The 2017 Illinois High School Hockey State Championship Game — One to Remember

This was one of the better Illinois High School Hockey games you will ever see, with two tremendous teams. This Providence team would be the State Champions any other year, had it not been for what is likely the Best High School Hockey team in the Blackhawk Cup’s history. The level of play in this game reflects professional levels of Ice Hockey more than amateur hockey. You even see the danger of playing the Celtics in such a big game on St. Patrick’s Day with the “luck of the Irish” striking in an extremely rare 1st goal for Providence Catholic, which kept them in the game at a time when a 3–0 lead for New Trier Green was looking imminent as they were heading onto another power play, but instead, it became 2–1.

From the disciplined discernment, fair judgment, and altogether consistent officiating to the relentless, innovative, and deeply talented coaching putting on a display of a seasoned, in depth understanding of the game implemented to perfection by New Trier with Providence aggressively matching them with player changes after face offs, showing a well thought out scouting plan. The fact Providence was able to put last minute sticks on pucks to break up a tick-tack-toe by the North Shore Powerhouse that for years has left Top 10 Ranked High School Hockey teams with their heads spinning wondering how that puck ended up in the back of their net so fast, and tapping their goalie’s pads, “Not your fault, nothing you could do about that one.”

Providence’s All-State goaltender, the second in the program’s history (Paul Marzano ’00), and the better of the two, demonstrates most clearly the observation that should not be overlooked or undervalued — there are more flashes of a Professional Level of Ice Hockey than Amateur Ice Hockey in this game. And the goals scored against him by the unprecedented New Trier Green team show this as do his saves against “some of the best offensive players in the state” (Melton).

The name New Trier Green alone in Illinois High School Hockey is enough to take away the confidence in most of the top High School teams on an annual basis for 20 years now and counting. The thought of being on the same ice as them isn’t a plausible reality for many Illinois High School Hockey Programs, let alone the idea of going up against perhaps the Best of the Best of the Best in the Melton-Era New Trier Green brand of hockey. But when Providence’s intense pressure and relentless effort forced the unprecedented Trevians to commit an unprecedented error in Blackhawk Cup history (most likely has never happened before, citation needed) at a moment in the game when New Trier had complete control, a man advantage, and a sense they were about to break the game open and not look back:

Well, that’s heart baby! The boys at Providence Catholic proved themselves immovable and unshakable against them.

This game demonstrates a Big Win for the Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois, with the Chicago Blackhawks’ organization making it an affordable, first-class, premier high school sporting event for the family, students, alumni, and local sports fans / hockey players. Perhaps more than any other State Championship in another sport, I don’t think you will find a better venue that has the support of the professional team in town and the use of their stadium, resources, and name.

And for the Lincoln-Way Area Community, and the Southwest Suburbs of Chicago, the boys at Providence Catholic over the last 4 years should hold their heads high, because they have made a contribution to area hockey that has not been made before and will not be forgotten — advancing the “State of Hockey” to where it has never been in the area, continuing to build on a program aimed many years ago at reaching the level they have put it at after nearly collapsing; until a former Mt. Carmel Caravan Coach and a true disciple of the Chicago Catholic Hockey League tradition took the reign, bringing the glory of Three Kennedy Cups in Four Years, saving a program and redeeming the work of its predecessor’s, ensuring the founding of the program by the dedicated career of Providence teacher and former Varsity Head Coach Frank Cavallone did not go in vain; Nick Iaciancio is a grail-bearer of the Kennedy Cup.

And there is no shame in this second place, that’s just how good New Trier Hockey is, which begins in the youth club hockey programs on the North Shore all the way to the three varsity teams touted by the New Trier program that competed in the Red Division this year for the Blackhawk Cup, which is awarded to the Varsity High School Hockey Illinois State Champion; theirs is the standard-bearing program.

The North Shore shows class in that they are good stewards of Illinois High School Hockey, and Illinois Hockey in general, which is in large part why today was a big win for High School Hockey in the State of Illinois. When New Trier (whose student body size is about 4:1 over Providence’s enrollment) beat Providence in 2016 for the same title, they said, “We want to win this as kids,” revealing the consistency of their brand of hockey is due to being instilled in the youth programs. The benefits of the continuity and familiarity of playing with the same people you grew up playing with is evident in their game. The fact that despite winning the Blackhawk Cup more than any other program with no clear runner-up program, they still want it every year, preserves the glory of the title of being the Illinois High School Hockey State Champions.

You won’t find 8500 people in the stands at an 18U Tier 1 AAA National Championship game (At least I don’t think you would, I’ve never been), and the people who will read about this type of hockey are only people receiving USA Hockey newsletters playing AAA hockey, not your average hockey fan /player or potential hockey fan /player, who will likely enjoy reading and learning about hockey at area High Schools in the local newspapers.

In my opinion, the 2017 New Trier Green High School Hockey Team and Blackhawk Cup Champions were only a Ryan Ianciono away from not losing a game to any 18U Tier 1 AAA team in USA Hockey — well Shattuck — St Mary, the Chicago Mission, and Detroit Honeybaked will give you a run for your money every year. But credit Jake Rott, his family, and the student-culture created by Providence Catholic High School’s faculty and leadership for having the right idea. They have shone the belief that works in Minnesota High School Hockey can work in Illinois High School Hockey, that playing in front of your family, friends, and community and for your school, is more fun, more meaningful, and more enriching to the life experience and growth of a student-athlete, “You only have one senior year” Rott said, turning down a tender to play Junior A hockey in the NAHL, choosing to stay in the program at Providence Catholic with his friends, family, and teammates for his senior year — choosing to join the Lone Star Brahmas in the upcoming season.

Seeing value in this way, where not everyone else is looking, suggests unconventional wisdom and the potential for a shift in the direction of the times as it relates to the spirit of amateur hockey in Illinois (“zeitgeist”). After all, the goal of AAA hockey and the reason they all travel so far everyone weekend to play each other in some city is just so they can all be in one place at the same time. This makes it efficient for the scouts, who only have so much time and money like everyone else, and this is why they like Minnesota High School Hockey — it’s practical and efficient geographically for getting their job done — and so could be coming to Chicago a few times a year to catch Scholastic Hockey League matchups and Chicago Catholic Hockey League match-ups. But that’s more visionary, a vision which I see as possible through the lens of the 2017 Illinois High School Hockey State Championship — the Blackhawk Cup Red Division that me and my Dad had the joy and privilege of watching at the United Center on Friday, March 17, 2017, enjoying the hockey as much, and if not more than we have enjoyed many Blackhawks games.

My Dad said early on in the first period, when somehow a New Trier attempt didn’t find the back of the net not due to spectacular goal tending (much like Providence’s near miss that hit the crossbar — a play that resembled the players more like professionals than amateurs) — “maybe it’s a good Omen” he said with optimism. I said Dad, the luck of the Irish on St Patrick’s Day and the grace of Providence are two tough things to compete against.

Massaro’s goal, which likely will never be seen again in the Red Division State Championship, let alone in any hockey game you’ll be apart of, came with 8:28 remaining in the second period, triggering the relationship with my favorite teaching of Scripture, which in my most difficult times my faith doesn’t move from this true belief: “For all things work together for good, for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) And that, is essentially what we mean in the idea (definition) of the name (concept of)Providence.

So, if you want to call it luck, credit St. Patrick since it was his day, but if you want to call it heart, let it be, say the grace of Providence and credit their character, since it was their day:

“For with the heart one believes” (Romans 10:10 ESV)

Nobody involved in the hockey community in the State of Illinois would agree that “Providence appears to be the Rodney Dangerfield of area hockey” anymore. It simply is no longer a tenable belief because it is not true of reality anymore. Everybody respects the brand of Providence Catholic Hockey now, especially in the Lincoln-Way area and the Chicago Catholic Hockey League whose 55-year old Kennedy Cup nearly doubles the 30-year tradition of the Blackhawk Cup, and that’s what you boys have done. Had competition for both cups not been concurrent so many times in the past (this was not the case this year), you have to wonder if the Blackhawk Cup would not belong to the Catholic League more times than it has — perhaps you should ask Loyola Gold about that.

Oh yea, Count Vennetti’s Way too, 5-hole, with Rott adding an assist.

Congratulations to the 2017 State Champions New Trier Green and to the 2017 Runner-Up Providence Catholic. There are no regrets in this one, but a glory that should endure for those who are called to be good stewards for the Order of Hockey in the State of Illinois. To everyone involved in what may have been one of the best Illinois High School Hockey games ever played, Thank YOU.


To the seniors on both teams: “Since you were surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses (family, friends, teammates, classmates, teachers, coaches, and alumni) you have run with success the race that was set before you.” Hebrews 12:1 (Paraphrased/edited) So now live out the 4th.