Seven rising young hockey stars from the New Trier area can call themselves champions after helping Chicago Mission boys hockey teams — four with 14U and three with 16U — to titles in the USA Hockey Tier 1 National Championships.
The Chicago Mission is a AAA youth hockey organization.
The 14U championship on April 5 in Fifth Third Ice Arena in Chicago featured a comeback victory for the Mission, which rosters students from New Trier High School and Loyola Academy.
After falling behind 2-0, the Mission raced back, scoring the last three goals for the victory against Shattuck-St. Mary’s from Minnesota.
Ethan Baker (Wilmette) and Jake Hutchen (Winnetka) attend New Trier, while Asher Barnett (Wilmette) and Cole McKinney (Lake Forest) go to Loyola. All four play significant time for the travel team that played approximately 80 games this season and won near a handful of championship honors.
“Those are four of our biggest players in the playoffs,” Mission U14 coach Christian Humra said of the North Shore contingent. “It was really awesome to see.”
A message that Humra preached all season resonated with his team in the championship final.
“Our coach, he always tells us all season, ‘stay consistent, keep consistent and keep on working,’” Hutchen said. “We know that when we’re playing good we are the best team in the country and we took over the second and third period and absolutely dominated them.”
Hutchen said it was McKinney’s goal that helped Mission bring home the title.
“When Cole scored that goal to make it 3-2, we rode that momentum the last 7 minutes,” he said.
Humra has coached Hutchen for over a handful of years and also coached his brothers. He’s also coached Barnett for a good deal of time as well. He lauds McKinney (forward) and Hutchen (forward) as among the best players in North America at their respective positions.
He noted that his first year coaching Baker yielded surprising results, as he stepped up a level in terms of the level he played on.
“He was honestly probably the biggest surprise out of all of them,” Humra said. “He scored a lot of goals late in the season. At nationals he probably scored at least half of the games. He was a big key for us.”
It wasn’t always an easy road for the Mission. After a scorching hot string of months to start the season, injuries piled up. Hutchens sustained an MCL sprain that kept him out of late-season games. Only with physical therapy was he ale to return to the ice for the final six games in the national championship tournament.
“I think we were 68-2 and then we went to (about) 70-10,” Hutchen said. “We lost a bunch of games in a very short amount of time. … Everyone was down on themselves. We lost regionals. We won state, lost regionals and got a bid to nationals.”
In the regional round, the Mission fell to a team from Green Bay (the Gamblers) that they later went on to see in the semifinals of the national tournament.
Hutchens scored when the Mission squared off with the Gamblers the second time.
The Mission were rolling once they won the first game of the national tournament.
“I think that once we got in I think we got that first win for the tournament I think … we remembered how good we were and how we can win games,” Hutchen said.
The winning is the goal and is special, but so too are the bonds formed between the teammates.
“I’ve known these guys basically since I started playing hockey,” Barnett said. “They’re like my brothers.”
And when you put those things together …
“It was pretty surreal,” Barnett said. “I mean we all wanted that moment since the start of summer. We’ve all been working toward it and I think we’re all just excited even after a rough start to climb back.”
The 15-Only Mission feature three local talents — Bobby Bartell (Winnetka) Charlie Pardue (Winnetka) and Charlie Arend (Wilmette), who are sophomores at New Trier High School — and won the national tournament on April 5 in Plymouth, Michigan.
The Mission bested Shattuck—St. Mary’s 4-1 in the championship; it was the second time Mission had topped the storied program in the tournament.
“It’s not an easy task to beat Shattuck twice in the same tournament,” 16U Mission coach Michal Pivonka said in a press release. “I’m so proud of my guys, we had a rough ride with them early in the season but when we beat them in the round robin, they got it, it showed that we can take them on. I told them that we’ll probably see them in the final if we make it, and that’s what happened.”