Chicago's hockey people: Gino Cavallini

Gino Cavallini is in his fifth year as hockey director for the Chicago Mission Youth Hockey Club. Courtesy of Gino Cavallini

This story is the second of a new series which will feature people in Chicago's hockey community

Former St. Louis Blues forward Gino Cavallini supports the Chicago Blackhawks, just don’t let his players on the Chicago Mission Youth Hockey Club find out.

“I did give a lot of blood for the Blues,” said Cavallini, who was involved in nine fights against the Blackhawks according to hockeyfights.com. “I cheer for the Hawks as much as anyone around. I wouldn’t admit that to the kids. They like to play up the Chicago-St. Louis rivalry.”

Whether it’s the Blues, who he played 454 of 593 career NHL games for, the Blackhawks or any other NHL team, Cavallini just enjoys watching good hockey these days. His only true allegiance lies with the Chicago Mission, the Woodridge, Ill.-based club, where he has been the hockey director for the last four-plus years.

“After going to college and turning pro, my brother [Paul Cavallini] and I always had hockey schools,” the 51-year-old Cavallini said. “I was always around hockey. We ran summer clinics and camps. I enjoyed giving back.

“This level of hockey, especially at our club at early ages, you can start projecting out what potential the kids have. I was fortunate to step into a position where we were trending up upward. It’s fun. It’s gratifying as director and coach myself to see the kids grow throughout the years.”

Cavallini is on his second go-around with the Mission. He retired as a professional player in 2000 and was invited by his friend Kevin Mann to join the Mission’s staff in 2001. Cavallini moved to St. Louis in 2007 to start up a construction company and returned to the Mission in 2010.

“You know I just had the itch to get back to this level of hockey again,” Cavallini said. “The opportunity arose and here I am.”

The opportunity has been greater than Cavallini hoped for when he returned. The Mission have developed into one of the elite clubs in the country. Their teams are often ranked among the best in the country, and they produce elite boys and girls players. In June, four former Mission players were selected in the NHL draft. The Blackhawks’ last two first-round draft picks Ryan Hartman and Nick Schmaltz were former Mission players. William Nylander, the No. 8 overall pick this year, also played for the Mission.

“Even as a former professional, it’s cool to see happen,” Cavallini said. “We had four kids drafted from the same club. I don’t know if there’s any club who did what we did this last year.

“It’s turned into a magnet. If you have the ability and you want to have future success and you’re coming out of Chicago, you’re coming out of our program. We got nationally-ranked teams. Our club owns the facility. We have an off-ice facility. We offer the whole package from coaches to the locker room. It makes my job easier because you’re drawing the best talent from the Chicagoland area to the club. We’re just turning it into a hockey factory.”

Cavallini couldn’t imagine doing anything else now.

“Depending on the time of the year, I’m in a position to do what I love to do,” he said. “I’m around talented hockey people and can pass my knowledge around to kids who want to be coached.

“There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes things to do, but once you’re on the ice, you’re in your element. This is what I love to do. I’m able to it at a high level of youth hockey and have success. I think all the coaches would feel the same that they feel fortunate to be at this level at this time. We want to keep raising the bar and evolve as the game evolves and like to be at the forefront of the standards.”