Nazareth goalie Kurek follows in her brother’s skates
11/10/2012 Darien Nazareth's goaltender Allison Kurek (45) stops a shot on goal during the game against Lyons on Saturday, November 10, 2012. | michael jarecki ~ for Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 19, 2013 1:00PM
LA GRANGE PARK — When junior Allison Kurek first approached Nazareth coach Derek Gordon about the possibility of playing on the boys hockey team, he was a bit hesitant.
“I asked her if she was sure she wanted to play high school boys hockey at this level and she said she did,” Gordon said. “I know girls can play hockey, but the boys dressing room is a sacred hall and that component was still there.
“I wrestled with that as a coach. That was something out of my control. I said I would do the best I could to make sure (the teammates) showed respect, but sometimes I’m not there in that atmosphere. She understood and was all in.”
It didn’t take long for Kurek, of Chicago, to earn their acceptance.
As a freshman, Kurek played on the JV and earned all-conference honors in the Metro Division.
The following season, she switched between the JV and varsity and enjoyed some success, before emerging as the team’s No. 1 goalie this season. She represented Nazareth Jan. 5 in the IHSHL Suburban girls all-star game.
“Hockey is just a great sport to play and to watch,” Kurek said. “It’s a lot of fun. Guys hockey is a lot faster, which I like.”
Kurek remembers always going to her older brother Bronson’s games when he was a goalie for the Roadrunners. He graduated in ’09 and now tends the nets for Augustana. She knew then that she wanted to follow in his footsteps.
“I just remember seeing how much fun he had playing,” Kurek said. “I wanted to try it and play for my high school.”
Kurek’s mother, Linda, wasn’t surprised by her daughter’s decision, but does have concerns about her safety at times.
“She really loves playing sports and she likes challenges,” Linda Kurek said. “Sometimes I get a little worried. Some games get rougher than others, but the referees do a good job of keeping control.”
Allison Kurek said her teammates embraced her from the start and having her brother go through the program eased the way.
“It was a change for the (guys), but I don’t think any of them minded,” Kurek said. “The guys are all nice and my brother helped me get ready for everything that I would (experience). He was excited to see how I would do.”
Gordon knew there would be some skeptics on the team, but wasn’t concerned about how she would be treated.
“The boys kind of scratched their heads about having a girl on the team, but after a while Allison fits right in,” Gordon said. “At the end of the day, the end result is what counts and she has done a good job. She competes as hard as anyone and they accept her for that.”
Kurek entered the week with a record of 4-9-1 with a 4.27 goals-against average. She’s saved 81 percent of opponents’ shots on goal, including a personal-best 42 saves in a game.
Kurek said some opponents are surprised when they see her on the ice, but hasn’t had any bad experiences.
“Sometimes I’ll be going to warmup and I hear people saying there’s a girl on the team,” Kurek said. “It doesn’t bother me and sometimes after the game they will come up to me and say I did a good job.”
If hockey doesn’t work out, Kurek has another sport where she’s opened eyes.
She also is a standout midfielder in lacrosse, having been selected to the 17-U U.S. National Team last season and also making the all-Illinois High School Women’s Lacrosse Association team.
She would like to play both sports in college.
“Allison is a very special athlete,” Gordon said. “She is so mentally strong. It’s been a pleasure to coach her in many ways. If her pot of gold is lacrosse, it says a lot about her character that she comes out and competes in a couple activities every day. She may come from lacrosse right to a hockey game, but she always gives 100 percent.”