Only in a handful of sports can an evenly-played game end in a seemingly lopsided score, with one team simply finishing on scoring chances at a higher rate.
Hockey is one of those sports and New Trier’s 5-2 win at Glenbrook North on Wednesday was one of those games.
GBN and New Trier each managed 31 shots in their SHL showdown in Northbrook, but it was New Trier’s ability to finish its chances that carried the day.
It didn’t hurt that the most recent Illinois rankings by My Hockey may have put a burr under New Trier’s saddle.
“We got ranked a little bit lower today than we thought we should have, and that kind of put something in our heads and we just came out firing,” New Trier’s Aleks Cheris said. “We were just ready to go, The energy was there, the entire game.”
Stevenson took over the No. 1 spot from New Trier in the most recent poll, with GBN ranked third in Illinois.
Player motivations aside, GBN coach Evan Poulakidas agreed on the key difference in Wednesday’s outcome, after both of North’s goals came on the power play.
“In my opinion, it came down to finishing. We had some great looks but were never able to put one over five-on-five,” Poulakidas said.
A scoreless first period saw New Trier (11-0 plus 1 OT loss in SHL play) post an 11-7 edge in shots. Glenbrook North (9-3) answered with a 15-11 edge in shots in the second period, yet New Trier held a 3-1 edge on the scoreboard by the period’s end.
Owen McAdams, Tyler Smith, and Will Cusick scored for New Trier while Josh Genin had North’s second-period goal.
New Trier has battled injuries and absences this season but the program’s depth of talent has the Green team at the top of the current SHL standings.
“It’s been a struggle. We’ve had up to seven guys out,” New Trier coach Adam Cheris said. “So we’ve been challenging guys every game — who’s going to step up tonight and who’s going to carry the weight? And every night it’s been somebody else.
“GBN is a really good team. We've seen them blow teams out. They’ve got some great skill guys and just look at the numbers they’re putting up. So we knew it was going to be a big challenge tonight.”
No one met that challenge any better than New Trier defenseman Will Cusick, whose presence in back was typically prominent, and who netted what was ultimately the game-winning goal on a short-handed score in the second period.
A slightly banged-up Cusick sat down in the third period but not before playing what his coach called “one of his best games,” Cheris said. “He’s just awesome and when he steps up like that, it makes it easier on everybody.”
The game’s first goal came at the 13:12 mark of the second period, when McAdams struck from the right side on an assist from Kitchel Snow. New Trier made it 2-0 on the power play at 9:37 when Smith’s left-side wrist shot stretched the back netting, on a feed from Cusick.
Glenbrook North cut its deficit in half on the power play at 4:52, when Genin finished on an Owen Just feed and Noah Wilson also assisting on the play.
But Cusick put his cape on with 1:05 left in the second period, stealing a puck on the left side near the blue line and swooping across the slot before depositing New Trier’s third goal of the period inside the far post.
And for Glenbrook North, getting 15 second-period shots but only getting one past New Trier goaltender Wyatt Schmidt was a bad omen.
“Props to (Schmidt) for stopping what — like 29 out of 31 shots,” North captain Aidan Siegel said. “And props to them, they’re the best team in the state.
“But we didn’t score a single five-on-five goal, which has got to change. We’re obviously having success this year so we’ve just got to flush this one out and come back.”
North’s forward was encouraged by much of what he saw from his team on Wednesday.
“When we were playing well our forecheck was really sustainable,” Siegel said. “We were getting on their defensemen, forcing turnovers, getting pucks down low and getting pucks on net. When we took time and space away from their ‘D’ we came up with a lot of good chances.”
New Trier went up 4-1 at 13:07 of the third period on a Connor Hirschtritt goal and an Aidan Nolan assist. North answered when Siegel scored on the power play with 2:13 left in regulation to make it 4-2, on a Jacob Smith assist.
But Aleks Cheris scored a mere 15 seconds later to end the night’s scoring, with Smith and Jack Savino assisting on the goal.
“Like we've talked about this year, our team can score,” coach Adam Cheris said. “I feel like they're very confident when they're in close and we’ve got a lot of different guys who can do it. It's finalizing our closing opportunities and we're trying to make it a point of making that extra pass and looking for that guy; make it easy, instead of trying to shoot it through.”
With captain and forward Butler Chessen recovering from injury and missing from the New Trier lineup for much of the past six weeks, teammate and forward Aleks Cheris has watched the program’s depth rise to the occasion.
“(Chessen) is such a big part of this team but guys have stepped up,” he said. “Like Henry Miller, who was on our third line but has stepped into Butler’s spot and is doing a great job.
“And when Cusick sat down in the third tonight, the defense stepped up, like Savino and all those guys. So a lot of different people have been stepping up this year.”