Who was that 5-foot-4-inch, 130-pound athlete out there scarring up the ice? Who was that 16-year-old sophomore slapping the puck into oblivion? Who was that former youth hockey State champ knocking bodies around at will, dishing passes off to teammates?
Why, it was a hockey player of course. A tough, mean, talented and determined hockey player. It was a ? what the H-E double hockey sticks! It was a girl hockey player!
Casey Hutzenlaub, a sophomore at OPRF High School, spent a year and two months playing with the boys of the OPRF Hockey Club. Hutzenlaub traded checks with the club's junior varsity squad, an all-boys team, before recently moving her allegiance to the year-old Fenwick girls' hockey program. I bet you think she made the switch because she was fed up with being treated like a rag doll on the ice. Not so.
Hutzenlaub is actually going to miss checking her male counterparts into the boards. She's going to miss taking a wayward shoulder check into the glass, or a stick to the ribs. Hutzenlaub says she switched back to playing hockey with and against her own gender?#34;where checks are illegal?#34;simply because she wants more playing time.
"I just love being on the ice. Playing against boys was a lot more physical but I liked it a lot. I wish the girls team could be that way."
Hutzenlaub has only wept once on the ice. It was when she was 5 years old.
"She didn't take to it at first. I remember she was crawling around upset, crying," says her Mom, Mary, of her daughter's first taste of cold steel.
But things changed about six years later, after her father, John, a former Division I collegiate hockey player, took her to a Chicago Wolves game. John's hockey connections got him and his daughter to the locker room after a playoff game where the younger Hutzenlaub was in awe of the religion of hockey. A player handed her his hockey stick, and suddenly the desire to return to the ice emerged.
"She turned to me while we were talking to some of the players and just said 'I want to play again,'" remembers John. "It wasn't long after that she was back at it."
Hutzenlaub went on to star on an all-girls team out of Bensenville. The team won a State championship when Casey assisted on a game-winning goal in double overtime.
She garnered four assists as a forward on OPRF's junior varsity team last year, and is sure to be in the mix when the Friars begin their season this Saturday against Barrington in Hoffman Estates.
The OPRF-Fenwick rivalry runs thicker than frozen pork, but Hutzenlaub, who earned Most Improved Player by her coaches after her first year playing with the boys, says she knew the consequences of her decision.
"I'm proud of my decision," she says sternly. "The guys nagged me a bit about switching. They wanted me to stay on the team, but they also understood. I want to play more, and hopefully I'll have an opportunity to do that playing for Fenwick."
Playing hockey in college isn't so far-fetched for Hutzenlaub. A scholarship isn't either. Robert Morris College has reportedly shown interest in the teenager.
"I would love to keep playing. It's my goal," she says.
And what kind of feedback does a girl hockey player who used to play against boys receive?
"Guys around school seem to be more afraid of me because I play hockey."
What a relief for her father.