It’s probably most recognized as that catchy jingle for a hotel commercial, but the “I’ve Been Everywhere” tune by Johnny Cash also perfectly encapsulates the hockey careers of former OPRF stars Paul Caponigri, Andrew Joy and Steve Cromie.
Since their days of donning the burnt orange and blue, this talented trio has played or coached at the junior, collegiate and professional levels all over the country. Similar to Cash’s song, they’ve played everywhere in towns like (everybody sing along now) Omaha to Columbus to Green Bay to Kalamazoo to Orlando to Ames and several other stops on their respective rink itineraries.
This season, the frequent flyer miles can be put on hold for the former Huskies, who have found common ground with the Chicago Hounds. The Hounds, a member of the United Hockey League, play their home games at the 11,000-seat Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates. The UHL is 10-team league that’s comparable to Double A baseball in terms of pro sports hierarchy.
“The Sears Centre is a gorgeous facility,” Joy said. “It’s relatively inexpensive and fans can expect to see good hockey.”
Through 21 games, Caponigri has been a big part of the show with seven goals and six assists. A few weeks ago, he tallied a pair of goals to spark the Hounds to a 2-1 victory over Fort Wayne. Joy is the Hounds’ reserve goalie behind starter, Marty Magers.
Currently Hounds but forever Huskies, Caponigri, Joy and Cromie fondly remember their time in Oak Park.
“Oak Park was a great place to grow up,” Caponigri said. “It was fun to have my friends come out and watch me play hockey [on Sunday nights] at Ridgeland Common. It was the only thing to do in town those nights and people really were into the games.”
Before starring at OPRF, Caponigri developed his love for the game as early as 4 years old, while playing snoopy hockey in Oak Park. In seventh grade, he joined Team Illinois, a traveling team composed of promising young players.
Caponigri enjoyed growing up in Oak Park with his parents, Larry and Linda, his brother, Tony and older sister, Tina, on Belleforte Avenue. During high school, Caponigri honed his skills with the OPRF Hockey Club team and traveling squads. One of his few regrets was never taking on a particular neighborhood rival known for their black and white school colors.
“Unfortunately, I never was able to play Fenwick,” Caponigri said. “For awhile there, the rivalry just became too heated. I think that my sophomore and senior years, we could have given them a run for their money.”
While Oak Park served as a childhood Camelot of sorts for Caponigri, the 27-year-old right winger, nicknamed “Cappy,” also relished his time attending Ohio State University. During his senior year, Caponigri led the Buckeyes to a CCHA championship defeating Michigan at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
“That was probably the best time I have ever had in my life” reminisced Caponigri about his Columbus days. “It was the total package.”
A year behind Caponigri at OPRF, Joy is also happy to be back in the Chicago area and reunited with his high school buddy.
“It’s nice coming to a team where you already know a couple of guys,” Joy said. “It just makes it easier to fit in, and it’s great to be playing hockey with Paul again.”
Joy started playing hockey when he was 12 through the house program at Ridgeland.
“I was originally a forward, but I was just horrible,” recalled Joy. “I saw a goalie playing and it looked fun so I decided to switch positions. The coaches at OPRF really deserve a lot of credit for developing players. They allowed me the opportunity to get comfortable in the net and really run with it.”
Joy parlayed his burgeoning talent between the pipes into three years of junior hockey and four years of college hockey at St. Michael’s, a Division III school in Vermont. At 26 and after numerous gigs with pro teams, Joy feels he has found a good match with the Hounds.
“I’ve been here as an emergency goalie,” Joy said. “Although I have not been officially signed [by the Hounds], I consider myself, and I think all the guys as well, see me as a big part of the team.”
Joy, who is interested in pursuing a Master’s Degree in Sports Psychology after he hangs up the goalie mask, believes current Oak Park players can look to Caponigri and himself as good examples of the varied benefits of hockey.
“I think it’s cool for guys at Oak Park and Fenwick to see guys like us who used to play there and have moved on to play juniors, college and pro,” said Joy.
Affable and intelligent, Caponigri and Joy’s most appealing attribute perhaps is simply pursuing what they love, as fiercely as they would a loose puck over the blue line.
“You can’t beat playing a game that you love and getting paid for it,” Caponigri said. “Once you’re done, it’s done. I can always get another job and do that for 20 years.”
Keeping a close eye on Caponigri and Joy is one of their Huskie brethren, Steve Cromie, an assistant coach for the Hounds.
A 1982 OPRF graduate, Cromie had never even seen snow before coming to Oak Park from Houston. Playing youth hockey with the Oak Park Eagles, Cromie had an insatiable desire to cultivate his game. Aided by key Oak Park coaching influences like Gary Gregus and Art Kasak, he quickly flourished on skates. As a team captain and defenseman at OPRF, Cromie teamed up with forward Cary Shinsako, the current Director of the OPRF Hockey Club, to lead a formidable squad.
“There was always a great vibe playing hockey in Oak Park,” Cromie said. “I can remember playing pond hockey and Ridgeland being sold out for Oak Park-Fenwick.”
After attending Emerson and OPRF, he played college hockey and football at Iowa State. Cromie also took a stab at pro football, playing for the Minnesota Vikings in 1987 as a replacement player during the NFL player’s strike.
Through the years, Cromie has compiled an impressive hockey portfolio as player and coach.
“There was a lot of support for me in Oak Park, which was instrumental in keeping me motivated with hockey,” said Cromie, a former head coach at Northern Illinois University. “I’ve always been a student of the game.”
Call it kismet or coincidence, but Caponigri, Joy and Cromie are enjoying their new allegiance representing the Hounds yet remembering Oak Park.
“It’s nice to go back and show friends the high school and town,” Caponigri said. “I need to visit my little spots like The Tasty Dog and Petersen’s.”
For these Huskies, it still sounds like there’s no place like home.