By Marty Farmer
When the OPRF boys hockey team beat Fenwick 3-2 on Sept. 9, a standing-room-only crowd filled the Paul Hruby Ice Arena at Ridgeland Common. Whether fans cheered for the Huskies' orange and blue or Friars' black and white, allegiances were clearly delineated.
Girls high school hockey could not be more different. In fact, skating under the banner of Fenwick, girls from Fenwick, OPRF, Trinity, York and Guerin have blended to field one of the best hockey teams in the state.
Fenwick, which advanced to the state tournament semifinals last season, is 12-2-2 this year. Along with state champion Glenbrook and Loyola, the Friars have an excellent shot at winning state. Girls have been playing hockey at Fenwick since the 2003-2004 season.
"We've set a goal of getting to the state finals this year," Fenwick coach Mason Strom said. "It's been a really positive first half of the season. Even though we lost a few top scorers after last season, we have a really strong returning core of players who are mostly juniors."
Lack of talent clearly isn't a concern. Fenwick has produced a best-ever seven All-State players this winter. Goaltender Lena Flores, defensemen Ava Gawley, Caroline Jenkins, and Sarah Steadman, and forwards Cici Jenkins, Ellie Kaiser and Erin Proctor have all been named to the All-State Red Team.
Proctor (13 goals, 8 assists), Kaiser (16 goals, 4 assists) and Cici Jenkins (10 goals, 5 assists) are the team's top point-producers. Flores has excelled in net with 192 saves in 210 shots on goal for a 1.09 goals against average.
"Lena Flores is unbelievable and keeps us in every game," senior defensemen Megan Krikau said. "She has been a big part of our success this year."
Other players on the team include: Katherine Gobber, Lilly Curry, Lindsay Sepanski, Zoe Wachtel, Lanie Hibel, Sam Schak, Grace Kedziora, Emily Franciszkowicz, Gianna Stinsa and Jennifer Davis.
Playing hockey represents a dream come true for the precocious Kaiser. The Fenwick sophomore leads the team in goals and has verbally committed to play Division I college hockey at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
"I began hockey when I was a figure skater," Kaiser said. "I saw hockey players in the other rink and knew I wanted to do that. My parents signed me up and I've been playing for 10 years."
In terms of coaching, Strom's vision is as clear as a breakaway scoring opportunity.
"We're teaching hockey lessons but also life lessons," he said. "It's important to have team chemistry. I preach defense first, but now we have a handful of pretty talented players offensively as well. Our big goals are teaching defensive responsibility and playing both ends of the ice."
Sportsmanship is of utmost importance as well.
"We all want to win but it must be the right way," Strom said. "We've been in some rough games when we knew it could get chippy with some cheap shots. The best way to react, not just on the ice but in life, is to take the high road. We don't believe in schoolyard justice or an eye for an eye. The way you beat those teams is on the scoreboard."
In terms of team chemistry, the girls have proven Huskies and Friars (plus a handful of other school mascots) can truly get along.
"I play lacrosse for OPRF, so I can enjoy being part of a school team and non-affiliated team," Proctor said. "It's really fun becoming so close to teammates from other schools."
But it does lead to awkward moments.
"Sometimes it's really hard to be part of your rival school's team," Proctor added. "I've gotten comments like, 'You're at the wrong school,' when I wear Fenwick girls hockey shirts, but I just laugh it off."
Gawley, a senior captain from Fenwick, added: "The mix of schools is a good thing for the team because it allows everyone to meet new people and expand their friendships."
It's not uncommon for team members to play multiple sports.
Krikau, a senior co-captain on Fenwick's hockey team, also plays softball and volleyball at OPRF. She was the starting libero on the volleyball team this year and a member of the Huskies' softball state championship team in 2017.
She hopes to win a state title in hockey as well.
"Our goal is to make it to the state championship game at the United Center," Krikau said. "After a big win, I remember our coach saying, 'This is a great win and a great way to start off the second half, but I won't be completely satisfied until we are celebrating in the locker room spraying sparkling apple cider.'"