Hockey in all its splendor lives on

Ffrom the sports editor

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BRAD SPENCER

Cold air sifted up to the rafters. The bulky zambonis gently trundled by. Cue the hard, fist-pumpin' rock anthems, the extravagant player profiles on the flickering scoreboard hovering above a glistening sheet of ice. Flash-lights, thunderstix, mascots hurling free t-shirts. Fans adorned in oversized player jerseys munching popcorn, nachos, and, yes, even at a so-called high school event, sipping, gulping, and on occasion spilling beer. Cold beer. Good beer, that is it looked good, for I wouldn't know being on the job and all.

It was a hockey game, and it was being played when professional hockey is as popular as a Cher concert. How can you not have beer at a hockey game?

The United Center was aglow on Saturday afternoon as Fenwick took on New Trier Green for the Blackhawk Cup, considered the State high school hockey championship. No pro hockey? So what. This game had all the fixings.

"I'm not for either team," said Joe Carlucci a truck driver from Chicago's Southside. "I'm just here because I wanted to see some hockey played. It's a bonus that they serve beer at these things."

Hockey. It's an extraordinary sport that matches brawn with grace. Yes, one team on Saturday, Fenwick, a two-time defending Blackhawk Cup winner, was shutout 5-0, but it was still a hockey game. There were checks that rattled the plexi-glass, shots that sent the puck zipping through the air like a bullet, pipe busters, a few scuffles, you name it. There was even ballet.

Say what? Beer and ballet at a high school hockey game?

Okay, let's call it acrobatic feats of athleticism. This is hockey. You can't get blindsided by a 6-foot-3-inch 200-pounder, smash into solid ice?#34;your body splayed out like roadkill?#34;and still manage to hold on to your stick, pick yourself up and skate toward the action, without implementing a little ballet?#34;ooops, I mean acrobatic feats of athleticism. This particular high school hockey game was physical, intense, yet poetic and willowy, that's right willowy. Fenwick and New Trier Green had polished, skillful and talented players on the ice on Saturday. I doubt there were any millionaires or toothless grunts. I doubt any player was grumbling over a possible salary cap. It's not a sport sanctioned by the Illinois High School Association?#34;hence the selling of alcoholic beverages?#34;but I would still have to say there aren't any salaries to grumble over.

There was just hockey on the ice that day. Two contenders going at it. The only strings attached were those on the skates of these superb athletes.

"Oh, it's good to be a hockey fan today!" hollered Carlucci as he smacked his thunderstix together after New Trier Green scored its third goal of the day, putting the game out of reach of the Friars.

But don't feel too bad for the losing team. Fenwick is well-known to hockey aficionados. The team boasts a freshman phenom in Corey Chakeen, who led the Friars with 54 goals this season. Joe Fornari, who scored 35 goals this season and assisted on 36, is only a junior. Things probably won't let up for the Friars. Not to take anything away from New Trier, but let's just say that those 60-plus games this season may have caught up with the former Blackhawk Cup champs at an inopportune time.

I don't think it much mattered who the actual winner was to the over 4,000 fans at the United Center on Saturday.

The Friars may have lost, but at least hockey fans won. And that's not the beer talking.

CONTACT: bspencer@wjinc.com

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