Hayden Wieczorek is pretty much a miser when it comes to giving up goals.
Sharing the limelight? He’s got no problem with that.
The New Trier Green goaltender, who has become very proficient at tracking the puck and protecting the net, was not so tightfisted, when it came to crediting one of his teammates — fellow goalie Scott Foster — following his team’s 4-2 Amateur Hockey Association Illinois (AHAI) Blackhawk Cup state championship win over Providence Catholic at United Center on March 17.
“I couldn’t ask for a better goalie partner than Scott Foster,” said Wieczorek, who was between the pipes for the entire 51 minutes. “He’s a great guy.”
The two puck stoppers definitely were in this together.
“We’ve got a secret handshake at the end of games,” said Wieczorek, adding that they follow up their concealed exchange with “a double tap and a salute”.
Cloak without the swagger.
Wieczorek and Foster ended up being an amazing 1-2 punch for New Trier Green (67-9) this season. Wieczorek, a junior, was credited with 34 wins to go along with .911 save percentage. Foster, a senior, finished with 33 wins and a .892 save percentage.
And this tandem was tight — until the very end.
“Scott told me [before the final period] to have fun, stay focused and enjoy the moment,” said Wieczorek.
Easier said than … done.
The Celtics, who have a couple of high-powered, all-state forwards in Jacob Rott and Jake Vennetti, put together a full ambush on Wieczorek early in the third period of the state-title game. The prized duo worked a breakaway to perfection to cut Green’s lead to 3-2 with 13:32 left in regulation.
Things had become taut, tenuous.
Heightened drama on ice.
Get prepared for a frantic finish.
“I just tried to stay calm, cool and collected [after that goal],” said Wieczorek.
The air eventually went out of the building, when New Trier Green’s Michael Graham slid a puck into an empty net from long range with 28 seconds left.
Hear UC’s yacht-like horn blare.
Prepare for impact.
Hockey celebrations have a way of converging on the suspecting winning goalie, and this one was no different. After tossing his helmet and trying his best to brace himself, the 5-foot-10, 160-pound Wieczorek soon found himself under a 21-player pileup at 1901 W. Madison Street.
“For a moment there, it didn’t feel so good [getting hit by all those bodies],” said Wieczorek.
“But I can’t wait to see the video of it.”
No doubt, Wieczorek liked what the cameras caught. He finished the game with 25 saves, including nine in the final period.
Such stellar play has become the norm for Wieczorek. Despite being small in stature, he turned into a big-time goalie this winter.
Entering the state final, he should have been overshadowed by Providence’s powerhouse goaltender, Ryan Iaciancio, a two-time all-state selection. But that simply was not the case.
Wieczorek is not flashy. He doesn’t have to be, according to his goaltending coach, Zach Drane.
“He’s got hockey sense,” said Drane, assistant director with Good as Gould Goalie School, based in Naperville. “He’s not big, but he makes up for it with his positioning. He doesn’t overplay stuff. With the way he plays, he actually makes the net smaller.”
“And he’s very focused,” Drane added. “He tracks the puck well, and he realizes his options and makes reads the way a quarterback does in football.”
The “want” to excel is also big with Wieczorek.
“He’s got great determination,” said Drane. “He called me over the summer and asked me what it would take to be a successful goalie [for New Trier Green].”
Stepping into that role with a senior-dominated NT Green, which has won 14 state titles since the 1982-83 season, was not an easy deal. In fact, it could have been a deal breaker.
“There’s a lot of pressure being a goalie for NT Green,” Drane said. “But he’s handled it. He’s strong-minded. He believes in himself.”
Wieczorek, a former lacrosse goalie, continues to refine his skills.
Stick saves are commonplace with him. He’s become real good at redirecting the puck. And Wieczorek said that he has Drane to thank for that.
“A lot of high school goalies use their pads as a crutch,” said Drane. “But not Hayden. He uses his stick to his advantage.”
Wieczorek made several stick saves against Providence.
“I hadn’t been using [stick saves] in the past couple of games,” said Wieczorek. “But I went back to them tonight.”
Also helping his cause was facing forwards like Tommy Cahill (64 goals, 61 assists), Jack Raith (55 goals, 64 assists), Charlie Burton (41 goals, 62 assists), Michael Graham (51 goals, 51 assists), Matthew Mulhern (44 goals, 43 assists) and John Huber (36 goals, 42 assist) on a regular basis.
Intimidation was not a factor.
“Going against my teammates in practice, I’m pretty used to seeing hard shots coming at me,” said Wieczorek.
His work ethic didn’t go unnoticed.
“He’s really dialed in at practices. Takes it seriously,” Burton said. “He’s always looking to perfect his game.”