IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Off the rink, away from the nets she protects as Loyola Academy’s hockey goaltender, junior Kayla Johnson likes to watch horror movies.
She saw It in a theater not too long ago. The flick, based on a novel by Stephen King, is about a not-so-friendly clown named Pennywise.
“I embrace the fear when I watch scary movies,” said Johnson, a first-year Ramblers goalie who lives in Wheeling and attends St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights (St. Viator does not field a girls hockey team).
Her biggest fear in a hockey game?
“Letting my teammates down,” Johnson said.
The 5-foot-11 Johnson did just the opposite in LA’s Quadheader clash with New Trier’s girls hockey club at Centennial Ice Rink in Wilmette on Dec. 3. Reigning Amateur Hockey Association Illinois (AHAI) state runner-up LA edged NT 1-0, thanks to Johnson’s saves and freshman Bryn Jones’ breakaway goal with 3:43 left in the second period.
“It can be very stressful, doing all you can to stop shots as your team’s last line of defense,” she added. “But that stress can be helpful, because it gets your adrenaline going. Hockey games, like some movies, can be thrilling.”
NT — which beat LA 4-3 on Oct. 3 and 3-0 on Nov. 19 — had entered the game with a 9-0 record.
“Our goalie played great,” first-year Ramblers coach Ralph Dynek said. “So did our lines, all four. Our ‘D’ corps … outstanding. We kept up with [NT’s] energy, and we adjusted well.
“We have a couple of great leaders in Caty [Cusick, team captain] and Kaela [Finegan], along with so many fine young players, so many talented sophomores and freshmen. Caty and Kaela do a good job controlling and encouraging their teammates.”
LA junior Gabriella Ciesla, an alternate captain, initiated her club’s scoring sequence with a deft maneuver under pressure near center ice.
“New Trier’s defense was pinching us,” said Dynek, whose other alternate captain is junior Jane O’Connor. “The best way to respond to that is to chip up, chip up, chip up.”
Ciesla “golfed” the puck over NT sticks, and Jones caught up to it before chipping it again, this time off a side board. Jones then raced some more, controlled the puck and approached NT goaltender Hayden Snow.
Jones’ shot flew to the northeast corner of the goal.
“We dictated the tempo really well against a team that has a lot of speed and ability to move the puck fast,” said Jones, who lives in Wrigleyville. “We just played hard, went hard to the puck.
“We passed well, too.”
New Trier, which had outscored its first nine opponents 45-12, did not let up a bit after the goal, relying on its collective speed and surplus of skills to prevent LA (7-3) from settling into any kind of comfort zone. NT senior captain Maureen McNerney was always a threat with the puck on her stick.
“Every team we play has four or five girls with ridiculous dangles (quick hands and exceptional stick skills),” Dynek said. “It’s really impressive, the number of outstanding hockey players we face each game.”
New Trier: New Trier first-year girls hockey coach Bill Brush succeeded Nelson Forsberg, a member of New Trier Green’s state championship team in 1999 and the Amateur Hockey Association Illinois (AHAI) Girls High School Coach of the Year in 2010. Forsberg guided NT teams to AHAI state titles in 2012 and ’14. Brush began coaching youth hockey in 1986 with his brother, Bob, in Glenview. They coached Glenview Stars boys teams for more than 12 years before Bill began to organize clinics and house leagues for girls. Glenview Stars girls teams (U10 and U12) won back-to-back state championships. His 2013 Girls U14 Chicago Young Americans club skated to a national championship in San Jose, California. Bill, a graduate of Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, and his wife, Liz, live in Mount Prospect. Brit Schneiders and Katy Shadek are serving at Brush’s assistant coaches. Their daughter, Abby, is a student and hockey player at Plattsburgh State College in New York.
Notable: Mike Fates and Jennifer Boniecki are serving as Loyola Academy assistant girls hockey coaches under head coach Ralph Dynek, whose daughters, Grace and Ivy, played for New Trier ice hockey teams earlier this decade. Ivy scored the game-winning goal in NT’s 3-2 double-overtime defeat of Loyola Academy in the 2014 Amateur Hockey Association Illinois (AHAI) state girls championship game at United Center … Flashback: LA, coached by Michael Glass in the 2016-17 season, fell 7-3 to Glenbrook in the AHAI state championship game at United Center in March. … LA’s current squad had won five straight games — outscoring its opponents by a combined 38-5 — before a 3-0 home loss to New Trier at American Heartland Ice Arena in Lincolnwood on Nov. 19. … LA senior captain Caty Cusick recently received Blackhawks ServICE Volunteer of the Month honors, along with two tickets to a Chicago Blackhawks home game that accompanied the recognition. … Quote-worthy: “She’s fiery out there, isn’t she?” — Ramblers coach Ralph Dynek, on LA freshman Caroline Smith, a speedy and fearless forward.