Boys Hockey looks to improve amidst a losing season

New head coach and starting group bring new challenges, optimism for future

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Boys Hockey looks to improve amidst a losing season

Photo courtesy of Tom Merkel

Photo courtesy of Tom Merkel

Photo courtesy of Tom Merkel

By Aaron Cohen, Reporter

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When Tom Merkel took over as President of the Lane Hockey Club in the summer of 2015, the club looked vastly different. They could barely field two teams and did not have proper uniforms or ice rink contracts like their suburban competition. A lifelong hockey fan, Merkel believed very strongly that hockey players should have the opportunity to play in high school. 

“What would happen is Lane Tech kids who grew up playing and loving hockey would just stop playing in high school because there were not easily accessible teams in the area,” Merkel said. “I wanted to create an opportunity for those kids to play and continue to enjoy the sport.” 

The club now fields three competitive teams that compete with elite high school programs across the state. 

As opposed to being a school team made up entirely of players from Lane, the club unites players from a variety of public and private schools such as Lane, Taft, Lake View, Von Steuben, and DePaul Prep. It is not affiliated with IHSA, which oversees most high school athletics, but with Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois, a subset of USA Hockey. 

Last year, the Lane varsity team thrived, posting a 21-9-11 record in the most competitive division and even making an appearance in the state quarterfinals. But this year, the varsity team has not had similar success and are 5-9-3 as of Dec. 17, having lost five of their last six games, including a 4-1 loss against New Trier at McFetridge in their Nov. 16 homecoming game.

 “I think it’s mainly a developing year for us,” said defenseman Noah Milsky, Div. 175. “Right now we’re trying to see where we’re at because we lost a lot of seniors last year. We’re a pretty young team so we’re trying to see where we’re at and see what we need to improve going forward.” 

Goalie Eli Reese-Wirpsa, Div. 152, remarked that the loss of 14 senior players from last year has been significant. 

“It’s definitely huge to lose 14 core guys in one year,” said Reese-Wirpsa. “We’ve lost a lot of experience, talent and leadership that those guys had.”

  The youth of the current varsity team is coupled with a new head coach, Sam Mannion. A former Division 1 hockey player at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Mannion brings a calm, collected style to his new job. 

“Sam’s best quality is that he doesn’t lose his cool even when things get intense on the ice,” Merkel said. 

Reese-Wirpsa praised Mannion for the job he has done in spite of some of the challenges the team has faced maintaining a winning record.

“He keeps the team well-organized,” Reese-Wirpsa said. All of our practices are very well-organized. Our players are developing a lot quicker.” 

Mannion said that he has seen improvement all across the board from his team so far, but agrees that consistency has been a continual struggle. 

“What we need to start doing is to get better at playing complete games,” Mannion said. “Oftentimes we will play the first and second periods really well but struggle in the third period. If we can play the entire game and not lose our composure or toughness down the stretch, then I think that we will be able to win more games, especially those against tougher opponents.”

Captain Daniel Jorgensen, Div. 082, said he believes the key to finishing this season strong will be a strong work ethic.

“The wins will come when we all work hard and put in the effort,” Jorgensen said. “Our team isn’t really built on amazing skill; we’ve lost a lot of talent over the years, but we make up for it with effort. If we don’t bring that effort, then we lose. But if we do bring it, we win.”