During the Feb. 3 scrimmage at the outdoor ice rink at the Weinberg Family Recreation Center in Glencoe, no scoreboards were used and they were not illuminated to track goals.
But so what? At first, members of the Glencoe Bantam All-Stars 1974-75 state championship season junior ice hockey team kept count.
Then, after a few tumbles on the slippery ice, including Glencoe All-Stars Coach Jim Baird’s backwards fall that left icy dust behind Glencoe’s red jersey, what the hockey players were counting on was for a magical spell before perhaps another rude awakening leak We were far from land.
The fact that they were here in Glencoe, at these satellite coordinates, on this North Shore ice floe, was a point in itself.
These former champion players, now in their 60s, played ice hockey at a 50-year reunion in memory of their coach, Jim Baird, who is over 80 years old.
Many remember growing up playing ice hockey on a bumpy pond-like spot where the rink was deliberately flooded during the winter months so people could ice skate.
“We literally grew up playing here, all our little childhood, growing up, it wasn’t even an artificial rink,” said Glencoe Bantam All-Stars 1974-1975 championship season player Mark Chudacoff of Glencoe, New Trier East. High School Class of 1978. “We all grew up playing house league hockey here.”
Chudacoff said the reunion was an emotional moment.
Glencoe’s Jim Ginsburg, the Glencoe Bantam All-Stars 1974-1975 championship season team captain, helped plan the 50-year reunion. The friends were recruited to play on the opposing offensive team. The Bantam All-Stars wore red jerseys with their youth numbers and ultimately won the game.
Ginsburg recalled when the village created its traveling hockey program as part of an initiative to build a better ice rink.
“There were different age groups,” Ginsburg said, with the Glencoe All-Stars team representing the oldest group. “Glencoe was a small town and there were a lot of teams that weren’t successful in travel hockey.”
Despite this, the team would go on to win the 1974-75 state championship in the silver league.
“It was a strange year in that we had a talented group even though the program had support from a very small population,” Ginsburg added. “Many of us continued to play hockey in New Trier in the following years.”
The Glencoe program was merged with Winnetka a few years later, Ginsburg said.
“So to date, our team is the only Glencoe state hockey champion,” Ginsburg said.
Seeing her old teammates on Feb. 3 left Ginsburg feeling: “My heart is full, life is short, life is great, it’s great to see all her friends from back in the day. “You can never replace the friendships you made when you were young.”
The Illinois Amateur Hockey Association AA state tournament bantam division featured a group of teams from Highland Park, Naperville, Schaumburg, Carol Stream, Westmont, Rolling Meadows and Glenview. In 1975, Glencoe’s junior men’s team won the state championship by defeating Crestwood’s highly rated team at the Naperville ice arena.
The Glencoe All-Stars also played teams from Evanston, Niles, Deerfield, Winnetka, Wilmette, Skokie, Lake Forest, Northbrook and Kenosha that season.
Nearly 50 years later, Coach Baird took a team photo on the Glencoe ice with former team manager/assistant coach Bud Schwarzbach, 89, a 53-year Glencoe resident.
“Those guys were the craziest guys,” Schwarzbach said of that championship season. “It was really fun.”
75 percent of the team attended the meeting. As they greeted each other as they entered the makeshift locker room that night, many immediately recognized each other or gave names as clues.
“Oh, these guys… are you kidding me?” Baird said shortly before the team took the ice. “They are amazing and it is very exciting for me.”
Looking back on the championship game, “When we won, they celebrated and I was crying like a baby… yeah, I was crying like a baby,” Baird said. “It was very exciting, very exciting.”
Chudacoff said Baird is the best coach the team has ever had.
“He pushed us hard and taught us that hard work pays off and that became a motto for me.” Chudacoff also said, “From him (Baird) he learned: Quitters never win, and winners never quit. I still think about this team. “I never stop thinking about it.”
All-Stars player Steven “Rosie” Rosenstein from Scottsdale, Arizona, and a 1978 graduate of New Trier West High School flew in for the reunion.
“I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” Rosie said.
The Bantam All-Stars’ typed team roster shows Rosenstein as the only player from Wilmette and another from Winnetka. The rest were all from Glencoe.
“It was surreal, yes, surreal for all of us,” Rosenstein said of walking into the ice center and recognizing faces not seen in decades. Hugs, fist bumps and back slaps brought smiles.
“Just getting off the Dundee (highway) exit and just remembering the memories was special,” Rosenstein said. “We were kids, we were making mischief, we were hockey players.”
Bantam All-Stars player Dan Larkin of Lake Barrington grew up in Glencoe, three blocks from Watts Park.
Larkin was wearing a helmet reinforced with the original protective mask he wore as a player with the Glencoe Bantam All-Stars during the 1974-1975 state championship season.
What was it like to be back on the Watts Glencoe ice with the All-Stars?
“This is amazing,” Larkin said. “We call it the Track of Dreams.”
Karie Angell Luc is a freelance reporter for the Pioneer Press.