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Parity Fills The 2024 SHL Playoffs – All Eight Teams Optimistic For Opening Round Games Feb. 3-4 At Heartland Ice Arena

By Ross Forman, 01/29/24, 6:45PM CST


New Trier Green Has The No. 1 Seed, Followed By Loyola Gold

To prepare for March Madness and those NCAA basketball brackets, try the February Frenzy that will be the SHL playoffs.

The NCAA fills a field of 68 teams and while only 8 will skate in the SHL playoffs, the odds of completing a perfect bracket in either tournament are astronomical.

All eight teams – 1 to 8, 8 to 1, and everyone in between – have a legitimate chance of scoring the SHL playoff championship. Unlike any past season, parity is skating, shooting, passing and checking throughout the Scholastic Hockey League.

New Trier finished the regular season as the No. 1-seeeded team, but the Trevians lost 2-1 to Glenbrook South on January 27, as the Titans completed the 3-game series sweep, winning all three games over New Trier. And the last time Green faced No. 8-seed Lake Forest, in an early December home game in Northbrook, the Trevians slipped by with a one-goal victory.

Anyone can win the SHL playoffs.

“There is so much parity this year. I cannot remember a season with this much parity, as a player or coach,” over the past 20 years or so, said Saint Viator head coach Tim Benz, a 2005 graduate of Glenbrook South High School, where he was a two-time all-state honoree.

“With so much parity, the key will be who’s hot and who’s not. It all comes down to matchups – whether that’s team matchups, line matchups, player matchups, everything.”

The Trevians skated away with the Coaches Trophy as the regular-season champion, finishing with a 25-5 record and 51 points from 30 games. The Trevians silenced Saint Viator 6-0 on January 28 in the final game for both teams before the playoffs.

The SHL playoffs open with a best-of-three format, with four games played consecutively this Saturday and Sunday, February 3-4, at Heartland Ice Arena in Lincolnwood, marking the first time in league history that the quarterfinals will all be played at a neutral site on the same day consecutively. Like previous years, the higher seed will be the home team for games one and three, thus owning the ever-important last line change.

Loyola Gold finished 22-8 (47 points).

“I’m extremely excited for this year’s SHL playoffs,” said Glenbrook South senior forward Zack Freimuth, the league’s leading scorer: 26 goals, 28 assists in 25 games played. Loyola’s Charlie Baine finished second: 21 goals, 31 assists in 30 games. “Obviously everyone is hunting for a state championship, but not many people get to say they were the champions of the best high school hockey league in Illinois.

“It’s an incredible opportunity and every step to capture that glory will be hard fought.”

Glenbrook North and Glenbrook South will be the No. 3 and No. 4 seeded teams, followed by Saint Viator.

Also battling for the SHL playoff crown: Saint Ignatius, York and Lake Forest. And don’t think for one moment that just because these are the No. 6, 7 and 8 seeds that they will be pushovers come playoff time. All three can bust a tournament bracket.

Lake Forest, for instance, won the season series against Viator.

Ignatius is a very skilled team, led by Tiernan Ryan, who had 19 goals and 22 assists heading into the team’s final regular season game: January 30 on the road against Glenbrook South.

The big question for the Wolfpack is, can they handle playing in the SHL and the Chicago Catholic Hockey League (CCHL) playoffs at the same time? “That’s a very tough thing to do. I think that will be a challenge for them, as it would be for any team,” Benz said.

York sputtered into the playoffs as the Dukes had four consecutive losses heading into its regular-season finale on January 31 against Glenbrook South in Glenview.

The Titans play their final five regular-season games over a 6-day span, wrapping February 1 against Stevenson at home. In fact, GBS plays 5 of its last 6 games before the playoffs at home.

“A team that cannot take away time and space from GBS is going to be in trouble because they have so much speed and skill,” Benz said. “If a physical team plays against them, such as Lake Forest or New Trier, that may be the team (that can defeat the Titans).”

The Titans have a loaded lineup of stars who can contribute, not just Freimuth. He is complimented by forward Blake Hoffer (14 goals, 28 assists), defenseman Marty McAuley (9 goals, 28 assists) and forward Wyatt Sherwood (19 goals, 16 assists), among others.

“There’s not a matchup that I can look at within these top eight teams and confidently can pick the winner,” Freimuth said. “Every game will be a battle, which is exactly what you want in a playoff setting.”

Benz said both Glenbrook teams are very strong, but he tagged the Trevians as the team-to-beat. “New Trier is always tough to beat,” he said.

Green swept the season series from Viator, outscoring the Lions 14-3.

The other team that won the season series from Viator was Lake Forest, the last team to qualify for the playoffs.

The Scouts defeated Glenbrook North 4-3 in overtime on January 28, and wrap the regular season in Vernon Hills on January 30 against Carmel.

“One through eight, all of these (opening round matchups) could go either way. Every single one of them – that’s a testament to how strong this league is,” said New Trier head coach Adam Cheris. “Lake Forest may be the No. 8 seed, but we cannot take them lightly. In fact, we must be on our A-plus game to beat Lake Forest two out of three games.

“They are a very strong team.”

Glenbrook North was 4-2 for the month heading into its final regular season game: January 31 on home ice in Northbrook against Stevenson, with back-to-back identical 5-2 wins in that stretch over New Trier Green and Loyola Gold.

Forwards Noah Masinter (17 goals, 23 assists in 29 games) and Anthony Rafalowski (10 goals, 17 assists) must be contained – or it will be a fun February for the Spartans.

“Everyone is motivated to win and everyone thinks they can win, which should lead to some really good hockey this weekend,” Cheris said.

Freimuth and Ryan are, without question, are x-factors as both “are so dangerous on the ice,” Benz said. “Both are tremendously talented offensively and make everyone around them better. They are such a threat. They are drawing two or three defenders to them, which consequently leaves their two or three teammates open – and they can get the puck to them despite being double- and triple-teamed; that’s how good Zack and Tiernan are.

“Both are so difficult to play defense against.”

Lake Forest head coach Steve Sarauer added: “Freimuth is special.”

There are many others in the SHL who can, and will, impact the playoffs, too. Case in point, Loyola’s flashy forward Baine and New Trier’s defensive stalwart Shane Randle (12 goals, 11 assists in 29 games).

GBN goalie Michael Reyderman has shown all season that he is, arguably, the best in the state, not just the SHL. He played in more SHL games than any other goalie and finished the regular season with a 2.06 goals-against average.

“Hot goalies are important,” Benz said.

Loyola freshman Charley Trapp has been solid and New Trier carries two noteworthy goalies: senior three-year player Drew Durdov and junior Wyatt Schmidt. “We’re blessed right now with strong goaltending,” Cheris said. “Reyderman also is exceptional, especially seeing as many shots as he does.”

Saruaer added, “Reyderman is a difference-maker. If he plays well, they will do well.”

Viator also boasts strong goaltending: Brock Harer and Patrick O’Gara.

Ironically, Cheris coached Trapp when he was a squirt. “Seeing him now as this beast in the net, with a great glove, wow,” Cheris said. “We put 40 shots on him, and he let in one … he looked awesome.”

Ignatius goalie Ethan Laughlin can be a game-breaker. Same is true in Lake Forest, with

Teddy Huddleston and Andrew Sommers, who Cheris tagged as, “outstanding, both of whom can be a No. 1 goalie.”

Cheris predicted there will be opening round sweeps. Most games likely will be won by a goal or two. And though most games will be very, very physical, limited penalties likely will be called due to the physical play. All teams will be composed, likely.

“Saying there is a team-to-beat is unfair to all other teams,” Cheris said. “There is no for sure winner in this. The winner will be the team that earns it. There’s no combination (of teams playing for the playoff championship) that would be absolutely shocking.”

Lake Forest head coach Steve Sarauer added: “It’s anyone’s game. I think the skill level of the individuals on all these teams is so good that it’s going to come down to which team makes the fewest mistakes and overall hard work.”

Sarauer tagged GBN as the team-to-beat, adding that GBN and GBS are under-rated.

Jackson Drum (18 goals, 15 assists) is, arguably, the go-to forward for Lake Forest.

“We’ve had a lot of tight, one- and two-goal games, and those games made us stronger,” Sarauer said. “Our kids know they have what it takes; it’s now a matter of finishing. The kids have a chip on their shoulder and are playing with more confidence.”

And they want the Trevians in the first round, Sarauer said. “I don’t necessarily know why, but that’s who they want,” he said. “Ultimately, you have to go through everyone.”

York, the state runner-up in 2023, skates into the 2024 SHL playoffs led by Nicholas Sanfilippo, Luke Composono and Ethan Maurer. And the Dukes boast six players who have 3 goals scored on the power play.

“I feel like we say this every year: the kids have really taken their game to the next level,” said York head coach Matt Boeing. “Every team, top to bottom, has players who can put pucks in the net, plus solid defense and all have great goaltending.

“I honestly could not pick a (playoff) favorite.”

Action kicks off Saturday, February 3, at 2:30 p.m., and then at 12:10 p.m., on Sunday, February 4.

“Playing all of the games consecutively at the same rink brings a tournament feel to the playoffs,” Freimuth said.

Boeing added, “There will be some really high-level games.”

Game 3s, if necessary, will be hosted by the higher seed during the following week.