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Loyola Gold takes pride in past, sees bright future

BENSENVILLE — Even with the imminent departure of 11 key senior players from this season’s team, the message Loyola Gold boys hockey coach DJ LaVarre delivered to his team was simple: The Ramblers don’t rebuild, they reload.

A tough 3-1 loss to Glenbrook North in the state semifinals ended Loyola’s 2013-14 season earlier than LaVarre and the team would have hoped. A trip to the United Center for a chance to win the state championship would have been next. Still, he said, the result doesn’t dampen what the team accomplished or impact what the future holds.

“I said thank you to the seniors. It’s easy to look at just the last game, but I say look at more than that,” LaVarre said. “I’m proud of the kids. They worked hard until the end.”

In order to reload, the Ramblers will need to replace several key players. The most important among the group departing is defenseman Cal Callahan, who was not only a key figure in protecting the Loyola net this season, but was also one of the team’s top offensive weapons.

Callahan, who was named the JJ O’Connor Male High School Player of the Year, credited much of his success to LaVarre and the system at Loyola, something that will not leave when the defenseman graduates.

“When we play our game and do what we are supposed to do, the team succeeds,” Callahan said. “We showed a lot of character this season.”

LaVarre was adamant that no matter who puts on the uniform, the Loyola Gold program would always be successful.

“The key to Loyola Gold is winning,” he said. “The kids coming in have to learn it, and the kids returning have to instill it, teach it. It starts from the coaching staff to the returners to the new guys. Will the program be good? The program will be good as long as Loyola Gold is around, and that will never change.”

With key forwards Nikolas Kropp, Ryan Hill and Danny O’Grady expected to return, the future appears to be in good hands. LaVarre said he’d think about the loss to the Spartans for 24 hours, then get focused on winning the 2015 state title.

“I think the ending to this year left a pit in our stomach,” LaVarre said. “We want to do something about it.”