St. Rita Hockey Coach Looks to Retire on Top with State Championship

By Justin Breen on February 7, 2013 8:40am 

ASHBURN — You could call St. Rita High School's Craig Ferguson a hands-off hockey coach — literally.

Spanning 14 years of coaching at Mt. Carmel and St. Rita, Ferguson's teams have won 12 major trophies, including two of the last three state championships.

But Ferguson has never laid a finger on any of the hardware his teams were awarded.

"Trophies are for the kids, not for me," Ferguson said.

The coach, 51, is retiring following this season after guiding St. Rita to five straight Kennedy Cups, given annually to the Catholic League champions, and the two state crowns.

Ferguson is far more concerned with Thursday's Kennedy Cup playoff opener against St. Ignatius College Prep than he is with Saturday's once-in-a-lifetime outdoor game at Soldier Field versus rival Fenwick.

The game is part of the Hockey City Classic, a multiple weekend event featuring local high schools and four Division I university clubs, including Notre Dame.

"Saturday's game is just for everybody to have a good time," said Ferguson, an Oak Forest resident and Mt. Carmel graduate who will remain St. Rita's director of admissions. "And that's how we play."

St. Rita senior goalie Marty Napleton said he and his teammates call Ferguson "Herb," in honor of 1980 "Miracle on Ice" U.S. Olympic coach Herb Brooks.

Unlike Brooks, though, Ferguson has a carefree attitude and has been known to crack countless one-liners in the locker room.

"He's just a real funny guy," said senior center Chris Foley, 17, of Homer Glen. "And he knows what we need to do on the ice, and he gives us the tools to do it."

Foley said before Ferguson's arrival nine years ago, the Southwest Side school's program had dreaded playing elite Illinois prep clubs like New Trier Green, Loyola Gold and Glenbrook North.

"He's pretty much turned St. Rita into a powerhouse," Foley said of Ferguson, who coached Mt. Carmel to four Kennedy Cups and a state runner-up finish before coming to St. Rita, located at 7740 S. Western Ave. "Hockey's now one of the top sports at our school, and a lot of kids come here to play hockey."

 The St. Rita hockey team poses for a photo after winning the 2012 state championship at the United Center. Coach Craig Ferguson, standing far right, has led the school to two of the last three state titles.
The St. Rita hockey team poses for a photo after winning the 2012 state championship at the United Center. Coach Craig Ferguson, standing far right, has led the school to two of the last three state titles.
View Full Caption
St. Rita High School

That includes Napleton, a LaGrange resident who chose St. Rita over Fenwick because of the school's hockey program.

"Best decision I've ever made coming here," said the goaltender, who stopped 28 shots last year to blank St. Viator 5-0 in the state finals at the United Center.

It will take similar efforts from Napleton and a few breaks for St. Rita — which is ranked seventh in the state at 21-9-4 — to repeat as state champs.

Foley said prior to the season, Ferguson was adamant that the team not try to win a state title in his honor.

"But I'm sure everyone has it in the back of their minds," he said.

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement