By Marty Farmer
Powered by seven players who made the Amateur Hockey Association Illinois (AHAI) all-state team, the Fenwick High School girls hockey team (15-2-5 in 2018) advanced to the semifinals of the Blackhawk Cup last season.
With the exception of Ava Gawley, the team returns its cadre of proficient players in defensemen Sarah Steadman and Caroline Jenkins, forwards Ellie Kaiser, Erin Proctor and Cecilia Jenkins, plus standout goalie Lena Flores.
With so much talent on the rink, the Friars envision an even better season this year. The team completed its tiering round of games with an undefeated record of 11-0-2 and a No. 1 ranking in the state. Those are first-time accomplishments for Fenwick.
"Our team dynamic is special," Flores said. "Our greatest strength is working together as a team. When we play games as a team unselfishly, there is nobody we can't beat."
The tiering round of games calls for every team in the Metro League playing each other once. Based on those results, teams are split into the Scholastic Cup (upper division) and Founders Cup (lower division).
Add in their 4-0-1 start in the regular season, and the Friars are currently 15-0-3 with eight victories via shutout. Fenwick has outscored its opponents 92-18.
And yet, the Friars have work to do.
"From a hockey standpoint, the team definitely wants to improve," Kaiser said. "I think everyone from a character standpoint is in a good place. We have all found a way to connect and come together as a team.
"Besides becoming better hockey players, the team wants to win a state championship."
Perennial powers New Trier and Loyola are the only teams that have tied the Friars by an identical score of 3-3. However, with all due respect to the Trevians and Ramblers, Fenwick believes it can go all the way after a near-miss last season.
Prior to its draw against Loyola on Nov. 18, the Friars opened the season with six wins in a row and obliterated their opponents by a scoring margin of 41-2.
"We're the team to beat; we have to stay on our toes," Proctor said. "We have a target on our backs and we know we can't afford to take any breaks."
Interestingly, the team comprises players from five high schools: Fenwick, Oak Park and River Forest, Trinity, Guerin and York. Three of the team's captains are local. River Forest residents Proctor and Steadman attend OPRF and Trinity, respectively, while Emily Franciszkowicz is an Oak Parker who goes to Fenwick. Caroline Jenkins is the Friars' fourth captain.
"There's honestly no challenge to having players from multiple high schools," Proctor said. "I feel the same amount of loyalty to my Fenwick teammates as I do my OPRF friends. It's a little annoying not being able to wear my hockey jersey or Fenwick apparel to school since we are rivals, but I'm still proud to be part of the Fenwick hockey team nonetheless."
While all-state selections have not been named yet for this year's all-state game on Feb. 11, the Friars have plenty of candidates for that showcase.
Offensively, the pair of high-scoring forwards Kaiser and Proctor power a formidable offense. Kaiser is the Friars' points leader with 32, highlighted by a 4-goal game and 4 hat tricks, which means three goals scored in one game. Proctor (3 hat tricks) follows closely with 31 points.
Franciszkowicz has been arguably the team's most clutch player. The senior forward scored a game-winning goal with two seconds left against Naper Valley and also netted a goal with about a minute left in regulation to tie New Trier.
The Friars boast four players in the top 25 for points in the state.
Flores has a 95 percent save rate and 0.75 goals against average in 468 minutes.Steadman (3 goals, 3 assists this season) anchors the Friars' defense.
"Some of our greatest strengths are our depth on the bench and our ability to break the puck out of the defensive zone," Steadman said. "Many of our games come down to a one or two goal difference, so defense becomes super-important. It also doesn't hurt that Lena is always anchoring in net."
Other contributors include Kelly Millins (10 goals, 11 assists), Cecilia Jenkins (8 goals, 9 assists), Lindsay Sepanski (6 goals, 4 assists), Siobhan O'Connor (5 goals, 2 assists) and Caroline Jenkins (3 goals, 4 assists).
Fenwick also has one of the best coaching staffs in the state. Mason Strom is the head coach and his assistants are Jess Cwik, Rebecca Shinsako and Natalie Blamires
"I have played for Fenwick for the past three years, but this is the best I have ever seen the team play together," Steadman said. "I credit much of our success to Mason Strom. He has been a steady presence in the program for so long and has been able to bring a great sense of pride to wearing the jersey."
Strom's vision is as clear as a breakaway scoring opportunity.
"We're teaching hockey lessons but also life lessons," he said. "It's important to have team chemistry. I preach defense first, but now we have a handful of pretty talented players offensively as well. Our big goals are teaching defensive responsibility and playing both ends of the ice."
Answer Book 2019
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