, when they qualified for the top division at nationals in West Chester, Pa., and won one of three games.
In winning state this season, the Hawks went 3-0 in round-robin play and beat the St. Jude Knights 2-0 in the final after winning two of their previous four meeting with one time.
“It was really exciting to achieve,” Wunderlich said. “That one [in 2022] was a lot more exciting because we never really thought we ever could. We didn’t see it coming. We just didn’t expect our team to be as good as we were.”
This season, Wunderlich has made the transition from right wing to left wing and helped the Hawks out score opponents 213-48. They had a 19-game unbeaten streak from Sept. 18 to Nov. 13 and another 29-game streak before Sunday.
“I pass it a little more than I shoot,” Wunderlich said.
At Hauser, Wunderlich has played basketball in eighth and seventh grade. Friends occasionally watch her play hockey, often at the Darien Sportsplex, the team’s home rink.
Her favorite National Hockey League team is the Washington Capitals, mainly because of veteran right winger T.J. Oshie, who was part of their 2018 Stanley Cup championship team.
“He’s really funny,” Wunderlich said. “He’s just always messing around. It’s always fun to watch clips of it.”
Wunderlich plans to continue playing hockey into high school. She’s excited about the continued growth of women’s hockey, fueled by the U.S. Women’s national team reaching the finals of the last four Winter Olympics and winning the gold in 2018.
“I know it’s getting a lot better,” Wunderlich said. “Players like [Kendall Coyne Schofield] are trying to make a women’s professional league. There’s only a couple of teams right now but I’m sure by the time I’m at that age, there will be more.”