Springfield has long had a youth hockey program. Springfield youth hockey has been around since 1962, and played at Winterland, the Ice Chateau and at the NelsonCenter. The program has been quite successful and had many players pass through the organization. Most of their league play is with teams in Central Illinois and in the greater St. Louis metropolitan area. This requires a significant commitment by players and parents as well as coaches to commit to the travel that is required to play travel hockey. While this provided a great opportunity for the kids who wanted to play and travel, it did not provide them with the peer recognition that high school athletes in other sports get from their competition.
So in the St. Louis area, and in many other areas around the country, hockey has been organized at the high school level. Programs have grown in size and popularity quickly. In the Illinois Metro-East area a high school hockey program (The Mississippi Valley Club Hockey Association MVCHA) was started in 1995. They began their program with six teams. The league now has more than 30 teams playing in four different divisions (based upon ability). Our program, Lincoln Land High School Hockey has been modeled very similarly to the MVCHA. Officers for their league were gracious enough to share their years of development and expertise with us, so that we did not have to write by-laws and playing rules from the ground up. We have modified their rules slightly and adopted them almost in their entirety. For this LLHH owes MVCHA a big thanks!
Lincoln Land High School Hockey was formed as an Illinois not-for-profit corporation on April 26, 2001, not too long after it was apparent that the second sheet of ice at the Springfield Nelson Center would be a reality. The league was founded by Gary Wells. Gary in his other (outside of hockey) life, is a police officer with the City of Springfield. Gary has been with the police department for more than 25 years. In his hockey life Gary has been President of Springfield Youth Hockey Association, a head coach, an assistant coach, a referee, a board member of the Central Illinois Hockey League and a parent of hockey players, in fact, the only thing he hasn�??t done is run the zamboni. Other founding LLHH board members include: Dave Ryan, Howard Hilby, Kevin Daugherty, Mike Wallner, Bob Mill, Don Berecz, Jan Droegkamp, Bob Gordon, Andy Gordon, Rick Wiese, Ralph Caldwell and Ed Gvazdinskas. Each of these board members committed several hundred dollars of their own money, and a great deal of time, to make the league a reality.
Gary�??s idea to start high school hockey came from conversations with Peoria youth hockey parents. Their sons played together on the Capitol City Kings.. The Capitol City Kings were a Midget team coached by former Springfield Jr. Blues player Mike Adam�??s in the mid 1990�??s. Gary�??s idea was never able to come to be, because of the number of users groups in Springfield and only the one sheet of ice. There would have never been enough time for all of the ice-users at the NelsonCenter. However, with the second sheet of ice, there was time. On January 10, 2002 the first game of LLHH was played at the NelsonCenter. The season far exceeded anyone's expectations. The level of play was excellent, drawing crowds of 900 people on any given night. We received great media coverage from the local television station, Channel 20 WICS, and the local newspaper, The State Journal�??Register.
The league was originally composed of 6 teams, all taking the identity of a local high school. The teams were the Chatham Glenwood Titans(the only pure team), the Lanphier Lions, the Rochester Rockets, the Sacred Heart-Griffin Cyclones, the Springfield Senators, and the Southeast Spartans, Other than Chatham all of the other teams had players from other schools, with the named school representing a majority of players on each team. In the first season Chatham won the league, beating Rochester in the year end tournament. In the second season, Chatham again won beating Springfield High. In year three, it was the Lanphier Lions who tried but failed to unseat the Chatham Titans as league three-time champs.
In its second season, LLHH had conversations with MVCHA officials and entered into an arrangement where LLHH teams would play 2-3 home and 2-3 away games, as inter-league play with teams in the MVCHA. With the wide range of talent in MVCHA, LLHH teams matched up well and nearly all of the games have been very competitive, 2 to 3 goal games. For the most part, away games are played at either the East Alton Arena or the Fairview Heights Arena. This arrangement of inter-league play continues today. The arrangement is working well for both leagues.
The league entered its fourth season (2004/2005) with a changing look. The number of players in the Springfield area seemed to be diminishing due in part to some lean years with SYHA. There were not enough players to fill six teams, and it was apparent that one team would have to be dissolved. Since there were only a couple of players from the Lanphier hockey club, league officials decided that the Lanphier team would be dissolved. The board anguished over the decision to reduce the number of teams in the league, LLHH officials held meetings with hockey enthusiasts from Decatur and Bloomington. While there was a great deal of discussion that was necessary, by the start of the 2004/2005 it was apparent that the league would add two teams from the Decatur area and one from Bloomington. One of the Decatur area teams is from Mt.Zion, and they too, like the Chatham Glenwood team, are a pure team. The other team is a combined Decatur team. The Bloomington team was also a combined team. The two Decatur area teams play their home games at the Decatur Civic Center. Bloomington plays all of their home games in Springfield, as the community does not yet have an ice rink. Plans for a rink in Bloomington are complete, and there is an expected completion date of sometime in 2006.
While founding board members from LLHH were listed earlier, it is also only fair to note the visionaries of youth hockey from Decatur, Doug Schmaltz, and Bob Pflaum from Mt.Zion. And LLHH owes thanks to Dave Undekoffler and Ed Matejka, both working with the Mc Lean County Hockey Club. These gentlemen have an understanding of the importance of High School Hockeyand have worked hard in their communities to make it a reality. Thanks Guys!
The 2004/2005 season was completed and The Chatham Glenwood Team took the Lincoln Land Cup for the fourth year. League play in the 2004/2005 season consisted of 7 home games and 7 away games, along with a year-end tournament. In addition to the league play, four of the five, Springfield LLHH teams engaged in inter-league games with MVCHA teams. This again proved to be great competition for each of the teams.As we head into the spring of 2005, the board has already begun planning for next season
Updated here - 9/9/07. Well two more years past and this point finds LLHH now headed into the 2007-2008 season. The last two years league play was dominated by the Normal teams, in particular the Normal Ironmen who won the year end tourney both years, and the league regular season championship in 2006, while the Normal Wildcats won the regular season title in 2007.
As the season approaches we need to continue to look ahead. While the league has grown and become more professional, we still are in need of new players to come into the league and dedicated parents to work on building teams, and team realtions at the high schools. The original concept was to have all teams become pure teams (made up of players from the same school.) As a league this is still something that we wish to accomplish.
As we head into our seventh season we would like to thank all of the players who have passed through the league, all of the coaches and officials who have helped the league more ahead. We also thank all of the parents who have supported all of this over the years.