Northern Illinois University club hockey forward Rob Bock dresses in the same Fox Valley Ice Arena stall now as he did during his developmental days.
Bock suited up for Geneva-based Cyclones Hockey then, and has since sprouted into a strapping 6-foot-2, 230-pounder. His growth only partially explains the occasional tight squeeze in the Huskies’ locker room, though.
“It’s mostly because of the actual number of bodies,” Bock said.
Several of the Huskies’ opponents this weekend know the Fox Valley digs, too. Mid-American Collegiate Hockey Association Division II foe Iowa, which faces NIU at 8:30 p.m. today and 5:30 p.m. Saturday, features four players who also were Cyclones once upon a time.
“Way back, the arena used to have an arcade in it that was pretty huge. We used to run around in there,” Hawkeyes club president and right wing Mike Purcell said. “Other than that, it’s pretty much always the same when you walk in, which is nice.”
Bock, Purcell and Iowa forward Derek Quinn are St. Charles North products who grew up in close proximity to one another. Bock guessed one friend’s home was a 30-second walk. The other commute took a minute.
Naturally, there was plenty of street hockey in their after-school itineraries. The games offered a welcome break from the sport’s usual structure.
“We all just kind of played offense and skated around,” Purcell said.
Batavia also will be well-represented this weekend, with NIU forward Nick Gorczyca opposing Iowa counterparts and fellow former Bulldogs Alex Martin and Nathan Podraza.
Tickets cost $6 per game for adults, $4 for high school and college students and $2 for children age 3 to 13. NIU students are admitted free.
The Huskies have played home games at the Rockford Ice House, Seven Bridges Ice Arena in Woodridge and Leafs Ice Centre in West Dundee since the mid-1990s. The program’s return to Fox Valley last season seemed to pay early dividends.
“It was nuts a couple times last year,” Bock said. “We get a pretty good fan base coming out, which is fun. A lot of parents, sure, but a lot of friends and sometimes we’ll get students out there, too.”
Or, in this case, old friends.
Holiday road: Purcell summarizes his club president duties as “a lot of organizing,” tasks that include but are not limited to securing rink time, referees and overseeing teammates’ absence forms if the Hawkeyes play a Friday road game.
This weekend figures to be more laid back than others.
With 14 of Iowa’s 22 players hailing from Chicago suburbs and Thanksgiving break looming, Purcell did not have to charter a bus or book a hotel. Those players not from Illinois will stay with teammates, Purcell said.
• Kevin Druley is a sportswriter for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @kevindruley.