Gabriel D’Amico knew from the beginning his Geneva Cyclones club hockey team was something special.
D’Amico, a St. Charles North junior forward on the U-18 team, achieved team accolades and a near-storybook ending that took about eight years to build. It ended in a trip to San Jose, California, to play in the USA Midget 18U Tier II Hockey National Championships in April.
After winning four games and advancing to the national quarterfinals for just the second time in program history, the Cyclones lost in the semifinals to Team Ohio in a 3-2 shootout, earning a bronze medal.
“I knew that we had a good team from the prior year,” D’Amico said.
“That entire week of games and being together in the hotel ... that was one of the best times of my life,” D’Amico said of the trip to California. “We just got so close in that tournament and we did so well as a team on the ice, off the ice. We just had a blast.”
Some teammates have played with one another since they were 8 years old; most for five or more years.
“There are so many words to describe what these young men have gone through and accomplished all year,” Cyclones coach Mike Breslin said. “You don’t find a group like this too often.”
A 23-6-1 regular-season record in the Central States Developmental Hockey League was only the beginning.
“The way we started our season was scary [as] our first trip [on Sept. 29] to Colorado we were 1-2 [in] league play,” Breslin said. “Players had trouble adjusting to elevation, breathing and orbital migraines.
“The following weekend, we swept Affton [3-0], also in league play. They were ranked No. 1 at the time.”
The wins over Affton jump-started the Cyclones’ seven-game winning streak from Oct. 5 through Oct. 27. The team won six games in a row from Nov. 18 through Dec. 16 to set the Cyclones up for success later on.
Marmion senior Jacob Carlson played a huge role offensively, scoring a team-high 26 goals with 21 assists during the regular season. Zachary Pearce followed with 24 goals and 16 assists, while Zach Lupori had 20 goals and 19 assists.
In net, the combination of Marmion senior Nick Greco and Reid Peterson proved stingy. Greco allowed 34 goals in 15 games for a 2.27 goals per game average in the regular season; Peterson, who went 11-1 in net, allowed just 20 in 13 games for a 1.54 average.
In the CSDHL playoffs, the Cyclones beat the Naperville Sabres 5-1 in the championship game.
The Blackhawk Cup Illinois state hockey tournament followed, where the Cyclones emerged victorious in the final, a 3-1 victory over the Highland Park Falcons to finish a 4-0 run.
The Cyclones’ win over the Falcons in the final was a reversal of last year’s result.
“It was such a big moment,” D’Amico said of the Blackhawk Cup win. “It was such an emotional game. It was probably one of the best moments of my life, honestly.”
By winning the state final, the Cyclones earned the invite to nationals.
The season result, a combined 48-10-2 record, was success to appreciate, and D’Amico and the Cyclones relished it along the way.
“There were so many times where we enjoyed the moment,” D’Amico said. “And definitely knew we were good, but we knew we had a lot more to go [throughout the season].”