Glenbrook South and Glenbrook North square off multiple times each year between the SHL season and the state playoffs, but the carnival atmosphere inside a packed ice arena that surrounds their annual Thanksgiving Eve rivalry game is simply unique.
“There’s nothing like this game and there are very few things that beat a win against Glenbrook North,” South goaltender Luke Winger said. “Homecoming games in football, basketball games — nothing compares to the atmosphere at this game. The culture built around this game is something that very few other games have.”
Glenbrook South won 2-0 in this year’s rivalry game thanks to a fast start, solid pressure in the attacking zone, and goals from Zach Freimuth and Wyatt Sherwood at the Wilmette Ice Arena on Wednesday.
The Titans also won last year’s meeting after a 15-year losing streak to Glenbrook North on Thanksgiving Eve.
“I’m very proud of how calm we looked, playing in this setting,” Freimuth said. “We have a lot of young guys and they have a lot of returners, but we took it to them from the start and I’m really proud of that.”
The buildup to the puck drop was typical of the annual rivalry game. In addition to $5,000 raised for charity, there was a spotlight introduction, the presence of the Chicago Blackhawks, including Blackhawks mascot Tommy Hawk, and the usual riotous throng of hundreds of student fans from both schools.
South coach Jim Philbin was also recognized for his induction this year into the Illinois Hockey Hall of Fame. The Titans’ skipper was pleased with his boys’ effort on Wednesday but knows that ultimately, it was just one game in a long hockey season.
“It’s great for the kids and I’m proud of them, but it’s just two (SHL) points, right?” Philbin said. “It’s two points, enjoy it, have a nice Thanksgiving, because then we’ll get right back to it.”
Both North and South kicked off play Friday in Loyola’s O’Grady Thanksgiving Tournament.
Glenbrook South (9-2-0 in SHL play plus one OT loss) capped its fast start with a highlight-reel goal from Freimuth, with 2:54 left to play in the first period.
Freimuth took a pass up the left side and made a diagonal charge towards the near post. The righty faked to his strong side before spinning to his backhand — a la Patrick Kane and before him, Denis Savard — and deposited that backhand into net.
It was Freimuth’s team-leading 12th SHL goal of the season through 12 league games.
“I was planning to cut to the middle and rip that one,” Freimuth said. “But as soon as I cut I saw the defender’s feet cross and I knew I had him, so I spun the other way. That really freezes a goalie and it opened him up, five-hole, and it slid right through.”
Naturally, South’s fan contingency went wild over Freimuth’s goal.
“That was a great goal,” Philbin said. “You could tell he was so dialed in at our skate this morning, and he’s just been a great leader for us.”
Just two minutes into the second period, South’s Jack Mulvey chased a puck into the right corner and centered it to Sherwood, who buried it to give South its 2-0 lead.
“Jack Mulvey went to the corner, took a hit, and made a phenomenal pass out front for that second goal,” Philbin said. “Without him going into that corner, that play doesn’t happen.”
Glenbrook North (10-4-0 in SHL play) has been no stranger to comeback wins this season but the Spartans know that falling behind early will ultimately catch up to a team, which it did on Wednesday.
“We had a real slow start,” North coach Evan Poulakidas said. “We allowed them to dictate the pace of the game early. When we finally got moving midway through the second period I thought the game swung and we established zone time and had some great looks.”
With players like Owen Just (12 goals, 15 assists in SHL play) and Michael Dimoff (13 goals, 9 assists) leading the way, North has firepower that South had to contend with.
“I loved our defensive play,” Philbin said. “When we didn’t have the puck we took lanes away and we slowed them down. Owen Just is one of the most dangerous kids in the state and he’s a kid we had to shut down and frustrate.”
North began finding dangerous shots around the mid-point of the second period, but Winger played at the height of his powers when he was called upon in earning his third shutout of the year.
North ultimately outshot South 36-34 in the game.
“We had some great looks,” Poulakidas said. “Winger made some big saves and whatever he didn’t clean up, their defense did.”
Last year’s SHL Player of the Year showed why he won that award as a junior.
“We ran out of gas a little in the second period and had some turnovers, but Winger picked us up,” Philbin said. “He had three saves, including a kick-save, that I don’t know how he stopped. He just does such a great job back there.”
North took 17 of its 36 shots in the third period but Winger and the Titans kept the Spartans out. Asked afterward where he’d like to see improvements from his team, Winger had a quick reply.
“Making sure we play a full three periods,” Winger said. “I think we kind of let off the gas in the third when we should have tried to put them away. Teams that end up winning a state championship are teams that can figure out how to put together three full periods. My goal is to play at the United Center at the end of the season and to do that, we have to play three periods.”
That will be the goal for a South team that got solid contributions from up and down the lineup Wednesday.
“Both Jack and Ryan Mulvey had a great game, and Wyatt Sherwood had a great goal,” Philbin said. “Jason Ban had a phenomenal game, along with (Adrian) Sokol and (Owen) Almburg — I could go on and on but it was a team effort tonight. Every line had a chance to play and contribute.”