New Trier coach Adam Cheris admits to a lack of sleep in recent weeks, as he spends the wee hours of the night studying tape on upcoming opponents and game-planning his way through insomnia.
His team is doing everything it can to ease his mind.
Top-ranked New Trier won 2-1 over Glenbrook South in Wednesday’s SHL title game and the Trevians are playing well heading into Sunday’s Illinois state title game against York.
“We’ve had close games with GBS all year and I thought the boys were absolutely buzzing today,” New Trier goaltender Wyatt Schmidt said. “We worked the entire game, didn’t take a shift off, and didn’t give an inch.”
With SHL Cup finals play shortened from a three-game series to a single game this year due to time constraints, New Trier (58-6-2) and Glenbrook South (37-15-2) squared off with the title on the line at Centennial Ice Arena in Winnetka.
New Trier got an unassisted first-period goal from Butler Chessen and a third-period goal from Landon Douthit on a Chessen assist. Glenbrook South heightened the drama with a third-period goal from Grant Loughran on an Adrian Sokol assist to make it 2-1 with 2:57 left in the game.
New Trier takes on SHL rival York in the Illinois state title game at the United Center on Sunday. And playing in the SHL title game and the state title game in a four-day span is a tall hill for any team to climb.
“A million people asked me ‘why are you playing this game?’ But that’s easy: because it’s the SHL and it’s the best league in Illinois,” New Trier coach Adam Cheris said. “But I am glad it was only one game instead of three.
“GBS has really good players, a great goalie, good defense — so for us it was a matter of how we were going to match up with them, and what adjustments could we make.”
Team captain Chessen had no qualms about his team playing two emotionally-charged games within a short time frame.
“I think it was an advantage for us, having a big game like this before another big game,” Chessen said. “It keeps the legs going and keeps the intensity up.
“We set some goals and we hit on them tonight. Our goaltending was really good, forecheck was great, backcheck was great and all-around we played a good game.”
Chessen’s goal came off a GBS turnover with 4:23 left to play in the first period, springing him on South goalie Luke Winger.
New Trier went up 2-0 four minutes into the third period, with Chessen again in the thick of things. Chessen swept in on an angled drive to the net on the right side before deftly sending a short backhanded pass across the slot to Douthit, who buried it.
“He makes such a difference for us,” Cheris said of Chessen. “To me, he’s the best player in the state. There’s nobody better and he’s in full stride now, after missing two-thirds of the season (due to concussion protocol).
“He just goes out and works his tail off and doesn’t accept anything less. You see it on the back-check, on the forecheck, going to the net. And he was ridiculous on that second goal.”
Chessen’s return has helped New Trier beyond his dynamic play on the ice.
“The captains — Chessen and (Will) Cusick — are making an enormous difference,” Schmidt said. “They bring intensity, they bring life to this team. You see how much work they put in and you just want to match that.”
Glenbrook South cut its deficit in half late in the third period when a puck squirted out to Loughran after a draw in South’s offensive zone. Loughran received the puck near the blue line, faked a shot, pulled it back as a sprawling defenseman slid by, and found a shooting lane. Adrian Sokol was credited with an assist on the play.
Loughran’s goal elevated South’s adrenaline levels, but Schmidt and the Trevians stood up down the stretch. The usual suspects shined for New Trier but Cheris got contributions far and wide.
“I thought Schmidt was great tonight” Cheris said. “Tyler Baker stepped up and played good minutes for us and (Joey) Rabinowitz played well, of the guys outside the norm. But Schmidt played really well.”
New Trier went 5-0 in the SHL playoffs, winning in two games in their first two best-of-three series against Carmel and Loyola. Glenbrook South beat Carmel in two games before winning a deciding Game 3 over Glenbrook North in the semifinal round.
When the final buzzer sounded Wednesday — while New Trier lived to play another day — Glenbrook South had to say goodbye to the 2022-23 hockey season.
Departing seniors for Hall of Fame coach Jim Philbin’s Titans include Owen Almburg, Adrian Sokol, Luke Winger, Jason Ban, Jack Mulvey, Michael Ahlgrim, Mac Callaghan, Grant Loughran, Erik Steenstrup, Kacper Wojdyla, and Jack Parsons.
The SHL finals are also a chance for fans to tip their hats to some of the best of the best players in Illinois high school hockey. Before Wednesday’s game, SHL president and GBN coach Evan Poulakidas handed out on-ice awards to the all-SHL players present in Winnetka.
Earning all-SHL first team honors were forwards Davis Jegers (Stevenson), Owen Just (Glenbrook North) and Zach Freimuth (Glenbrook South); defensemen Ryan Cowen (Loyola) and Owen Almburg (Glenbrook South); and goaltender Luke Winger (Glenbrook South).
All-SHL second-team honors went to forwards Tyler Smith and Landon Douthit (New Trier), Frank Nicosia II (York), Leon Swiatkowski (Carmel), Aidan Siegel (Glenbrook North), and Tristan Caridei (Stevenson); defensemen Will Harlow (Stevenson), Kyler Gornick (Carmel), Will Cusick (New Trier), and Sean Wilson (Saint Viator); and goaltenders Adam Kaczmarek (York) and Bradin Haynie (Loyola).
The SHL Player of the year this year was Stevenson’s Davis Jegers; Defenseman of the Year honors went to Loyola’s Ryan Cowen; and this year’s Goalie of the Year was Glenbrook South’s Luke Winger.The Coach of the Year in the SHL this season was York coach Matt Boeing, who guided the Dukes to the program’s first-ever appearance in the state title game.
Notably, Glenbrook North forward Owen Just was named the JJ O’Connor Boys High School Player of the Year in Illinois, after posting 124 points in 63 games this season. Just finished two points shy of the program’s single-season record for points, and his 80 assists this year were the most ever in a single season in Glenbrook North history.