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GBS' depth, Winger top Stevenson

By Gary Larsen, 12/09/22, 10:00AM CST


12/08/22: GBS 2, STV 1

When a team's fourth line is contributing in big ways, it's a team that could make some noise come the postseason.

Depth has been a key luxury for Glenbrook South this year, and it was a fourth-line goal that kick-started South’s eventual 2-1 win at Stevenson on Thursday.

After a scoreless first period, a play created by the Titans’ Dylan Monagan and Benji Pajerski resulted in a Pajerski shot from mid-circle on the right side.

Teammate Will Stevens crashed net from the left side and buried the rebound for the game’s first goal.

“Stevens is filling in at center on that line, and Monagan and Pajerski made a nice play on that two-on-one to get us that opportunity,” Glenbrook South coach Jim Philbin said. “Shot on net, rebound, goal. Go to the net and good things happen and we’ll take those over pretty goals all day long.”

It didn’t remain a 1-0 game for long. After Stevens’ goal at the 9:55 mark, South’s Nick Ventura followed suit at 9:03, burying a rebound of his own to give South a 2-0 cushion and effectively provide the game-winning goal. Ventura also scored twice in South’s most recent SHL game, a 5-0 win over Lake Forest on Nov. 30.

Stevenson answered early in the third period on a nifty spin to his backhand by Jimmy Brown, but Brown’s goal with a full 14:27 left to play was the last one the game would see.

“They were a lot more aggressive in the first two periods and they were stretching us out,” Stevenson coach Tom Wood said. “We looked a little slow. We played well in the third period but if you only play half a game it doesn’t work very well in our league.”

Shot totals for the game were dead even, with Glenbrook South (22-6-2, 11-3-0 in SHL play) and Stevenson (21-11-0, 10-8-0) each posting 26 shots. Stevenson entered Thursday’s game ranked fourth in Illinois and Glenbrook South is ranked fifth by My Hockey Rankings.

After Stevenson won 4-2 over Glenbrook South in their first meeting this season on Nov. 10, South came out hungry. The Titans earned a 12-4 edge in shots in the first period after a lesson learned from the loss to Stevenson a month prior.

“We learned that scores don’t matter,” South’s Jack Mulvey said. “Before the last time we played (Stevenson) we saw they lost to GBN and New Trier by six or seven goals, and I think we took them lightly.

“But playing them showed us that they’re a legit team and we’d need a team effort to have success against them. It was all about effort and all four lines bringing everything they had today.”

Tactically, Philbin knew what he wanted from his players in Thursday’s rematch against a Stevenson team that out-shot South 25-16 in their first meeting, and scored three times in the second period of that game.

“They like to tip pucks and try to get behind our ‘D’, and throw pucks in front of Winger, so we did a better job defensively today,” Philbin said. “And I think in the first two periods we had more puck control than we did the last time we played them. They’re a fast, gritty team so our job was to play good ‘D’ and have puck possession.”

Glenbrook South put solid pressure on Stevenson goaltender Andrew Smoller in the first period but Smoller was up to the task. Wood applauded Smoller’s play in net on Thursday.

“He made some big saves for us early and I really thought he had one of his better games this year,” Wood said.

Smoller made a fine kick save on South’s Zach Freimuth early in the second period, then turned away a shot taken from the left side by Jason Ban. Smoller stopped another Freimuth offering near the 10-minute mark before Stevens broke the scoreless drought.

After Ventura made it 2-0, South found shots on the sticks of Ban, Jack Mulvey, Ryan Mulvey, and Owen Almburg but a third goal was not forthcoming to the end of the second period.

Chasing two goals, Stevenson came out hard on its home ice to start the third period. After Brown’s goal, and with two of the top four points leaders in the SHL on its side in Davis Jegers and Tristan Caridei, South had its work cut out for it with plenty of time left for a dangerous Stevenson team to knot the game.

In its 4-2 win in November, Stevenson got two goals from Caridei, who is currently fourth in SHL points with 21. Jegers is second in the league with 28 points, while Glenbrook North’s Owen Just currently leads the SHL with 32 points. Freimuth is sixth with 19 points.

The Patriots fought for a game-tying goal but the Titans held firm. The final two minutes of the game saw Stevenson pull Smoller and put plenty of attacking pressure on with a one-man advantage, but South met the challenge to the final horn.

Titans goaltender Luke Winger turned away a flurry of Patriots shots down the stretch. The game’s final dangerous scoring chance came with five seconds left to play, but Winger turned away a point-blank shot from Stevenson’s Will Harlow.

“They have a great team this year and Winger had a really nice game,” Wood said. “There were a lot of plays we could have scored on but he dove across and made a glove save, and made a hell of a kick-save on (Caridei) on our power play. Winger, to me, is the best goalie in the state.”

Naturally, the Titans are happy to have Winger between the pipes.

“He’s always on his game,” Mulvey said of Winger. “He’s a rock and he’s the reason we’re where we are right now. He’s making all the plays he needs to and he’s just been an awesome player.”

Glenbrook South went into Thursday’s game after going 4-0 over the weekend, at the Governor’s Cup tournament in Jamestown, New York. Mulvey liked what his side learned during the recent tournament.

“We really opened up the ice tonight,” Mulvey said. “We took a lot away from the tournament in terms of opening ice, creating space, and moving quickly, and I think that’s part of what worked for us out here tonight.”

Stevenson has been bitten hard by injury and illness this season; the Patriots have only had their full lineup on the ice for one game and have been missing key defensemen in their recent stretch of play.

“Some of the guys we’re missing are guys that dig, and get pucks out of the corner,” Wood said. “A lot of our skill guys have played but if you don’t have your workhorses, it’s tough to get the puck to them.

“I haven’t had my defense in a month. I’m playing with two of my top four defensemen every game. It’s a long season but I’ve never seen anything like this, injury-wise.”

But Illinois be warned: Stevenson went through a similar spate of injuries and illness last year in December, but got healthy enough by season’s end to win an Illinois state title.