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Hockey standout Mary DeBartolo

debartoloMary DeBartolo began ice skating when she was 4 with her brother, Joey, at the Southwest Ice Arena in Crestwood. But learning how to figure skate, like other girls her age, wasn’t Mary’s cup of tea.

Her oldest brother, Anthony, played hockey at Southwest. And Mary wanted to do the same.

Today, she’s a forward on the women’s team at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, an NCAA Division III school of around 6,000 students located in Winona, southeast of Minneapolis.

The sophomore tied for third on the team in scoring during her freshman season last year, netting five goals and nine assists while starting on one of the Cardinals’ top lines with an upperclassman. It was a season of adjustments for her.

“It was kind of scary and nerve-wracking at the beginning,” said Mary, who played in all 25 games during 2011-12. “You kind of have to jump right in, and after that it becomes natural. I had to get adjusted to a different playing style with a new coach (head coach Terry Mannor and assistant Greg Moore) so it was harder. It (the college game) is quicker, that’s for sure.”

Her college roommate, Mackenzie Klimek, is a defenseman with the Cardinals. Mary and Mackenzie’s roles with the club are expected to increase this season since the Cardinals graduated five seniors from last year’s team and have only two returning seniors.

“We definitely have to step up,” she said. “They’re expecting me to step up, I know that.”

Mary actually started playing hockey on boys teams. She competed for the St. Jude Knights’ Hockey Club in Crestwood on its Mite, Squirt and Pee-wee league teams until age 13.

“I liked played better with the boys because they were faster and bigger and it made me better because I was the only girl (on the team),” Mary said.

However, Mary’s mother, Dawn, took her out of the Knights’ program because checking was allowed in the Pee-wee league. Instead, Mary joined the Chicago Mission, an elite girls hockey travel team. (Checking is not allowed in girls hockey at any level.)

“She didn’t want me to get hurt,” Mary said.

Mary suited up with the Mission throughout her four years at De La Salle High School in Chicago, where she was on the Principal’s Honor Roll, graduated 18th in her class and also played varsity softball for three years. Because the Mission is a travel team, Mary spent nearly every weekend on the road during the season (from September through March). The road trips included playing in Canada.

“I loved playing for the Mission,” she said. “I met a lot of great people and I loved the coach (Tony Cachey).”

Mary and her Mission teammates also traveled overseas to play in Switzerland in 2011. The team took part in a small tournament that included facing off against the Swiss Olympic team, along with teams from Austria and Sweden.

“I loved it,” she said. “It was so much fun. We went to downtown Zurich and went to the Swiss Alps.”

When Mary was a youngster, she had an opportunity to meet a two-time Olympian, Cammi Granato–considered to be one of the pioneers of women’s hockey. Granato, who grew up in Downers Grove, was the first woman to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto two years ago.

“I was very young,” Mary said. “I had a T-shirt and a photo of her signed (by Granato). She was someone that I wanted to be like. She was someone I looked up to.”

Mary is proud of her Italian heritage. Her father, Albert, is Italian while her mother is Irish.

“She (mom) loves it,” Mary said. “I love being Italian and I love that side of the family. We go to Dad’s side (of the family) for Christmas Eve. There’s Italian music and wine and all that stuff. Shrimp, pasta with meat sauce, the wine and all the desserts.”

About Mike Sandrolini

Mike Sandrolini has been published in the Elmhurst Independent, Voyager Media, the Daily Herald, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Bear Report. His stories and columns have been recognized for editorial excellence at regional, state and national newspaper contests over the years. He also has co-authored two books: “Bear With Me: A Family History of George Halas and the Chicago Bears” and “All the Good in Sports.” His father, Raymond, is a native of Gaggio Montano, a small village around 30 miles southwest of Bologna.