New Trier’s Henry Miller is one of those players coaches just love to have on the ice, in any situation that arises.
“All year he’s been that go-guy we can put in any spot,” New Trier coach Adam Cheris said. “He’s one of our top scorers and he finds goals on whatever line he’s playing on, and he never complains. Everyone needs a player like that.”
Miller scored his 10th SHL goal of the season and first of the SHL tournament in Saturday’s 2-1 win over visiting Loyola, in a semifinal series opener at North Shore Ice Arena in Northbrook.
Miller’s goal came with 5:30 remaining in the second period to break a nearly 30-minute scoring drought in the game. Butler Chessen scored less than two minutes later to give the Trevians a 2-0 lead that held until the 1:40 mark of the third period, when Cole Joubert tallied for Loyola.
New Trier goaltender Wyatt Schmidt did the rest, standing tall in net all night long and making a good handful of clutch saves.
“I always think goalies have reached their peak but Wyatt Schmidt just showed another level tonight,” Miller said.
Top-seeded New Trier went 2-0 in their SHL quarterfinal series against Carmel, winning 4-1 and 2-1. Sixth-seeded Loyola entered Saturday’s game having swept third-seeded Stevenson in their best-of-three quarterfinal series, by eye-opening scores of 5-0 and 4-0.
The Ramblers appear to be peaking at the exact right time of year.
“I thought our boys played great. Not the best puck luck for us but overall, we played really well,” Loyola coach Scott Ciraulo said. “We have to capitalize on our opportunities and we’ve been doing that lately, so it’s just one of those things.
“The difference in our team right now is we’re playing much better defensively, and that really started against Stevenson. But I really think we outplayed (New Trier) and I feel confident when they come to our home ice for the next game.”
New Trier (52-6-2, 3-0 in SHL tournament play) and Loyola (26-20-0, 2-1) both had large, loud fan contingencies present in Northbrook for one of the best high school hockey rivalries in Illinois. New Trier had won two of three regular-season games over Loyola heading into Saturday's game.
A slow start from New Trier saw the Trevians battle to survive a strong Loyola forecheck throughout the first period. New Trier was also less than crisp through the neutral zone at the outset.
“They have a really strong forecheck,” Chessen said of Loyola. “They send like three guys on the puck and that can really throw off our ‘D’ because we’re used to being able to mess around a little in our zone. But you have to get it out quickly against them.”
Schmidt gloved a Jack Levi shot early on, and Loyola’s Ryan Cowen nearly got onto the end of a Liam Finegan crossing pass to the far post near the 15:30 mark of the first period.
Loyola goalie Bradin Haynie saved a Will Cusick shot from the point near 12-minute mark and Schmidt turned shots away a pair of shots from Cowen late in the period.
Shots were even at 7-7 through one period but New Trier was not comfortable in its skates through 17 minutes.
“The first period was not our best. We were probably over-hyped,” Cheris said. “Being here with that crowd, we were probably over-amped. We came out and kind of sat around and watched them, instead of fighting a little bit.
“In between periods we kept talking about being better in the neutral zone, not turning it over so much, not dangling, and just getting it deep and getting on them. We started to do a better job of that and started to see a (momentum) shift in the second period.”
A scoreless game changed late in the second period, on a play that started with New Trier’s Aidan Nolan, deep in New Trier’s defensive zone.
“Aidan gave me an amazing pass for that goal,” Miller said. “It was a complete stretch, a full-ice pass to me, so great vision on his part.”
Miller skated over the blue line on the left side with a puck on his stick, and found himself isolated against a Loyola defenseman. He saw his chance and took it.
“I thought the goal Miller had was great,” Cheris said. “We always talk about using the ‘D’ as a screen. He came down and had it one-on-one and once the (defenseman) took goalie’s vision away, and right when he did (Miller) shot it far-side.”
Little more than two minutes later, Chessen and Kitchel Snow combined to give New Trier its 2-0 lead.
Chessen got to a puck behind Loyola’s net and took a stride along the boards before leaving a back pass for teammate Kitchel Snow; Chessen then circled back out near the mid-slot, Snow sent the puck out to him, and Chessen looked up.
“We actually ran that play before and he just missed me,” Chessen said. “Then he was like ‘let’s do that again’. So we did it again, he hit me this time, and I ripped it. (Landon Douthit) was screening so I knew (Loyola goalie Bradin) Haynie wasn’t going to be able to see. I just ripped it and it went in. There wasn’t much thought behind it.”
Landon Douthit also assisted on the goal, Chessen’s 7th SHL goal of the season.
Chessen has had a star-crossed season to say the least, having only played in 13 regular-season SHL games due to injury. He returned to playing full time in mid-December.
“Early in the season I was out for two weeks and came back too early,” Chessen said. “Then I got hurt again and was out for like four weeks. It was painful, especially being a leader on the team and trying to lead by example, more than vocally. So it was just encouragement, playing a bigger role on the bench, and looking out for kids to keep their chins up.”
New Trier posted an 8-6 edge in shots in the second period and led 2-0 at intermission. Loyola predictably came out hungry in the third and ultimately outshot New Trier 13-6 in the period, finishing with a 26-21 edge for the game.
“We have a line Mikey Baker centers with Cole Joubert and Charlie Baine, and I think they controlled the play every shift,” Ciraulo said. “The puck was in the offensive zone for that line the entire game. They played really well.”
Schmidt turned away shots from Loyola’s Aidan Fischer, Baine, and Levi to the 8-minute mark of the third period. Loyola went on the power play and Schmidt made a stop on Cowen and then gloved a Fischer shot with roughly five minutes remaining.
Joubert made things interesting with his goal at the 1:40 mark, on an assist to Zach Waltman, but Schmidt and his Trevians kept the slate clean from there with Loyola in desperation mode.
“I thought Wyatt Schmidt was outstanding,” Cheris said. “He gives us a level of comfort when he’s in there. He can make that big save and he did that several times, especially early on tonight when were kind of fighting it. And I thought Chessen and that whole line played really well.
“I’m just glad we got the ‘W’ because we saw what they did to Stevenson. I saw one of those games and they’re playing really well right now. And this series is really good for us heading into state.”
Chessen agreed that New Trier’s goaltender was a difference-maker Saturday.
“Definitely Schmitty,” Chessen said. “He’s a stud. I thought (Brendan) Heneghan played great and (Jack) Savino had some great hits. He had an overtime winner against Loyola (on Jan. 11) and he was really physical tonight. He said tonight he was going to lay three big hits and I think he laid something like five against their top line. We’re not the most physical team and he brings a lot of energy. This is just the best rivalry in the state. We just hate each other. It’s awesome.”
Miller also applauded Schmidt’s play, along with his linemates.
“David Wolff and Aidan Nolan,” Miller said. “We’ve been injured a lot so I’ve been playing everywhere, and this was the first game in like a month that me, David Wolff, and Aidan played together. It was just refreshing because it’s always nice to have those guys on your side.”
In the SHL tournament’s other semifinal series, second-seeded Glenbrook South took Game One 5-4 over fifth-seeded Glenbrook North. A week ahead of state tournament opening-round play will likely come before the SHL tournament resumes for the second games of the semifinals.
New Trier knows what it will take to win Game Two on Loyola’s home ice.
“A quick start — not like tonight,” Chessen said. “Getting that first goal in the first seven minutes or so would be huge.”
“Just keeping the confidence up,” Miller said. “I think we all believe we’re the best team in the state so we just have to play our systems, not buy into the fans or the politics. So we need to get some good rest and then just go and play hockey.”
Loyola will be ready for the Trevians in Game Two, after showing well in Game One.
“I think our defense played really well,” Ciraulo said. “I can’t say enough about (defenseman) Ryan Cowen. He’s our unquestioned leader, he has really elevated his game, and I think that has forced the rest of our defensemen to elevate their game. We’re getting the puck out of the zone much better.”
Defensemen Chris Sipe, Will Steele, Nathan Kadlec, Mack Klein, and new varsity full-timer Cooper Nelson are playing at their highest level together at the perfect time of the year.
And it all starts with Cowen
“I’m not really pulling any punches — I think Ryan is the best player in the state,” Ciraulo said. “He doesn’t get enough credit and frankly, I don’t even think he should be playing at this level and if I were a college coach I’d be banging down his door trying to get him to play for me.”