Jojo Chobak could live with the brief discomfort on the day she played hockey on an NHL rink last weekend.
The Glenbrook sophomore goaltender — a sophomore at Glenbrook North — found herself under the weight of joyous teammates near a goalmouth and scattered sticks and gloves at United Center on March 17. Her team had just defeated Loyola Academy 7-3 for the Amateur Hockey Association Illinois (AHAI)/Blackhawk Cup girls state championship.
Breathing became a temporary problem for some in the pile of smiling teens.
“It was a little uncomfortable,” a smiling Chobak admitted after returning to an upright position. “Huge pile. It’s a great group of players, with a lot of energy. They’re always smiling.
“Never a dull moment with this team,” the AHAI all-stater added.
The title game, in essence, was never in doubt after Glenbrook (23-1-2) — featuring nine AHAI all-staters — took a 4-0 lead midway through the second period on an unassisted goal by all-state forward Hannah Jensen, a junior at Regina Dominican in Wilmette.
Jensen would finish with a hat trick, as would teammate and all-stater Caitlin Schneider, a senior at Glenbrook South and a University of Wisconsin recruit. Schneider — “a gift to hockey,” Glenbrook coach Steve Hamelin gushed afterward — also delivered a pair of assists on the ice sheet used for home Chicago Blackhawks games.
“Our girls were awestruck about playing on such a stage, in this kind of atmosphere,” Hamelin said. “But only for a bit; our players settled down after a few shifts.
“This game,” he added, “was a spectacle.”
And Chobak (17-1-2) played spectacularly for most of it. Twice in the first period she faced a breakaway opportunity, with the puck at the stick of University of Vermont-bound forward Valerie Caldwell each time. A marvelous player who had entered the game with 25 goals and 13 assists in 21 games, Caldwell got denied by Chobak on the first rush and misfired to Chobak’s left on the second golden chance.
“Yeah, she was pretty amazing,” Caldwell said of Chobak, who saw some time at forward this winter when either sophomore Rachel Lugo (5-0 record) or junior Katie Thomas (1-0) was in goal.
“Their goalie,” LA senior Tess Dettling said, “was unbelievable.”
Chobak ended up with 29 saves, while Caldwell wound up with two goals. Dettling scored once.
But Chobak and her reigning Scholastic Cup champions never trailed by more than three goals in the contest.
“Her positioning, her ability to stay square when she faces shots — that’s what impresses me,” Hamelin said after his club improved to 3-1-1 against LA (18-5-3) in the 2016-17 season. “Jojo’s lateral movement is unbelievable. There’s a lot of confidence back there.”
There was also an abundance of firepower from Glenbrook’s attack.
Glenbrook junior defenseman Madison Itagaki, another all-stater, did a significant portion of the work on the first goal, controlling a free puck behind LA junior goaltender Tianna Lavalle and pivoting quickly to skate toward open space. She then centered the puck, which flew near a Loyola Academy player and Jensen.
It might have hit the LA player and bounced past Lavalle.
It might have hit the LA player, glanced off Jensen’s stick and bounced past Lavalle.
Jensen got credit for the tally.
“Fun — the whole experience today was fun,” said Jensen, the lone Regina Dominican student on a squad that is comprised mostly of Glenbrook North and Glenbrook South students. “How many other hat tricks do I have? I have no clue. I’m pretty sure, though, that I’m the first Regina hockey player to win a state championship, and that’s exciting.
“Jojo,” she added, “was great today. I don’t know how she does it, how she makes all of those great saves. She’s always on top of her game, always on the ball.”
The only Glenbrook player other than Jensen or Schneider to score in the title game was junior forward Chloe Carroll, whose goal (off a pass from Schneider) upped the lead to 5-1 with 9:33 remaining in the third period.
Sophomore all-state forward Lily Cataldo provided two assists, and sophomore all-state forward Katerina Poulos and junior defenseman Koby Wilcox had one assist apiece.
“It’s all about the girls,” Hamelin said. “Kudos to our girls. We tried to move the puck through the neutral zone and win the foot battles. Good hockey; you saw good hockey out there. I have so much respect [for Loyola Academy’s team]. We did make some mistakes, and you saw what happened: Loyola made us pay. Sure, we had leads on Loyola today, but I never felt comfortable with a lead; nobody from our team did.
“You can never feel comfortable with a lead on a team like Loyola’s,” the coach added.
Hamelin was standing in a United Center hallway and still wearing his “awestruck” face as he spoke. But he was also appreciative and thanked everybody he could think of, from his players to the players’ supporters to his assistant coach (Alex Botvinnik) to the Blackhawks’ organization to the press.
“This was such a great day,” Hamelin said. “The girls will remember it for the rest of their lives.”
Notable: Glenbrook forward Caitlin Schneider — one of only two seniors on the team — paced the squad in goals (30) and points (42), while sophomore forward Katerina Poulos finished with a team-high 24 assists. Glenbrook’s other senior, all-state defenseman Allie Karakosta, wound up with 15 goals and fours assists. … All-state sophomore Maddie Dunham led all Glenbrook defensemen in points (13 goals and 11 assists). … Glenbrook all-state goaltender Viola “Jojo” Chobak racked up 373 saves and allowed only 21 goals in 19 games for a puny 1.1 goals against average. Her save percentage was an exceptional .947. In two games as a forward, she scored a goal and assisted on another.
Kevin Reiterman contributed