Chicago North is skating into the 2023-24 season with an “Unfinished Business” mantra. They haven’t forgotten the heartbreaking overtime loss last March in the Illinois High School Hockey State Championship Game (combined division) at the United Center.
“The returning players from last year’s team are very hungry and want to get another shot at the United Center to win that championship. Even the new players who were not with our program last year have a chip on their shoulder because they watched the final at the UC and want to be a part of Chicago North winning (a) state championship,” said Chicago North head coach Kevin Doell.
“We are going to be a very competitive team and have some unfinished business, so we have a very motivated group of players. They are excited for the season.”
Chicago North – a co-op of student-athletes from Lane Tech, Taft, Northside Prep, Lakeview, Von Steuben, Lycée Français, Amundsen and DePaul Prep – lost 4-3 to PREP in the 2023 state championship game. Chicago North was the tournament’s No. 6 seed but advanced to the finals with state tournament wins over the Cobras, BG/H/W and Lincoln-Way.
No. 1 seeded PREP scored the game-winner 80 seconds into OT.
“Last season was obviously very successful, making it to the state final at the United Center. There were many learning opportunities for our team throughout the season, but the one I hope the team takes away most is how far a positive attitude, good work ethic and believing in yourself and your teammates can take you,” said Doell, entering his second season on the Chicago North bench. “There is only so much you can teach and change in one year without the players and the team being overwhelmed. Focusing on the aspects that you can control, such as attitude, effort and belief is the biggest lesson I hope they took away.
“We had a great group of leaders last year in our senior class, so that whole group is a big loss because they had such a big part in establishing that positive attitude and belief that we could win.”
Chicago North this season brings newcomers who are very talented at every position, Doell said. “We’ll let other coaches figure out who they think those are.”
Doell, 44, who lives in Chicago, has been coaching for seven years, but has many more years of experience coaching summer camps, skills camps, etc. Doell also had a lengthy career playing in the American Hockey League, including years with the Chicago Wolves, and time in the NHL.
“We have high expectations this year, but we know it is a long season so we want to be the best team we can be at the end of the season,” Doell said. “Part of that ‘belief’ mentality has to do with trusting the process. We know there are going to be ups and downs throughout the season, but trusting the process, staying positive and putting in the work will help attain our goal of winning the state title.”
Chicago North faces stiff competition in the North-Central Division, starting with PREP. Other strong opponents include Notre Dame, Barrington, New Trier Blue, Highland Park, Deerfield and BG/H/W, among others.
“Our league is going to be very competitive,” Doell said. “High school hockey in Illinois is, thankfully, starting to grow and the best players are looking to play for their school programs and in front of their friends. It’s a great environment and will start to get the attention of leagues at the next level that players may be interested in pursuing.
“Every year we see the team and have high hopes, but something this year feels a bit different. I believe it is that ‘unfinished business’ chip on our shoulder that is giving us a little added motivation.”
Chicago North’s offense will be explosive this season. To that, “We expect to be in every game for the simple fact that we have guys who can put the puck in the net,” Doell said.
Chicago North’s defense is deep. “Our (defensive) core has a lot of experience playing at a high level. We expect our defense to also contribute offensively which is always a plus at the higher levels,” he said.
The team’s goaltending is very good, Doell said.
Chicago North’s special teams will be aided by their offensive firepower.
“We have a few sophomores and juniors who will surprise some people this year with how skilled they are, how mature their game is compared to their age … I am impressed with them every day,” Doell said.
Chicago North opened the season Sept. 9, with a 3-1 home win over Evanston behind goals from Daniel Callaghan, Lucas Hurtado and Brian Wilk.
“One of the best things I’ve already noticed this year is the strong community that Chicago North has become a part of and in part helped create,” Doell said. “It is great to see younger kids coming out to games and watching the high school team that they may be able to play for one day. It is something that we never really had here in the city, but it is exciting to be a part of.”