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Alex Drews: ‘the kid just loves the game of hockey’

By Ross Forman, 12/14/23, 4:45PM CST


Longtime member of the Chicago Storm Special Hockey Club has passion for Illinois referees, Chicago Blackhawks, Wolves & Steel

Alex Drews has a passion for the game of hockey that skates from players to on-ice officials to the rink employees who push the snow left behind by the Zamboni. “Big Al,” as he is commonly called, isn’t driven by scoring goals, nor worried about how his celly will be received, or any glory from a game. The gabbing seems more important to Alex, who lives in Wheaton.

Sure, he scored 2 goals in a 3-day, 4-game tournament in Chicago in mid-November, but he was more excited to visit Hooters after the games. He has a standing tradition with his dad, Steve, to go to a restaurant after tournaments – and Hooter’s is one of Alex’s favorites.

Alex has a medal from the tournament and the championship banner is in their garage.

Hockey is Alex Drews’ drive. It isn’t the ESPN highlight reel plays that matter most; it’s simply being at the rink, his haven for decades. When his team skates at the United Center in mid-December before a Chicago Blackhawks game, Alex said he might skip the skate and simply sit in the stands and watch.

Alex truly is a special hockey person, one who scores in ways that won’t show on a statistics page, but glow in real-life. He brings a smile to others just by showing up at the rink.

“You could be in an awful mood, but Al would immediately change that,” said longtime Illinois referee Jack Raslawski. “People may think he has disabilities, but he has more abilities than disabilities he’s been diagnosed with. People gravitate to him and his personality; that is a special talent.”

“Alex has a presence, an aura … the kid just loves the game of hockey and he enlightens everyone around him. He has a special bond with everyone; he has no enemies, just friends. That’s awesome,” said Carl Sassolino, also a longtime Illinois referee. “We really are fortunate to have Alex around the game, which he clearly loves so much. He makes everyone feel special. I have a smile on my face right now just thinking about him.”

Alex, 28, has autistic characteristics, attention-deficit disorder and mild dyslexia. He lives with his parents, Steve and Anita Drews – and randomly during a hockey interview turns and asked if I had put up my Christmas tree, as his light-filled tree was behind him for this Zoom interview. When I said “Not yet,” he asked if I was going to use a real or fake tree.

Alex enjoys country music and goes to concerts at times with Steve. He spends his days at Cherubim Developmental Training Program in Wheaton, which encourages, educates, empowers and equips adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to flourish. He also spends three days a week at DoodleBug Workshop in Wheaton, which equips the special needs community with vocational skills, fostering independence, and building self-esteem. Alex was proud to show the framed wooden flag that he built and painted at DoodleBug.

Hockey remains Alex’s first love. He is, after all, in his 19th year skating for the Chicago Storm Special Hockey Club that provides children and adults with developmental disabilities the opportunity to play the game. The team has skated locally under multiple names for 20 years. Alex joined in year two – and Steve Drews is the team’s head coach, a position he has had for 17 years.

The Storm has team members ranging in age from 5 to 55, both male and female athletes. The team is comprised of players who have autism, down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities – and the team has about 100 players and it practices at five area rinks.

The Chicago Storm Special Hockey Team, formerly known as the Chicago Blackhawks Special Hockey Team and the Tomahawks Special Hockey Team, played in mid-November in the inaugural USA Hockey Blind & Special Classic at Fifth Third Arena in downtown Chicago.

The Storm fielded three teams in the multi-divisional event that featured 13 teams from across the U.S. and Canada.

Alex’ s team won the championship and he proudly said he played “good” in the event.

He’s a left-handed shooting left wing who, when pressed what he liked most about the tournament, he said “pictures” after winning.

The Storm and other teams were able to tour the Blackhawks locker room at Fifth Third and the team’s workout facility.

As for the championship banner, Alex was his normal mild-mannered when asked about it. He said, it’s “cool.”

He also received a medal from the tournament.

Alex said the best part of the Classic was “scoring” – as most players would say.

Alex’s hockey career has brought him across the country, including tournaments in Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Detroit and Cleveland. Alex and the Storm will skate in Boston in April.

He’s ready for that East Coast action, though mostly for … “clam Chowder soup, yeah baby,” he said, smiling.

Alex, wearing jersey No. 25 for the Storm, will have a busy December, including the game at the United Center on Sunday, December 17 – and he immediately asked if I “wanna go” to the UC game.

The Storm will be playing Saturday, December 30, at Fox Valley Ice Arena in Geneva before the Chicago Steel home game against the Madison Capitols – and that truly is a home game for Alex, as he does work for the team during the season.

When asked about the Steel, Alex said he “clean(s) … watch(es) the game … eat(s) dinner .. shovel snow.”

He does general maintenance during the game, helping where needed with several Steel crew members.

Alex pushes the snow onto a drain after the Zamboni.

The Storm will be playing a game on Wednesday, December 27, along with the Neuqua Valley High School team in Romeoville – and that will be Alex’s 29th birthday.

Alex is set to make his on-ice officiating debut in that charity game that mixes Storm players along with the high school players from Neuqua Valley. He has been around the Illinois officiating community for years, as Steve is the former president of the Illinois Hockey Officials Association (IHOA).

He said the referees are “good,” and when pressed what he likes about the officials, he joked, “have beers,” in reference to a long-standing tradition that, if a referee falls during a game, he has to buy drinks for the crew after the game.

Alex knows many of the Illinois officials and has nicknames for most. There’s Yogi, aka, Carl Sassolino – a name that Alex heard fellow officials joking call Sassolino years and years ago, and, to this day, Sassolino is simply “Yogi” to Alex. Bill Fehrman is the “Candy Man” because he often arrives as rinks with candy, particularly Alex’s favorite: Sweet Tarts.

Alex said the Illinois officials he knows are “nice,” but said he would never referee, as his dad does and uncle Chris did for years.

Steve has asked Alex many times to officiate, Alex has never agreed.

But, when I asked Alex if he would officiate one game, he replied, “Yeah.”

When I asked if he’d officiate the Waubonsie fundraiser with myself and Jack Raslawski, Alex answered enthusiastically, “Yeah.”

Steve said he’d let Alex wear one of his black and white striped referee shirts.

Sassolino, when he heard Alex was going to officiate, said he will be attending, and no doubt joining the officiating crew.

Many from IHOA will attend – just to cheer for Alex.

After all, he is the social butterfly of his team and throughout the Illinois hockey community. He talks to everyone and everyone talks to Alex.

Mid-interview, he took over and asked if I travel often. I said, “Yes,” so he naturally asked, “Where to?”

I told Alex that my first December trip was to Toronto.

“Flying or driving,” Alex said.


“What airline?” Alex said.

United Airlines.

Ironically, Alex, for some reason, does not like flying. They were once returning to Chicago “and I don’t know why, but he didn’t want to get on the plane,” Steve said. The flight was delayed and Alex got very scared, Steve said. “Something set him off.”

They drove home to the Chicagoland area.

Raslawski said long drives with Alex, Steve, Steve’s late sister and others are laughter-filled memories he will never forget.

Alex’s favorite NHL team is, naturally, the Chicago Blackhawks and his favorite player on the team was Patrick Kane.

He now favors defenseman Alex Vlasic, who played locally for the Wilmette Braves, Chicago Young Americans and Chicago Mission before landing on the Blackhawks bench.

Vlasic’s brother also plays for the Storm.

When asked if he likes Connor Bedard, Alex answered with a smile, “Yeah.”

He also attends and enjoys Chicago Wolves games and is quick to show how he howls like a wolf. Steve is an off-ice official for the Wolves so Alex attends many games. Asked about the Wolves games, well, it wasn’t quite the slapshots that excite him. Rather, it’s the pizza and Sprite that he enjoys at Wolves games.

Hockey is truly Alex’s passion and he truly is a special member of Illinois’ hockey community.