Patrick Myers will be on emotional overload when he steps on the ice Sunday at the United Center for the state championship game against Rockford, winners of 15 of the past 16 Combined Division titles.
The 16-year-old sophomore from Hersey anchors the top offensive line for the co-op BG/H/W Stampede, which also features players from Buffalo Grove and Wheeling. He was second on the team in points in North Central Division play, only two behind linemate John Cappuccitti, and was the team's leading goal-scorer (33) in league play.
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Myers also scored the game-winning goal last Sunday, in overtime, in the Stampe's 3-2 semifinal win over Bartlett, pushing BG/H/W into its first-ever state championship game.
"That was one of the biggest goals I've ever scored," said Myers, who lives in Mt. Prospect. "That was one of the greatest hockey moments I have ever experienced. That goal was huge."
Myers passed the puck to center Cody Turcotte, who entered the offensive zone, and then passed it to Cappuccitti, who took a shot that hit the goalie's pads.
The puck then "went right to me, and I was in the right place at the right time," Myers said. "I made a move, waited for the goalie to bite on (the move) and shot it top-shelf (into the upper corner of the net)."
Myers' tally against Bartlett set off a wild scene on the ice at The Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville and in the stands, filled with family and fans from all three Mid-Suburban League schools -- just as happened twice a few weeks earlier, when the Stampede defeated rival Maine Township in the best-of-three series to capture the inaugural North Central Championship.
BG/H/W (40-6-2 overall, 35-2-2 in league play) lost the first game of that series 8-7 in a shootout, tied the series 5-2, and then secured the championship banner with a 4-3 win on March 2, played in front of a raucous, overflow crowd at The Glacier Ice Arena in Vernon Hills.
"We knew that was going to be a great series, really intense -- and it was," said Myers, nicknamed Patch.
The right-handed shooting Myers led the team with 5 game-winning goals in league play. He also had 1 short-handed tally and led the North Central Division with 9 power-play goals.
"Patrick is a very smart player who works hard and tries to find a seam for the pass," said BG/H/W coach Bob Wagner. "He's one of the special few sophomores who can make a big difference at the varsity level -- and he has. He will be a leader on this team for two more years."
Teammate Cappuccitti, who also attends Hersey, added: "He is a very skilled player. He may not be as fast as everyone else but he sure can stick handle better than anyone around. He has got such an accurate shot and can pick corners like it's his job. He brings spirit to the team when he scores. I love watching him celebrate and giving me a hug after he scores."
Myers, though, skates into the United Center with a personal anchor that weighs on his mind as much as when to blast his slapshot. His dad, Randall, 56, died last October from cancer.
"It's been a wild train ride. That was very hard for me to get over," Myers said. "It's so weird -- I kind of used (his death) as my fuel throughout the year. He was always around at hockey; that's what he loved to do, (be) at games and practices."
The team, naturally, has supported Myers unconditionally through the trying time -- and all showed up at a ceremony for the elder Myers wearing their team uniforms.
"They have been a huge support. That was (an) amazing (gesture)," Myers said. "I think about him every time I go out on the ice."
Sunday will be no exception, as Myers is dedicating the game to his dad.
"I have to -- he would have loved to have been at the game," Myers said. "I always took his advice, thought about what he said and tried to apply it to the game."
Myers played in a game for the Stampede the day of his dad's wake-- another tribute to his dad.
"Right there I knew Patch would be alright with everything and help out his brother and mom," Cappuccitti said. "This made him more confident in his game and made him realize to enjoy life, because it's too short.
"That's when his season really stepped up, scoring key goals."
The Rockford Icemen won 15 consecutive Combined Division state championships before falling to Waubonsie Valley last year. Rockford went 8-15-1 in the Scholastic Hockey League, yet still earned the No. 1 seed for the state tournament. The Stampede is No. 2.
"I think we can compete against Rockford; I think we have a good chance against them. But everyone really has to step up," said Myers, who tags himself, "more of a scorer than a passer; I love to score goals.
"I think I bring a good dynamic to the team. Due to my experience, I know the game and know what to do. I think I know what I'm supposed to be doing, where I'm supposed to be due to my experience."
The Stampede's road to the United Center started with an 11-0 win over Conant on March 10 and then, three nights later, a 4-1 win over the Latin School of Chicago.
Rockford, meanwhile, has had a relatively easy route to the finals, defeating Evanston 7-1, PREP 8-2 and Waubonsie Valley 6-1.
"The boys worked very hard to maintain this level for eight months," Wagner said. "We had five team goals this season: be (Mikita West) Division Champions, (North Central) League Champions, crack the state's Top 10 (rankings) and get to the United Center. Four down, (and) winning state will be No. 5."
But, Wagner added, "Rockford is a tough team, always. Our boys will have to play their best game to win. Win or lose, it's been a wonderful season with a great group of boys. Winning would only make it better."
A dominant season at that. The Stampede went 26-1-2 in the regular-season, only losing to co-op Libertyville. The Stampede scored 160 regular-season goals, second-most in the league, and surrendered only 39, fewest in the 21-team league.
"It's been amazing," Myers said. "At the beginning of the season, I never thought we'd be going to the United Center for the state championship game. At the start of the season, I knew we were going to be a good team, due to the depth that we had and, yeah, we knew that we'd be some sort of (state championship) contender, but I don't think any of us thought that we'd be playing Rockford in the state championship at the United Center.
"The key for us is, depth. We have four good lines that can pretty much skate with anyone, any team that we play. Plus, we all get along so well, play so well together."
High School hockey state championship game
No. 1 Rockford vs. No. 2 BG/H/W
Where: United Center
When: Sunday, March 24
Game time: 3 p.m.
Players to watch
BG/H/W: John Cappuccitti, No. 97, F; Michael DeSalvo, No. 88, F; Josh Guertler, No. 94, D; Mason Vamvakos, No. 89, D; Andrew Cole, No. 33, G
Rockford: Andrew Cropp, No. 62, F; Tom Breitfuss, No. 32, D; Adam Goethals, No. 3, F; Ryan Teagardin, No. 46, F; Emerson Colarossi, No. 35, G