The Chicago Blackhawks winning ways are spreading through Illinois.
Hockey isn’t only being played in Chicago or bigger Illinois cities — it is spreading to smaller communities, including ones in the Illinois Valley such as Oglesby and Spring Valley.
“I think it’s pretty cool, I mean, we all have a passion for the game and we like to get out here on the ice,” said Joe Pyszka, 19, from Dalzell and a St. Bede graduate. “I just think it’s pretty cool that we have a spot to actually do it around here. It’s also nice in the winter to be able to come outside, not just be stuck in a gym.”
Pyszka and other St. Bede graduates such as Alex Niewinski, Billy Pryde and Adam Burgess meet at the rink in downtown Oglesby — in its third year of existence — to play pickup games with groups as big as 10.
Hockey is selectively offered during the allotted times of Tuesday and Thursday 3-5 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to noon, but can also be played at other times as long as there isn’t anyone else on the ice for safety precautions.
The sport also is available at Echo Bluff — located outside of Spring Valley on Highway 29 — from 3-7 p.m. on Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday.
Since no local high schools, recreational centers or outside organizations such as AAU offer hockey, people who want to experience hockey are forced to learn how to skate and play the game on their own.
“Pretty much we just learned out here, with each other,” said Burgess, 19, from Utica. “Out here we get after it and go as hard as we can. We teach each other a couple of skills every once in awhile and go on from there.”
Anthony Anniballi, a former NHL player and Peru resident, is a big backer of the hockey movement and wants to see more people in the area want to learn how to play hockey because the sport guided him in the right direction.
“Like any other kid, I could have probably gotten into trouble growing up,” said Anniballi, who is a Toronto native. “Hockey kept me with my family and out of trouble, out of the malls and out of the troubled areas.”
Anniballi was signed by the Philadelphia Flyers as an undrafted free agent and traded to the Detroit Red Wings in 1982.
Since then he has played all around the world and is currently traveling an hour and a half to play on the Bolingbrook based team in the Adult Hockey Safe League.
He hopes things will develop where aspiring players won’t have to travel as far to play.
“I hope to see a Tri-City Community team in the next 10 years,” Anniballi said. “I would love to see La Salle, Peru, Ottawa, Princeton — that whole area — get a little rink built. Start outdoors, eventually put a roof on it — just get a little rink built.”
At the rate at which the Oglesby rink is being used, the idea is not out of the question.
Oglesby Park Department director Bob Ghighi said this year is the busiest the rink has been because the weather is agreeing more this winter than it has in the past. This is the first year the rink was opened before New Years.
However, the lesser headcount was only because of Mother Nature, since there was a large demand for the ice rink and hockey.
“Basically, it just brings a unique sport to the area. It lets the kids come out and play instead of sitting and playing their video games,” Ghighi said. “It’s something different a lot of towns around here don’t get to do.”
Until there is an official rink, hockey enthusiasts will continue to go to Oglesby and Echo Bluff because it is yet another sport to master, it’s enjoyable for all ages, all genders and it’s the wintry thing to do.
“That’s the main thing, it’s a fun sport to play during the winter,” Burgess said. “You can’t go outside and play football in the snow — well, you can — but hockey is actually made for winter.”
Brandon LaChance can be reached at 220-6995, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_LaChance.