Dan Jilek not only loved competition but he thrived on it. He earned Bachelor and Master degrees from the University of Michigan and played football for the Wolverines from 1972-75, and was a two-year starter at outside linebacker.
He played four seasons for the Buffalo Bills, and was named the team’s rookie of the year in 1976.
But his competitive edge and work ethic wasn’t limited to the football field. After retiring he opened the Daniel D. Jilek Insurance Agency in Ann Arbor in 1983. And not only was he successful, but he believed in giving back to the community until his death in March 2002 at the age of 48. It was his love of sports and community that was the genesis of the annual Jilek Cup, which faced off this weekend at the Ice Cube in Ann Arbor.
And after watching the championship game between Pioneer and Skyline it was hard not to think of Jilek. I never had the honor of meeting him but I was raised in Western New York and I certainly had heard of Dan Jilek growing up. And it’s safe to assume he would have loved the spirit, physicality, passion and all-out effort shown on the ice between the Pioneers and Eagles.
The game, won in overtime by Pioneer, was everything that is perfect about hockey. When hockey is played at a high level, and with that kind of intensity, there is nothing better for a sports fan. People like to say there is nothing better than a game seven in the NHL – the same could be said about Saturday night’s final.
Pioneer head coach Frank Garcia said winning this tournament was “very special” – just like the guy it was named after.
“It’s very important to the players and everyone involved in this area. I teach at Skyline so I get to go into school on Monday with a little grin on my face. The kids from both sides played their hearts out and we were just lucky enough to get that second goal but it could have gone either way.”
And while some might look at a game that was 1-0 for 90 percent of the night and think boring, this hockey game was as exciting as exciting can get on ice. These teams didn’t hate each other but respected each other and showed it by going toe-to-toe, stick-to-stick for three periods and 2 minutes before the Pioneers netted the winner in overtime.
It was more than a city rivalry game. It was two of the best teams in the state hitting the ice with something very important and special on the line. Students from both schools came out and raised the roof with their support, adding to an already electric atmosphere in the building.
“Yeah, we don’t want to play them anymore,” said Garcia laughing. “The games are tough, physical, gritty, and no one wants to give an inch. We both respect each other that’s for sure. And these are hard and intense games to play in the middle of a season. They are going to have a great season and this game could have gone either way.”
Tough, physical, gritty and respected. Sounds just like the guy the tournament is named after.