If teams in the SHL think they can overlook league newcomer Lake Forest, they’d better think twice.
New Trier led 1-0 over Lake Forest on Wednesday thanks to an early first-period goal by Landon Douthit off a feed from Butler Chessen. But despite ultimately building a 28-12 edge in shots for the game, the Trevians had to hold that always precarious 1-0 lead to the game’s final buzzer.
New Trier dominated the second period before Lake Forest came out flying in search of a tying goal in the third. New Trier killed off two penalties in the period and got a few quality saves from Drew Durdov to seal the win.
“We didn’t play great but they’re the type of team that's tenacious,” first-year New Trier head coach Adam Cheris said of Lake Forest. “They have a really good goalie and they're gonna scratch and claw and find a way to stay in the game. And that's exactly how it unfolded.”
In his program’s first season in the SHL, Lake Forest coach Steve Sarauer hopes that initial growing pains will forge a top-quality team by season’s end.
“I couldn’t be happier with the way we played. You know, they're only going to get better by playing the best so there's a lot to learn each game,” Sarauer said. “I think being in the SHL with these teams, there’s a clear difference in the skill level overall, and the speed that they're not used to quite yet. But that will happen. They're going to have to get used to it.”
Having not played a game in 12 days, the Trevians weren’t quite as sharp as they’d been through their first seven games.
“Yeah, I thought it was a little too sloppy,” Douthit said of his side’s play. “I'd like to see us finish our chances. It was a little deja vu from last year, where we’d get like 50 shots and only get two goals. But I’m excited for this team. We’ve got a lot of talent and we're excited for what we can do.”
Douthit struck at the 13:13 mark of the first period when Chessen made a cross-ice pass and Douthit buried it from near the bottom hash mark.
“Butler just made a great pass,” Douthit said.
Sarauer wished his boys could have that play back.
“That goal started with a clear defensive mistake behind our net, and then we didn’t work hard enough to get to (Chessen),” Sarauer said. “Then it was a quick pass to the front of the net and we got caught flat-footed.”
Lake Forest goaltender Teddy Huddlestun saved a Chessen shot and New Trier’s Brendan Heneghan shot wide to the 8-minute mark as the Trevians posted an 11-6 edge in shots in the first period.
Lake Forest’s John Carrabine nearly got onto the end of a pass at the left-side post with 6 minutes left in the period, and Durdov turned away a Dennis Hickey shot soon thereafter.
Huddlestun gloved a shot from the point taken by New Trier’s Will Cusick with roughly four minutes remaining in the first period, and Durdov turned away a shot from Lake Forest’s Robert Medica on the final dangerous scoring chance of the period.
The second period saw New Trier post a 14-2 edge in shots as the Trevians seemed on the edge of adding to their lead.
“It looked like (Lake Forest) got tired in the second and our forecheck did a great job,” Cheris said. “We've been working on that. We established it in the second period and pinned them in the zone for almost the entire period.”
Douthit, Butler, and Tyler Smith all found shots on their sticks that Huddlestun turned aside, and Henry Miller nearly got on the end of a quality chance at the post. Lake Forest found a few transition chances from Carrabine and Jackson Drum but Durdov stopped Carrabine and New Trier tracked back to destroy Jackson’s chance late in the period.
The New Trier defense had to shine at the outset of the third period, with Lake Forest skating hard in search of a tying goal on its home ice. The Scouts went on two power plays to the period’s 10-minute mark but Durdov and New Trier’s penalty kill met the challenge.
“Will Cusick did a great job out there,” Cheris said. “He really does a good job of directing. And I thought our forwards did well —Kitchel Snow did a good job and I thought Butler Chessen did a good job on the PK as well.”
Lake Forest earned a 4-3 edge in shots over New Trier in the third period. Early nerves and tentative play by the Scouts slowly gave way to a more aggressive approach, which Sarauer stressed to his boys during intermission.
“I told them we had to stop playing so nice,” Sarauer said. “We had to play with an edge in the third period. I think they started to believe that they could win that game and that they could skate with (New Trier).
“They were nervous before the game, obviously, to play New Trier Green. That showed in the first period but they started to do better as the game went on. The third period came and they realized it was a one-goal game and that anything was possible in that third period.”
Durdov gloved a Carrabine shot early in the period and stayed steady throughout Lake Forest’s attacking pressure.
“We didn’t have practice over the weekend, with people visiting colleges and stuff, but we got it done tonight,” Durdov said. “I felt some pressure (with a 1-0 lead) but you just have to trust your defensemen at the end of the day. And they haven’t been letting many shots get through.”
Douthit was happy to leave the Scouts’ home ice with a league win in New Trier’s first SHL game of the season.
“We picked it up at the end, came out with the win, and that's all that matters,” Douthit said. “However you get it, two (SHL) points are two points.
“I love how hard our team works and how we’ve come together as a team We're really close already. We show up to the rink, we know our individual jobs, and just kind of get it done.”
Cheris applauded Durdov’s play in earning the shutout and appreciated the way his side gutted out the win.
“This is our eighth game, and seven of the games have been spectacular,” Cheris said. “So this is the one game where the thing I liked is that they fought through it enough to get the ‘W’. There was some sloppiness and sometimes we had guys trying to do too much with the puck. But we'll take this one and chalk it up to hey, sometimes it's gonna go our way when maybe we didn't deserve it.
“Our top two lines have been outstanding this year. They are just putting up crazy numbers. You have the Chessen, Snow, and Douthit line and then you have the Henry Miller, Aleks Cheris, and Tyler Smith line. We've been blowing teams out with those guys doing a lot of the damage, but we have four lines that I really feel I can use in any spot.”
Sarauer liked the work ethic his team showed Wednesday, and the Scouts gained more confidence as the game wore on. Captains Robert Medica and John Carrabine figure to wreak some havoc in the league this year, and the Scouts have other players ready to make their mark.
“Zach Shoemaker is one of those kids who can break loose and score,” Sarauer said. “He’s unbelievably fast and skilled and once he finds his way playing at this level, he’s going to be a real threat.”
Sarauer also applauded the day’s work of defenseman Aiden Meredith on Wednesday
“Honestly, we're getting really good officials and they're kind of letting them play.,” Sarauer said. “By allowing physical play in the corners, that's an advantage for a player like Meredith. He's really good in the corners and really good positionally keeping guys outside and playing physically.”
And anchoring it all in back will be Huddlestun, who figures to be one of the top goalies in a league loaded with quality goalies. And his play between the pipes isn’t the full measure of what Huddlestun brings.
“He’s constantly talking to his teammates, on and off the ice and he pushes them,” Sarauer said. “He supports what the coaches are saying about paying attention to the little things that go a long way towards winning.”
Cheris knew Huddlestun would be tough to solve.
“(Huddlestun) is outstanding,” Cheris said. “You know, you look at our league and there are two or three goalies that can win games for you. You look at GBS and you look at these guys, and you have to be on your ‘A’ game or you can walk out with a loss.
“I just want to stress the strength of the SHL this year. Our league is so strong and so deep. Every team is capable of winning games and there simply are no easy games, which is great.”