Iron sharpens iron — in the simplest terms, that’s why St. Ignatius is excited to join the SHL this season.
“We’re excited for it and I look forward to dogfights every night,” St. Ignatius coach Spence Montgomery said. “We feel like our club has grown and we’re at the point where we can compete (in the SHL), night-in and night-out.
“I think the genesis for us that we’ve had back-to-back-to-back exits in the final eight (of the state finals). So we’re making a move. If you look at the rankings every year, it goes one through five (SHL teams) and then St. Ignatius and we need more high-end competition.”
Montgomery is also vehement in his program’s continued commitment and loyalty to the Chicago Catholic League, where the Wolfpack has won back-to-back Kennedy Cups.
Playing in two leagues won't be easy but the Wolfpack is ready for the challenge.
“A lot of people have been like ‘why are you playing fifty-eight games?’ but if you look around at the top teams in the state, they’re around that mark, " Montgomery said. "So we’re doing less tournament and exhibition games and more of these hard-fought battles."
In St. Ignatius’ SHL-opener on Saturday at home against Stevenson, the Wolfpack will bring a team with a slightly different face than the one that went 48-13-0 last year.
“I think we’re a little faster and we can attack teams with speed in ways we weren’t able to in the past,” Montgomery said. “So maybe a little less grease, less physical, and a little more putting people on their heels with our acceleration and speed.”
Key players from last year’s team like Corbin Klein, Jack Perreault, and Cam Kosmala have graduated, but the Wolfpack have a strong junior class aiming to make a name for itself.
St. Ignatius will be led on and off the ice by senior defenseman Charlie Reif.
“Charlie is going to wear the ‘C’,” Montgomery said. “He’s an incredible competitor. When he was in seventh grade he was watching St. Ignatius compete on the glass and it’s been a dream of his to lead this team. He’s a fleet-footed defenseman who can really do it all. He’s not physical but he’s fast and he’s a thinking man. He really sees the ice.”
Reif will play shoulder to shoulder in back with assistant captain Eghan Ryan, a big body with a long reach who can move the puck. Simon Moynihan and Hutch Dunlay will also be key “and we’re excited to see that core four elevate,” Montgomery said.
Jimmy Doherty and Ryder Nardella are also expected to help carry the defensive load for the Wolfpack.
The St. Ignatius offense will be spearheaded by a solid tandem.
“Jackson Steinlauf is a dynamic player and if he wasn’t on people’s radar, he will be soon,” Montgomery said. “The next guy who I think is really going to make an impact is Tiernan Ryan. He’s probably 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds and he’s that center who can march through guys with no fear.”
In net, Ethan Laughlin has won at every level he’s played at St. Ignatius and the Wolfpack have added a quality goalie in Brody Netzky, who comes over from the Chicago Bulldogs.
Hockey coaches talk a lot about building their program’s culture. Common notions of playing with pride and playing for your brother are a part of that culture, but …
“I think it’s more than that,” Montgomery said. “It’s also about leaving the jersey in a better place, leaving every locker room cleaner than you found it, being respectful to referees, other teams, other facilities, reporters — you name it and we want to respect this game. And it’s one thing when a coach says something but when you do something in a locker room and a captain like Charlie Reif says ‘that’s not the way we do things here, our standard is higher than that’ — then you’re cooking with oil.”
For every team involved, with Fenwick also joining the league, this year’s SHL schedule is a mountain to climb. And no team will likely play with a bigger target on its backs than last year’s state champion New Trier Green.
“They set the standard for the state and I think Adam Cheris has done an incredible job,” Montgomery said. “I’m more nervous than ever about them with him at the helm. For us, the key is not to be intimidated and we have to win the one percent. We cannot be complacent against teams like that.”