Name of group: York Hockey Club
School: York Community High School
Ages: members range from freshmen to seniors
Achievement: The York Hockey Club does more than just compete on the ice. These young men infuse community service seamlessly into the sport they love.
Key to Awesomeness: Each year, the York team raises money and donates a sled to the Hornets, a sled-hockey team consisting of 5- to 20-year-old players with physical disabilities. Sled hockey mainly follows traditional hockey rules, but players sit in specially designed sleds, which sit on top of hockey skates. Players use two sticks, which help to propel them across the ice, according to www.usahockey.com.
It’s spring break, and the York Hockey Club just suffered a crushing defeat against these savage sledders. On March 28, the team used its ice time at Addison Ice Arena to face off against the Hornets, but playing in the sleds puts the York team at a serious disadvantage.
“[The Hornets] have never lost to an able-bodied team before, because they’re really good,” senior Ricky Dufort said. “It’s so hard. They always kill us.”
But fellow teammate and varsity team captain Nick Albergo concedes that this year wasn’t as bad as last year’s 11-1 defeat.
“This year, we stole some of their kids,” Albergo said. “We had two of their best players on our team, so we only lost 9-8. They scored a bunch of goals for us.”
But it’s all in good fun.
“All the guys have a great time doing it,” Dufort said. “It’s something nice to do and we all enjoy it.”
Throughout the season, the club, which is not officially sponsored by the high school since hockey is not an IHSA sport, integrates serving others into the identity of the team. Besides the annual match with the Hornets, the hockey club also has held toy drives for Toys for Tots and food drives for the local food pantry, and they are active with Elmhurst Children’s Assistance Foundation, donating their time and their strong backs to move the hand-painted Kiddie Cars auctioned off each year to benefit the foundation.
The team also honors special community members. For Breast Cancer Awareness Night, the team taped their hockey sticks pink and invited breast cancer survivors out on the ice to receive a rose. At other times, police officers, firefighters and Marines have been recognized by being given the honor of dropping the puck at the beginning of the game.
Albergo said keeping the focus of the team outward, onto the community, brings the team together.
“It brings us closer as guys, and as a result we play better on the ice,” he said.
Coach Phil Gabrielsen, a former York graduate who played hockey for the school and has coached for 20 years in the area, said the team’s camaraderie made this year’s group of players unique.
“These kids really bonded well, and they were a tight-knit group, which is really important as a team—how they get along not only on the ice, but off the ice,” he said.
This year, the club’s varsity team had 19 members; the junior varsity team had 20. Gabrielsen said they practice two nights a week at Addison Ice Arena, then play one or two games each weekend during the season against neighboring school teams. They recently wrapped up their season.
Dufort said the small size of the team is what makes the experience almost like family.
“You get to know everybody on the team pretty well,” he said of his teammates. “That’s probably my favorite part—the friends you make.”