Naperville North and Naperville Central always put on a fantastic showing when the rival schools go head to head for their yearly crosstown showdowns, no matter the sport. This winter, these historic rivals must bond and work together on the ice as members of the brand-new Naperville Hockey Club. The formation came due to lower numbers in both club programs, which led to Naperville Central not having a varsity team at all last season. This Feature Story is sponsored by Edward-Elmhurst Health.
“You’re in the Naperville settlement, so it’s pretty much landlocked. There’s not much new development coming in. It’s an older subdivision of Naperville with not to many new families coming in and when there are, they have young children, so the numbers have been declining as far as to the high school hockey part of it,” said Naperville Hockey Club head coach Brian Guevara.
“I didn’t believe it at first I was kind of shocked because it’s North, but I like it. I like getting together with the boys it’s awesome so far,” said Naperville Hockey Club player Liam Hannemann
Two combined area teams in the Illinois West
The Naperville Hockey Club becomes the second combined team in our area, with the other being fellow Illinois West members, the Warriors Hockey club, made up of Metea Valley and Waubonsie Valley players. With both high schools teaming together you figured that Huskie-Redhawk rivalry would play a minor factor, but thanks to their time spent together in the youth hockey club days, any bad blood is not showing up on the ice.
“A lot of these guys grew up playing youth hockey together. So from my eyes and what I’m seeing between the locker room and the bench the combined group has gone pretty good so far,” said Guevara.
“I didn’t know how it was going to turn out at the start and how the relationships would work out but I think it’s been good so far and we really clicked and made new friendships so far,” said Naperville Hockey player Jack Grace.
Familiar foes become friends once again
This is not the first time that the Redhawks and Huskies have teamed up during the hockey season. A decade ago, the Naperville North program was shut down for two years due to low roster numbers, forcing Huskie players to join Naperville Central JV and varsity programs during that time.
For the Central players who didn’t even have a varsity season last year, the idea of teaming up with their crosstown rival still came as a surprise. But in a sport like hockey, you need to have trust in your teammates if you are going to have any kind of success, so the transition has been a smooth one since the start.
“I was nervous because it’s two different schools coming together but it’s great. We do see a difference on varsity and JV with North and Central players on Varsity but it’s been great it’s a lot more intensity than I thought it would be and the boys do care. So it’s been a great season and I look forward for the rest of it,” said Hannemann.
“Most of the lines are mixed with Central and North kids. We’ve grown together and just formed a better team,” said Grace.
Hot start to the season
While some of the former Huskies may not be crazy about the amount of red in the new uniforms, the club is off to a great start this season, including a recent 6-4 victory in the Carillon Cup semifinals against the Oswego Co-Op. That victory set up a date with the Warriors Hockey Club in the Cup Finals. While the team is excited about their excellent start to the season, coach Guevara knows the team still has a lot of work to do in the next couple of months.
“It’s just one game at a time, one practice session at a time and everything is in the player’s hands so we’re just there to guide them. So with these guys, especially on the varsity end of it we have a lot of intelligence on the team and the support they get on one another and again, it’s in their hands,” said Guevara.
If all goes well, this group of rivals turned teammates could find themselves competing with the top teams in the Illinois West and have a chance for a playoff run in the combined division of the Blackhawk Cup.
For more prep sports stories, visit the Naperville Sports Weekly page!