Every year on Thanksgiving Day, the story is the same in Northbrook and Glenview, where hockey players in one town enjoy a Thanksgiving feast and their arch rivals from the other town battle indigestion.
For the past two seasons on this day, Glenbrook South’s players feasted happily while their rivals at Glenbrook North had to reach for the stomach antacids.
But the tables turned on Wednesday and the lesson that the annually raucous Thanksgiving Eve game provided this year was clear:
The improbable is not the impossible.
Trailing 4-1 after two periods, Glenbrook North (14-3-0 in SHL play) scored three goals in the third period to force overtime. A scoreless three-on-three overtime ensued before GBN junior goaltender Michael Reyderman made a sudden death shootout save, and senior captain Ryan Sandler converted his shootout attempt to give North the win.
The north half of the packed stands at Centennial Ice Arena in Wilmette went berserk as the North faithful fairly lost their minds in shared delirium. North’s bench emptied and players raced to the glass in front North’s student section to dive onto a dog pile that will always be chiseled into their collective memory.
“This is a special team,” Sandler said. “I’ll never forget this.”
“It was a spectacular high school hockey game,” North coach Evan Poulakidas said. “It was really something. There’s a strong belief in that locker room. We’ve been in some tight games and I’m just really proud of them tonight.”
Through two periods, Glenbrook South (9-4-0) showed who they are, scoring twice in each period to take a commanding lead.
South senior Zack Freimuth — one of Illinois’ clear front-runners for player of the year honors — scored two goals on the night. The Titans also got one goal apiece from Marty McAuley and Blake Hoffer to build their three-goal lead.
Hoffer started the day’s scoring on a South power play, four minutes into the game. Teammate Ryan Mulvey fired from the slot and Hoffer deflected it home to give South its 1-0 lead. Freimuth made it 2-0 with roughly four minutes remaining, sliding a shot under Reyderman from the top of the circle on the right side, on an assist from McAuley.
North’s Mark Masarsky made it 2-1 in the second period, taking a pass from Jake Semmelhack along the ride side and launching a bomb from just over center ice that bounced once and got past Kamins.
Both Freimuth’s and Masarsky’s goals came from long-range, and Poulakidas suspected why.
“It’s dark in there to see some pucks,” Poulakidas said of the rink’s lighting. “The long shots were giving (both goalies) more trouble than anything else.”
Freimuth scored his league-leading 16th goal of the year to make it 3-1 at the 7:19 mark of the second period. Freimuth took a stretch pass from McAuley sent up right side and sped in alone on net, faking his forehand before cutting and depositing a backhand inside the far post.
Not even a minute later, McAuley made it 4-1 on another South power play, sending a shot through a crowd in front of the net. Wyatt Sherwood and Will Stevens assisted on the play.
At intermission, the Spartans thus faced the stark reality of trying to climb the mountain of a three-goal deficit. Everyone in the GBN locker room knew they were up against it, but they also knew the game wasn’t over.
“It obviously wasn’t the way we wanted to start out but we knew there was a chance,” Sandler said. “We knew if we got the first one (in the third period), then anything could happen and we could put them on their heels.
“In the back of your head you might know that it likely isn’t going to happen but (Poulakidas) told us that if we’re going to go down, we’re going to go down swinging, We weren’t going to lay down or embarrass ourselves.”
Probably no player anywhere in Illinois was more frustrated or down on himself on Wednesday than Reyderman was between the second and third periods. North’s goalie entered the game second in the SHL in goals-against average but through 34 minutes, he admittedly struggled.
The third period was a different story. Reyderman shined, stopping 11 shots in the period and three more in overtime before making his momentous shootout save.
“In the third period, Reyderman was Reyderman,” Poulakidas said.
North’s goaltender just had to find some inner calm.
“I was super nervous going into the game. I was even kind of shaking in the locker room,” Reyderman said. “After the four goals I went into the locker room and told myself I had to recuperate, believe in myself, and go out there and show them what I could do. I calmed down and after we got that second goal, I knew we could win that game.”
That second goal came when senior Anthony Rafalowski followed up his own shot and buried the rebound, less than seven minutes into the third period. The next hero in line for North was Noah Masinter.
If Rafalowski’s goal gave North hope, Masinter elevated that hope to near-expectation that a comeback was materializing.
Masinter leads North in SHL scoring and he netted his 11th league goal less than three minutes later, burying another rebound into the open net on the left side, cutting South’s lead to 4-3. Sandler and Logan Lyons assisted on Masinter’s goal.
North continued to attack hard for another three minutes, before Cooper Shalin took his turn to ride up on a white horse and help save the day.
It was Ryan Rossi who spearheaded the tying goal, firing a puck from behind the net that deflected and got loose on the doorstep, where Shalin buried the biggest game-tying goal of his career. Tristan Miller also assisted on the play.
Shalin’s third-period goal came after two periods of withstanding a constant earful from his coach. Shalin thought he was skating hard but Poulakidas saw it differently, and he let Shalin know it.
“I didn’t have my legs going in the first couple of periods,” Shalin said. “I thought I did but coach knew I had more to give. But that’s what he does. That’s why he’s the greatest coach.
“On the goal I told myself ‘just get to the net’. So I stuck my butt in front of the net and I found a rebound. It ended up right on my stick and I just slapped it in.”
Three goals scored in a six-minute span isn’t in any team’s game-plan, but North had pulled it off to tie the game.
“Between the periods I just said ‘look, if we get one before the ten-minute mark, it’s a hockey game’,” Poulakidas said. “And it kind of just fell into place. That doesn’t always happen but it did tonight. We were a little tentative with a third guy high. We had to go crash the net on every shot. That’s where goals are scored and we found some goals.
“We challenged our team tonight and they responded. It was a total team effort and we had great contributions from all three lines in the third period.”
Glenbrook South fought back down the stretch in regulation but North kept the Titans out of net. North defenseman Semmelhack was prominent all night long, and It didn’t hurt that Reyderman put on a cape after intermission.
“I just trusted my defensemen, my defensemen trusted me, and we left our forwards to do what they had to do in the third period,” Reyderman said. “I felt the size of the net and I knew that any puck they shot was going to hit me square.”
Reyderman left his line aggressively late in regulation to poke a puck away from a charging Hoffer, and North’s approach during the looming three-on-three overtime had one specific instruction.
“Every time (Freimuth) was on the ice we had two defensemen and a forward,” Poulakidas said.
Rossi sent a shot off the crossbar in overtime, during which North posted a 6-3 edge in shots. The box score shows a combined 92 shots in the game, and North finished with a 50-42 edge.
Kamins made a fine glove save on Masinter in the final minute of overtime and Reyderman dove forward to glove a shot taken from the right side in the waning seconds of overtime.
Hockey players constantly negotiate pressure-filled moments and Reyderman faced a doozy in the shootout. With all eyes on him, Reyderman had to wait and watch as Freimuth gathered the puck at center-ice and approached him. Freimuth went forehand-backhand to beat Reyderman during regulation.
“I knew (Freimuth) wasn’t going to come in and make a move and shoot it short side,” Reyderman said. “I felt pretty confident just staying up, dropping on one knee, and being as big as possible.
“I’ve been thinking about this game since, like, sixth grade. I remember watching them play and saying ‘that’s where I want to be. I want to play in this game’.”
Reyderman’s glove-side save of Freimuth’s forehand set up Sandler’s shootout attempt in front of a packed house.
“I was nervous. I was shaking,” Sandler said. “But I was also confident because I had a shootout goal earlier in the year (Oct. 22) when we beat Fenwick. I kind of knew what I was going to do and I just did the move I was comfortable with.”
The right-handed Sandler skated up the gut and deposited his forehand inside the post to his right to get North it’s improbable win.
“We never got down on ourselves, never doubted ourselves, stuck to the game plan and played our game,” Sandler said. “We had that juice in the third period and thought ‘screw it, we’re throwing everything on net’. We had nothing to lose and sometimes you play better when you have nothing to lose.”
The old cliche says that adversity builds character but that cliche lacks a vital reality. Because while it builds character, adversity arguably reveals character every bit as much.
North revealed its character on Wednesday.
“This team is different. There’s a different vibe on this team,” Shalin said. “Every time we’re down, we have belief, because we know what we can do. We always believe our game is coming and we knew all we needed to do was be patient.
“We all believed and that’s what it’s all about.”