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Smith, New Trier come back to top Saint Viator

By Gary Larsen, 10/02/22, 1:45PM CDT


10/01/22: NTG 4, SV 3 (OT)

Tyler Smith went off.

That’s the simplest explanation for how New Trier turned a 3-1 deficit after two periods into a 4-3 win at Saint Viator on Saturday.

Smith scored a hat-trick in the third period for a Green team that came out after intermission flying around the ice. Ever done anything like that before, Tyler?

“Never,” Smith said.

The two programs last met in last year’s state semifinals, when Saint Viator won 4-3 in overtime.

“We talked about last year, how Saint Viator ended our hockey season,” Smith said. “So in between periods, we kind of just talked about putting that chip on our shoulder and doing everything we can to get away with this win.”

Naturally, the explanation for New Trier’s comeback goes beyond the barrage of goals Smith scored. It started with a simple request for his team from New Trier coach Adam Cheris heading into the third period.

“Play New Trier hockey the way you guys have been doing it, and the way I know you can play with heart,” Cheris said.

Playing without team captain and one of the SHL’s most dynamic forwards in Butler Chessen, the trio of forwards Smith, Aleks Cheris, and Brendan Heneghan answered their coach’s request.

And not to be overlooked was sophomore goaltender Wyatt Schmidt, who kept the slate clean for Green in the final period against a Saint Viator team that finished with a 41-30 edge in shots for the game.

“I think Wyatt Schmidt was on (New Trier) White last year and he definitely had a heck of a game,” Smith said. “He definitely kept us in there with some of those saves tonight.”

A scoreless first period saw Saint Viator (0-2-0 in SHL play) come out hard and post a 14-8 edge in shots. Coming off a 3-0 loss to York on Friday, the Lions knew they needed to turn the tide on Saturday.

“The energy just wasn't there (vs. York),” Saint Viator coach Tim Benz said. “Tonight we were a completely different team.”

Saint Viator’s Sean Nutley, Angelo Massaro, and Vitali Strutynski all forced saves from Schmidt through the game’s first six minutes. The Lions’ Evan Wenzel sent a shot just wide from the left side with roughly eight minutes to go in the period, and Massaro shot wide and teammate Charlie Hoffman was turned away by Schmidt in the period’s final minutes.

“Tim (Benz) has a great team over there,” Cheris said of Saint Viator’s fast start. “You know they're going to work their tails off and that's exactly what they did.”

New Trier’s Henry Miller broke the drought at the 14:07 mark of the second period on an unassisted goal, giving the Trevians a 1-0 lead that held up for the next eight minutes of the period.

That’s when Saint Viator’s Dylan Harer buried his first SHL goal of the year, with 5:44 left in the second period.

New Trier went to the penalty box twice from there and Saint Viator twice struck on power-play goals to build its 3-1 lead. First, Jack Kuffel scored unassisted at the 3:20 mark, and Harer buried his second SHL goal of the year with 57 seconds remaining before intermission, with assists from Jake Knieling and Sean Wilson.

“Dylan Harer really proved why he has a ‘C’ on his jersey, on the bench in the locker room,” Benz said. “He scored two goals and contributed in all facets of the game.

“I was glad to see that our power play was clicking a little bit and in terms of discipline, we did a good job of staying out of the box. That was kind of one of our keys going in, because we know we can play with them five-on-five.

Cheris bemoaned the untimely penalties his side committed late in period.

“In the second period we came out in the first four or five shifts and were awesome, we scored a goal, and then they scored kind of a fluky goal to tie the game,” Cheris said. “And then the penalties started happening. It was just a parade in the box.”

Through two periods, Saint Viator held a 30-17 edge in shots on goal. But there likely wasn’t a person present inside the Mount Prospect Ice Arena who wasn’t anticipating a third-period push from New Trier.

“They’re the No. 1 team in the state for a reason,” Benz said of New Trier. “They have a high-powered offense that can score three goals in the blink of an eye. We knew they were going to come out hard and it was a matter of us having to match their intensity in the first five minutes.”

The Smith-Cheris-Heneghan line found another gear to start the third.

“They can put the puck in the net and we relied heavily on them tonight,” Cheris said. “They were clicking and they’ve been great all year. Just about every time we put them on the ice, they just have great creativity. They move the puck so well and all three of them can score.”

Smith’s first two goals of the period came on rebounds at the right-side post. The first came on a Cheris shot from the left side at the 12:33 mark; the second was unassisted with 8:51 left in the game.

Smith’s game-winner came at 5:31 on a Cheris assist. “That third one tipped in off a defenseman,” Smith said.

“We came out slow in the first period tonight but we’ve also got some young kids on this team who aren't really used to the student sections yet. But as the third period came around we definitely got back in the game. We were ready to go.”

Saint Viator brought the heat down the stretch but Schmidt met the challenge.

“I thought (Schmidt) was outstanding,” Cheris said. “We’ve been splitting starts with him and Drew Durdov in net and they’ve both played really well.”

Schmidt wasn’t surprised his team found a way to come back in the third period.

“I think that's what separates us from other teams,” Schmidt said. “You know, it’s just the mindset of always being able to stay in games.”

With games against York, New Trier, and St. Ignatius in a three-day span this weekend, Saint Viator is jumping directly into the fire to start the season against top competition.

“(New Trier) was only our fourth game and we know where we need to improve,” Benz said. “We’re still trying to work out line combinations, seeing what systems are going to work well with this team, and finding our identity is just going to take a little bit of time.

“I thought Jack Kuffel stepped up his game with that power-play goal and we’re looking for more and more out of him as the season rolls along. And (goalie Dom) Grimaldi did his job and he has looked solid in our first couple games.”