2020 IHHF Bio Series: Michael Svac

Michael was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania under a strong family and community influence of football … Steeler football, where black and gold ruled all sports in the burgh. But his love and passion for the game of hockey led him and his friends to the backyard driveways for street hockey or the frozen pond (aka “the swamp”) where he experienced broken ice more than once on those sunny days in late March. Growing up, he was glued to players that came to play with intensity and his favorites were Rick Kehoe, Stan Mikita and Dave “The Hammer” Schultz.

Michael was introduced to coaching hockey in the 1990’s where he and a friend started a player development program for the South Hills Amateur Hockey Association to help grow the sport in Western Pennsylvania. He coached his first hockey teams while in Pittsburgh, before transferring himself and his family to Chicago in 2000 for a leadership opportunity with GE Capital. With his wife, Kathy and three boys (David, Brandon and AJ),  they established roots in the western suburbs and immediately became integrated members of the local club hockey community, and seemingly spent every holiday at a rink somewhere in the country.

As a coach and volunteer in both club and high school hockey, Michael took on a variety of board and committee positions at two local district high schools, including President and Hockey Director for Waubonsie Valley Hockey Club, where the program achieved two Illinois State Titles at the Varsity level,  and one State Title at the JV level during his six years with the club. He continued to develop his coaching and administrative skills in hockey by achieving a USA Hockey Level 5 Coaching Certification, American Development Model (ADM) Coaching Certification and a Certification as a Hockey Director. He was also a recipient of several awards including AHAI’s Volunteer of the Year (2018) and Illinois West High School Hockey’s Presidents’ Award (2016).

In 2007, Mike was introduced to disabled hockey by his oldest son David, who was invited to volunteer as a Junior Coach for the Tomahawks Hockey Team, which focused on developing players with Special Needs. Mike credits his initial involvement to the Special Needs Program to his son David and Special Hockey coaches Steve Drews and Art Swanson, who convinced him to lace up the skates and join the disabled hockey community. From there, Mike was hooked, and with the support of Amy LaPoe (founder and long-time leader of Chicago’s Special Hockey Program), they introduced ADM training to the club, and found the model an excellent fit for developing hockey players with Special Needs.

Amy, along with JJ O’Connor (USA Hockey Leader for Disabled Hockey), became his mentors in disabled hockey. Eventually, in 2012, Mike assumed leadership of all disabled hockey for USA Hockey’s Central District, continued onward to accept an opportunity to lead Blind Hockey for the Chicago Blackhawks (2014), and hosted the largest Disabled Hockey festival in Chicago (2018).

One of Michael’s most memorable invitations came in 2018, when USA Hockey asked him to build and lead a Blind Hockey Team for the United States, which included recruiting, selecting, and training a team of visually impaired athletes to be ready to compete in future Paralympic games.

Although his sons have long since left the sport, Michael is still actively involved with coaching and leading the US Blind Hockey Team and Chicago Blackhawks Blind Hockey Program, leading Disabled Hockey for USA Hockey’s Central District, an active volunteer with Chicago Blackhawks Special Hockey Team, leading coaching clinics, and still finding time to sneak out on the weekends to play hockey with the boys (GBU Hockey Club and the Swedish Army).

Michael is very appreciative of all the volunteers and mentors that have been there for him during the past 20 years to make this all happen, and is truly grateful to have been adopted by the Illinois Hockey family that has devoted so much time and energy to give back to hockey players across Illinois – especially those hockey players with a disability. A special thank you goes to the leaders of AHAI, the Chicago Blackhawks organization and those that “wear the stripes,” because without all of you this is not possible. He also wants to thank his family for their ongoing support, having an opportunity to coach disabled hockey with all three boys, and for his wife Kathy, who has always been there to share the journey and his passion for hockey.

Illinois Hockey Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony Update

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we will not be holding an induction ceremony this year. We will be inducting this 16th class into the Illinois Hockey Hall of Fame on Sunday, January 30, 2022 at the Belvedere Banquet Hall in Elk Grove Village beginning at 5:00 pm. More information will follow when we get closer to the event.

“To honor the excellence of those individuals who, through their exceptional endeavors both on and off the ice, have contributed in an extraordinary way to enhance the sport and image of hockey in Illinois.”

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