When David Kellner and his St. Viator teammates skated off the United Center ice last March, they were devastated, 5-0 losers in the state championship game against St. Rita.
That was only the start of a most challenging run for a proud, prestigious program.
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When the 2012-13 season started, the Lions had lost about 10 players from their state championship run, and then endured a rash of injuries and suspensions.
The team started this season 0-15, with the lowest moment coming Oct. 7, in the team's third game of Scholastic League play, against Glenbrook North. The Spartans jumped out to an 8-0 lead after the first period en route to a 15-2 clubbing of the Lions, which could only field a roster of five forwards and three defensemen for a game against one of the top teams in the state.
"That (game) was rough; it didn't set the mood for the season that we wanted," said Kellner, a junior in his second season on the St. Viator varsity. "That definitely was our lowest point, and it's been uphill since then. We were most discouraged at that point and it probably set us back two months."
It wasn't until the Lions' ninth Scholastic League game that they tasted victory, but how sweet that win was: 3-2 in overtime over perennial power Loyola Gold.
St. Viator stands at 3-18-3 (12 points) in the Scholastic League, one point ahead of Glenbrook South for last-place, though the Titans have three league games still to play. The Lions have, though, defeated Loyola a second time, on Jan. 5, and followed that with a 4-3 win the next night over co-op Rockford.
Meanwhile, in the 10-team Catholic League, St. Viator is solidly in sixth-place with a 10-10-1 record.
"We had a great season with a great group of kids," last season, Kellner said. "This season started real slow. It was difficult to even have practice, given how many players we had. It took us a while to get going. A lot of the younger players were just pushed into action, with no one really to look at (for guidance).
"Personally, it was a struggle. To come off last season, where everything flowed and everyone was moving. We had high expectations for this season."
St. Viator has revived its season and certainly is not a cake-walk for anyone. St. Viator even defeated powerhouse New Trier Green 7-6 in overtime on Jan. 20, which was, arguably, the greatest game of Kellner's career. He had 3 assists and 4 goals, including the team's last three goals.
"The main difference in 2013 (as opposed to earlier in the season) is, we're competing with every team. And if you're competing against teams, anything can happen.
"I believe, and most of the boys believe (as well), that we could be peaking at just the right time coming into state playoffs," Kellner said. "It doesn't matter if a team beat us all season, if we peak right around playoffs like we believe we are, we can be dangerous."
Especially with Kellner on the ice. The right-handed shooting center has had an All-League (second team) season in the Scholastic League -- the only St. Viator player named all-league. He leads the Lions with 14 goals, 13 assists in 24 Scholastic League games, including 2 of the team's three game-winning goals.
Kellner also leads the Lions in Catholic League scoring: 18 goals, 16 assists in 21 games, including 4 game-winning goals.
"No coach, or team, could ask for more out of a player -- and gotten more -- than what we've gotten this season from David," said St. Viator coach Chris Lappin. "I doubt there's another high school team in the state that has had one player be so multi-dimensional."
Kellner has, you see, dropped back on defense for about 12 games this season, when needed. He also skates on the team's powerplay and penalty-kill units.
"Given our season, the fact David earned all-league honors in the Scholastic League is a true compliment to him as a player and a person," Lappin said.
Kellner, who lives in Elk Grove Village and also plays lacrosse at St. Viator, is truly enjoying the team's late-season run, particularly because he missed this stretch a year ago after suffering a severed hamstring tendon in a game against New Trier that put him on the sidelines for about six weeks.
"I think a lot of the stuff we've faced (this season) as a team has helped us become more confident, and hopefully that will lead to wins later in the season that some might not expect us to win," Kellner said.
Kellner and his teammates face Benet on Friday, Feb. 8, in one of seven weekend games played outdoors at Soldier Field. Gametime is 7 p.m.
"We're pretty pumped (for that game). It'll be unique, fun," Kellner said.
And what about the chill, er, cold?
"I'm not planning on changing anything just because (we're playing outdoors)," he said. "When you're playing, you stay pretty warm. In fact, I usually don't wear a (t-shirt) under my pads, but maybe I will if it's cold, maybe I'll throw on an Under Armour shirt or two."
High school hockey at Soldier Field
Here's a look at the high school games to be played outdoors at Soldier Field:
Friday, Feb. 8:
Latin vs. St. Ignatius, 3 p.m.
Evanston vs. Lincolnway, 5 p.m.
St. Viator vs. Benet, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 9:
Libertyville vs. Oak Park/River Forest, 12 p.m.
Mt. Carmel vs. Glenbrook South, 2 p.m.
St. Rita vs. Fenwick, 5 p.m.
New Trier Green vs. Loyola Gold, 7 p.m.