Vernon Hills hockey coach in the Female Coaches Spotlight

In 2020 the NHL Coaches Association started the NHLCA Female Coaches Program to support the development of female hockey coaches down to the grassroots level.

That’s where Charice Paoli has excelled for more than a decade at Glacier Ice Arena in Vernon Hills.

Lead supervisor and head coach of the Little Blackhawks program at Glacier and all introductory hockey initiatives there, Paoli in March was included among 85 female hockey coaches worldwide in the NHLCA program’s Female Coaches Spotlight.

It’s a group that includes Illinois Olympian Megan Bozek and women in positions with the Nashville Predators, Seattle Kraken, Vegas Golden Knights and Washington Capitals.

Paoli certainly one day would like to attain a spot with a franchise like that. As the sole female hockey coach at Glacier for the past 14 years, however, her role is arguably more important and at the heart of the Female Coaches Program.

“I have been doing important work in building the foundation for children who want to learn how to play hockey,” she said. “Children start skating with me as young as 3 years old, and to build that foundation is so important to the success of growing the game.”

Paoli is part of a Glacier staff that includes former NHL player Mike Brown and former Chicago Wolves player Libor Ustrnul.

“Those guys are phenomenal, and to be at their level and to be honored by the NHL is a dream come true,” Paoli said. “I love the sport so much, and it makes me feel such pride to coach children who would potentially be playing in the NHL.”

One player she coached, Vernon Hills’ Kayleigh Dunford, just helped the Chicago Mission’s Tier I Under-14 girls team win a national title Sunday in Florida.

Also from Vernon Hills, perhaps Paoli’s career path was destined when she attended Lake Forest Academy, the sole Illinois high school with a hockey rink on campus.

She played hockey there but not at Lake Forest College, where instead she ran cross country, played softball and worked hard toward her elementary education major.

She taught for nine years in elementary schools in Wilmette. In hockey she’s made up for lost time by continuing to play in an adult men’s league at Glacier Ice Arena.

Paoli said she’s happy coaching at the “foundational level” but eventually would like to join an NHL or AHL franchise. She’s done lots of research on the mechanics and biology behind skating, and said working with a professional organization as a powerskating coach “would be a blast.”

Some women who do join Paoli in the Female Coaches Spotlight. But for her it would mean less time at the rink with her young skaters, the majority of them boys who recognize committed coaching, not gender.

“It’s wonderful to see how receptive the boys are,” Paoli said. “They don’t see me as the girls coach or the female coach, they don’t look at me as just a girl. There’s a great deal of respect I have at Glacier.”

Former Blackhawk and current Detroit Redwing Patrick Kane with Charice Paoli at the 2019 Jeremy Roenick Hockey School at Glacier Ice Arena in Vernon Hills, where Paoli is a youth hockey coach. Courtesy of Charice Paoli

Hilby did it

We reported last week on Aurora Central Catholic senior Patrick Hilby, who ran the nation’s fastest 800-meter time this indoor season. On March 10 he went 1 minute, 48.47 seconds at the New Balance Indoors National meet in Massachusetts.

Last Saturday Hilby won the invitational 800 at the Arcadia Invitational in California, at 1 minute 49.47 seconds. Grayslake Central senior Trey Sato placed fourth at 1:50.71.

There’s a nice recap of Illinois runners at Arcadia at MileSplit Illinois.

Back in action

We’ve had our fun with the sun and the moon. Let’s talk about the stars.

Back for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, a senior all-star boys basketball game between players from the Chicago Catholic League and the East Suburban Catholic Conference will be held at Dominican University’s Igini Sports Forum in River Forest at 7 p.m. Friday.

ESCC all-stars include St. Viator’s Mitch Humphrey and Benet’s Patrick Sulaver and Patrick Walsh. Marian Catholic’s Rick Romeli is head coach, assisted by Benet’s Gene Heidkamp.

CCL stars include St. Francis’ Kelton McEwen, Marmion’s Evan Stumm, IC Catholic’s Jake Gallagher and Loyola’s Miles Boland. St. Francis’ Erin Dwyer is head coach with assistance by Loyola’s Tom Livatino.

“There’s not a lot of coaching that goes on in these games,” Dwyer said. “It’s still going to be a competitive game. Both teams want to win.”

A neat thing is players will wear their schools’ respective uniforms. The game will be played under NCAA rules of a 30-second shot clock and a 22-foot 3-point arc.

Heidkamp said the CCL-ESCC All-Star Game was held for decades until the pandemic interrupted it.

“I’m glad that we’re playing again. It’s been a game that’s had a lot of tradition, and it’s one of these things where I’m excited to get it going again,” he said.

The Benet coach said college coaches will be scouting this game looking at uncommitted players. Admission is $5.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Dwyer said. “Anytime you have a chance to coach that much talent it’s really cool.”

Even their backups are elite

Last fall Loyola Academy senior quarterback Lucas Holubar backed up junior Ryan Fitzgerald for the Ramblers’ unbeaten Class 8A champions.

Holubar completed 45 of 62 passes for 392 yards and 2 touchdowns.

He was among the 30 members of American Football Worldwide’s High School Select Elite Team, coached by former Augustana coach Jim Barnes, that on March 30 played Italy’s 19-under national football team.

It’s the 11th time the Elite Team has gone abroad for friendly competition and an educational tour.

Holubar got the Americans off on the right foot toward a 34-2 victory. On his second series Holubar threw for a 12-yard touchdown pass. He finished completing 7 of 13 passes for 116 yards and 2 touchdowns.

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