Last year’s Loyola Gold team went 14-17 and finished sixth in the SHL standings, but coach Scott Ciraulo’s squad caught fire down the season’s stretch. The Ramblers reached the semifinals of the SHL tournament before losing to eventual SHL and state champion New Trier Green, then reached a state semifinal game before losing to state runner-up York.
A team that finished 29-23 graduated 11 seniors from last year’s team, chief among them four-year varsity player and captain, defenseman Ryan Cowen.
“We lost our captain and that’s our biggest hole. He was a four-year player for us,” Loyola coach Scott Ciraulo said. “But we’ll miss all (11) of those guys.”
This season offensively, Loyola will rely on third-year varsity returnees Charlie Baine, Cole Joubert, and Mikey Baker.
“We’ll expect a lot from them,” Ciraulo said. “Baine has an elite shot and really good hands. He’s a very good player and he’ll be a captain. Cole is a big center and a leader, and he scored big goals for us last year. He had goals in every game we played against New Trier. He and Mikey will be assistant captains.”
Baine led Loyola in SHL points last year with 9 goals and 15 assists, and Jobert had 12 goals and 10 assists. It was scoring by committee last year for the Ramblers and Baine and Joubert were two of the team’s top-three scorers last season.
Baker had 4 goals and 5 assists last season but played in only 17 league games after an extended Loyola football season kept him away from hockey to start the year.
Baker will again come late to the SHL party this season due to football.
“(Baker) is one of the best kickers in the country, and he’s been on teams that won state titles in lacrosse and football. Everyone looks up to him,” Ciraulo said. “He’s a gamer. He scored both of our overtime winners in our state run last year.”
Despite Cowen’s departure, Loyola’s boys in back still figure to be one of the team’s chief strengths in front of a pair of rookie varsity goaltenders in senior James Roche and freshman Charlie Trapp.
Junior Declan Smith was slated to compete for top goaltending duties but was lost for the season to injury. Ciraulo and his staff will miss him, since they believed Smith would have been one of the top goaltenders in the SHL this season.
With Smith injured, a veteran core of defensemen will be asked to hold down the fort as Roche and Trapp sort things out between the pipes.
Chris Sipe, Will Steele, Mack Klein and Cooper Nelson are all returning varsity defensemen and sophomore defenseman Tyler Lawriw joins the program after playing for Team Illinois last season.
“Our other captain is Chris Sipe and he should be one of the top players in the league. He’s extremely talented,” Ciraulo said. “Will Steele is a three-year player, also an assistant captain, and he’s a big player with a good left-handed shot.
“Mack Klein is a really good player and Cooper was promoted last year and he stepped up. He’s just solid. And I think Tyler could be one of our top defensemen so we have high hopes for him.”
Loyola opened the season with a 1-0 win over Evanston and next up for the Ramblers is an annual trip to Ontario, Canada’s Ridley College, for four tournament games against top prep high school competition.
“They’re some of the best teams we’ll see in the entire season so that will be a good barometer of where we’re at,” Ciraulo said. “To the extent that any team might think they’re better than they are, they’re taken down a notch by going there. It’s an extremely physical brand of hockey and some of the fastest teams we’ll see all year.”
After that, Loyola will settle in for another brutally tough season of SHL hockey. The SHL added St. Ignatius and Fenwick to Illinois’ perennial top league.
“I’ve coached with the Chicago Jets and I know probably ninety percent of the kids on St. Ignatius … they should be one of the best teams in the state,” Ciraulo said, “and Fenwick has a rich history of being very good.
“Our goal is to make the SHL playoffs and I just feel very fortunate that we play in such a sharp league. Our goal is to be playing our best come February and you don’t get there unless you’re playing really good teams.”