O'Fallon: Sports

O’Fallon Panthers Hockey Club to play in new conference

Defenseman Jackson Winkler, a junior, and forward Jack Wallace, a senior, will be key players for the O’Fallon Varsity Hockey program this season. The Panthers, who are moving from the Mississippi Valley Club Hockey Association to the Mid-States Suburban Conference this year, went 15-5-1 in 2017-18.
Defenseman Jackson Winkler, a junior, and forward Jack Wallace, a senior, will be key players for the O’Fallon Varsity Hockey program this season. The Panthers, who are moving from the Mississippi Valley Club Hockey Association to the Mid-States Suburban Conference this year, went 15-5-1 in 2017-18. Provided

After 22 years in the Mississippi Valley Club HockeyAssociation, the O’Fallon Varsity Hockey program will have a new home in2018-19.

O’Fallon now will compete in the Mid-States SuburbanConference, a move coach Jason Power is excited about.

“The move of our varsity team to Mid-States is a huge move,not only for our program, but for hockey on this side of the river,” Powersaid. “We began discussing the possibilities of the move (over the course oflast season), and Mid-States was eager for us to join with our reputation bothon and off the ice. We first polled our incoming senior class and there was anastounding ‘yes’ in favor for.”

An added bonus, Power noted, is the Mid-States operates a Bdivision for players as young as seventh grade.

“So, essentially, think in terms of a junior high division,”he said. “This was important for us as well, as it allows us to bring kids intothe program culture early and wear the city colors on ice as they do in othersports (football, for example, with the Little Panthers). The goal with thisis, hopefully in 10 years, we can split that team and have Fulton and Carrielsquads.”

Other conference foes will all per from Missouri. They includeEureka, Lafayette, Lindbergh, Marquette, Parkway West, Parkway South, RockwoodSummit, and Seckman.

Of joining the Mid-States, Power said he most looks forwardto facing new opponents.

“To be honest, it’s a new challenge,” he said. “New opponentscreates new opportunities, and it will without question be an adventure.”

The Panthers will unveil a new uniform thisseasonand are already gearing up for the 2018-19 campaign, as they have begunteam workouts and summer skates. In August, the team will increase the regimentto multiple practices weekly both on and off the ice, Power said.

“I really push for our players to be athletes first andhockey players second,” said Power, whose team went 15-5-1 last season. “Iencourage participation in other sports as it helps in their total physicalliteracy. It was nice to take a few months off the ice collectively and thenget back together.

“You can see players who just needed some time off and arenow getting their juices flowing again… That’s very important.”

As far as registration for 2018-19, Power said, “We haveidentified all the players in our area, but if a family moves to town (military),per USAH rules, we have until the fall to add them, thankfully.”

The O’Fallon hockey program started in 1996-97, with Powerserving as a team captain that year and the next. He joined the coaching staffas an assistant for the 1999-2000 season and helped until 2004.

He later returned as the head coach from 2007-11 beforeleaving to coach the North American Hockey League (Juniors Tier 2). Runningfull circle, Power resumed head coaching duties last season.

“My goal is, and always has been, to create better young menand women for the future,” he said. “Our program culture is built around that.We encourage players to just trust the process and fortunes will come. We trynot to put high bar goals on the players but instead encourage effort everyshift and be creative… We find that with that model success comes.”

The O’Fallon program is a separate entity from the highschool and operates independently, as the IHSA does not yet recognize icehockey. However, Power said OTHS and District 203 Superintendent Darcy Benwayfully support the program.

“We have a ‘club’ on campus, and we are allowed to promoteevents,” he said. “Superintendent Benway is a big hockey fan, and supports ourprogram as well. We communicate often regarding player and teamaccomplishments.”

Power also lauded the overwhelming support communitybusinesses provide the program.

“We have a strong program and incredible community supportas far as hockey,” he said. “It feels like each week another new business hopson board which is fantastic. In 23 years, I have never seen the support likewhat the program has now from both the school and community.”

Not to be forgotten, Power also praised his coaching staff,including off ice condition coach Dan Jordan, whose oldest son Zach is a formerO’Fallon hockey player currently playing NCAA Division I.

“Dan has been just an incredible value for the program,”Power said.

Other staff members include program alums who Power said allserved in leadership roles as players: Ben Leonard, class of 2002 and atwo-time captain; Bill Shacklady, 2005, captain; and Alex Pennebaker, 2009, alternatecaptain.

“They have all worked tirelessly to make this program topnotch,” Power said. “They get it, as they all wore the colors and walked thehalls of the same school.”

Finally, former player Ryan Boeck joins the staff thisseason. He was an alternate captain in 2017-18.

“We are excited to add Ryan to the staff,” said Power, whoseteam plays its home games at the McKendree Metro Rec Plex. “He’s an incrediblehockey player, and Ryan will be instrumental in helping coach the youngerplayers on the B team and working skills with the older players.”

Needless to say, Power views his staff as a key asset.

“Having a staff this size and with local ties to the clubhelps as we tend to think along the same lines and work together,” he said. “Ourplayers recognize it as well and many have expressed interest in coming back tohelp coach in the future. And, to be honest, that is what we want — a solidprogram culture that represents the city of O’Fallon.”

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