The fog machines were rolling. Players were introduced individually. Teams lined up for the national anthem. At a rink in Bensenville at the end of the 2002-03 youth hockey season, Ryan Hartman and the Crystal Lake Leafs squared off against Vinnie Hinostroza and the Chicago Blues.
Before they ever wore the same Blackhawks red, black and white, the duo battled for a title.
“I won like eight state championships,” Hinostroza said. “I think that’s one of the only ones I lost.”
Most memories of the game have been lost. The Leafs won, culminating Hartman’s lone season with the Crystal Lake-based program, which has since moved to West Dundee. Hartman joined the Chicago Mission, one of the top clubs in the state, the next season. He teamed up with Hinostroza while at the Mission, and the pair won several more state championships along the way.
For Hartman, the thing that stands out about that first state championship game is the extravagant entrance the players were given.
“That was pretty cool,” he said. “That’s the only real memory I have of that.”
Well, except for one other thing.
“We beat Vinnie,” Hartman said.
• • •
Hartman played hockey before he even started school.
Born in Hilton Head, South Carolina, Hartman’s family moved to West Dundee when he was 2. His father, Craig Hartman, remembers more about Ryan’s hockey endeavors than anybody. And in case he forgets, he keeps a timeline on his computer.
There is the year with the Leafs, the numerous years with the Mission, the time spent with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program in Michigan and two seasons with the Plymouth Whalers.
“His personality hasn’t changed at all since he was a kid,” Craig Hartman said. “He’s been the same since he was young. A lot of kids change through puberty and growing up. He’s been pretty steady.”
The things that stand out from the year with the Leafs include the Hartmans’ first trip to Canada and, of course, that state championship game.
Also playing with Hinostroza on the Blues in that game was Christian Dvorak, who now plays for the Arizona Coyotes. Dvorak was even a few years younger than Hinostroza and Hartman.
“Three kids playing in the NHL were playing in that state championship game,” Craig Hartman marveled.
During his year with the Leafs, Hartman played for coach Jack Rowe and alongside Rowe’s son, Jack Rowe Jr.
“We all hung out and had fun as kids and ran around and did kid stuff,” the younger Rowe said.
The Rowe family lives in Cary, and Jack Jr. attended Cary-Grove for part of his high school career, before he was drafted to play for the USHL’s Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. He now is a freshman hockey player at Arizona State.
Rowe also moved to the Mission after playing for the Leafs. He has since lost touch with Hartman, but remembers him as a talented kid.
“Our whole team that we played for, especially with the Mission, we were kind of a dynasty,” Rowe said. “We won everything. There were a lot of guys who were super good on the team. He was one of them, too. I think there were 10 or 12 guys from that team that went on to at least play [Division I college hockey].”
• • •
It could not have been more perfect.
The Hawks selected Hartman with the 30th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft. For the local kid, it was a dream come true. He came up through the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs before making his NHL debut with the Hawks in 2015.
“I grew up at the halfway point between Rockford and Chicago,” Hartman said. “We’re pretty lucky that they could pretty much make it to almost every home game. If it’s not my parents, it’s my grandparents, or it’s an aunt or uncle or a good, close friend. There’s always support in the United Center.”
Hartman’s parents attend as many games as they can. Ryan’s younger brother, Tanner, plays hockey, too, so the Hartman’s keep busy.
Ryan Hartman has played in 60 of the Hawks’ 65 games this season and has 15 goals and 11 assists. Craig Hartman was born in Garfield Park, and his family has owned a business not far from the United Center for more than 100 years.
“I guess (it’s) a dream come true,” Craig said. “It’s our kid, so it’s like going to see him play when he was a little kid. We just go see him.”
On a recent road trip through Colorado and Boston, the Hawks hosted their “Fathers Trip.” Craig, along with many other Hawks players’ fathers, accompanied the team on the trip.
“You go on the road so much, and we have our different rituals,” Ryan Hartman said. “I’m sure it was nice to see what I’m doing when I’m not around and kind of what my life is like, kind of like bring your kid to work day.”
Ryan Hartman credits his dad with starting him in hockey. When he thinks back on his early years – when he was playing with the Leafs, and even before that – he remembers always wanting to skate. On snow days, he would head over to the rink until his parents called him home.
There weren’t too many kids playing hockey in the neighborhood in those days. Back when the Hawks home games weren’t televised and the team missed the playoffs all but one year from 1998 to 2008.
Hartman and Hinostroza – along with Nick Schmaltz, who also played with the Mission – now are skating for their hometown team. If anything, it give hope to all the kids who tune in to Hawks games and can’t wait for a snow day so they can get out on the ice.
“There’s three of us here right now, so clearly it’s not impossible,” Hinostroza said. “It’s weird that we’re both here, roommates on the road, roommates at home, we don’t even fight that much.”
Even so, Hinostroza remembers what it was like to be in a different sweater than Hartman, on that long ago day when the fog machines were rolling.
“He was a tough kid, never afraid to get after guys or do stuff behind the whistle,” Hinostroza said. “It’s nice having him on your team.”
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