When a fellow guest at the Blackhawk Alumni luncheon offered congratulations to Loyola hockey player Cal Callahan, he didn’t know why he was being singled out. There were more than a dozen other athletes being recognized by the association that afternoon. But as more people followed suit, the 18-year-old discovered he’d been named the J.J. O’Connor Player of the Year, an award given to the best high school player in Illinois. It was the high point of an already exciting day.
The humble 18-year-old from Glenview, who also plays lacrosse, has been on the ice since he was three, and recently finished his senior season on Loyola Academy’s Gold Hockey team. Callahan has amassed an impressive resume the past four years, including being named to the All-State and All-Scholastic teams his junior and senior years.
But the icing on the cake was the email that informed Callahan he’d been named to the Blackhawk Alumni High School All-Star team, an honor that included a two-day experience with the Chicago Blackhawks.
“I was pretty excited,” Callahan said. “I thought it would be a really cool experience. It’s definitely an honor to be selected to the team.”
The Blackhawk Alumni association, formed in 1987 by a group of retired Chicago Blackhawks players, annually honors Boys and Girls Alumni All-Star teams, chosen by a group of high school varsity coaches associated with the Alumni. The Association also awards three scholarships each year.
Callahan’s parents, Brian and Mimi, accompanied him to the Alumni luncheon in Oak Brook last month, where honorees and their families mingled with current and former Chicago Blackhawks players, owners and sponsors. The following day, honorees were invited to the United Center to watch a Blackhawks practice and tour the facility.
Callahan said the highlight of the experience was talking to current and former members of the organization, such as Patrick Kane, Jack O’Callahan and Kevin Magnuson, the son of former Blackhawk Keith Magnuson.
“They’re really nice,” Callahan said. “They were kind of in my spot, too, so they gave me some advice, and I know I can be in contact with them in the future.”
Brian Callahan, who’s been taking his son to Blackhawks games since he was two years old, was thrilled that he got the chance to glean advice from people who have been in his position.
“Grant Mulvey and Kevin Magnuson sat Cal aside [and] had all the time in the world for [Cal],” Brian Callahan said. “They were talking about college, where it could take him…talking more about life choices and how great of a setup Cal has.”
Callahan also shared the experience with his girlfriend, Erin O’Connor, who played hockey for Loyola’s girls team. Though this was her third time making the All-Star team, O’Connor was happy that Callahan was finally recognized.
“He’s a really hard worker, really dedicated to hockey,” she said. “He’ll give up on parties and his social life.”
Callahan’s high school coach, DJ LaVarre, agreed.
“This year he just grew leaps and bounds as a player and a person, which [the Alumni] take into consideration,” he said. “His work with the puck set him apart from a lot of other defenseman. When I first saw [that he received the honor] I was extremely gratified for him. He deserves it.”
While hockey isn’t in Callahan’s immediate future (he’s decided to play lacrosse at McGill University in Montreal), he said the experience with the Blackhawk Alumni Association was “once in a lifetime.”
“It was an awesome hockey experience that every kid wants,” he said. “I know I’ll always remember it.”