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BREAKING NEWS: SHL Programs Make Massive Technology Investment

By SHL Network, 02/07/24, 11:00AM CST


SHL programs step up to invest in the future of Illinois High School hockey streaming

The date was Saturday, October 26, 2016. Stevenson traveled to take on Loyola in the iconic 6:10 PM ice slot at Heartland Ice Arena. Loyola would go on to win 4-1. Cooper Prawdzik, Eamon O’Brien, Ben Odle and Barrett Garfield scored the 4 goals for Loyola. John Purcel had 2 assists. Thomas Moran stopped 26 shots of the 27 he saw. All of this was seen on “The Cube” as the very first “SHL Game of the Week” produced by Jim Ledding, camera operated by Jimmy Olson and play-by-play commentary by Max Anderson.

The game was broadcasted in 360p standard definition with the use of Max’s work laptop, Jimmy’s personal camcorder and Jim’s podcast mic. The puck looked like a black, blurry frisbee that traversed the grainy surface through obtrusive netting on computer screens all over the Chicago area. Max and Taylor Rammelt, the network’s first color commentator, would pass the podcast mic back and forth as they called the action on the ice.

The journey the SHL Network would take over the next 7+ years nobody could have seen coming. The podcast mic was replaced by 2 headsets that more belonged on the heads of air traffic controllers than sports broadcasters but would eventually give way to professional broadcasting headsets. The cameras, laptops, and sound equipment would see steady upgrades over the years. Wireless mics allowed The Network to capture the sounds from ice level, bringing a new level of feature on the athletes and coaches that brought the games to life. With the help of New Trier Hockey club, we were able to invest in wireless transmitters that brought the coolest feature in the network’s history: The Goal Cam.  Additional technical infrastructure was invested by the league, eventually leading to games being able to be broadcasted in 720p and eventually 1080p HD quality (when rink wifi allowed). Broadcasters on The Network that have gone on to work for ESPN, Fox, broadcast for the MLS, Chicago White Sox and Northwestern Football to go with so many other success stories. Sandwiched in the middle of this growth was a global pandemic that shut down the network just before the end of the 2020 State playoffs and kept the network off for the entirety of the 2020/2021 season.

The 2021/2022 season saw the launch of the High School Rivalry Series presented by the Chicago Blackhawks, a partnership that continues to grow year after year. The attention and investment the Blackhawks organization continues to make in high school hockey is one the entire Chicagoland hockey community can be proud of. That same season saw the high school hockey season end with Stevenson’s first ever AHAI State Championship, and people around the world were able to watch it on the SHL Network. At that point, the SHL Network had grown to the point where interest from other leagues came fast and furious and thus J&M Media was born. The CCHL, DePaul Club Hockey, AHAI and the Chicago Blackhawks all wanted what SHL fans had become used to: their biggest contests broadcasted in a professional fashion while being locally attainable. 2023 saw the state championship back on the SHL Network with J&M Media only this time, on the biggest hockey stage in Illinois: The United Center. While we expanded to offer broadcast services for these other leagues and events, we never forgot what league got us started. Invested in us. Believed in the vision of broadcasting the top high school hockey action in Illinois. And that, of course, was the Scholastic Hockey League.

That’s how we got here. You might be thinking: "What’s next?" When the SHL was founded in 2012, its mission was simple: create a league of the top high school hockey teams in Illinois to play the most competitive regular season and league playoffs possible. What that spawned was the same mission for the Game of the Week broadcasts. It’s taken time, sweat, fundraising, sponsorships and more sweat but we can confidently say the product you see on the SHL Network produced by J&M Media rivals most minor league sports broadcasts. This leaves only one step left: professional league quality. As you might guess, that does not come cheap. The laptop we’ve been using since 2019 is a powerful laptop but that can truthfully only get you so far. We’ve had to throttle the viewing quality of streams in order to make sure we wouldn’t, quite literally, explode the laptop with our multi camera and replay setup. Even with that, we’ve recently seen this laptop crash on occasion mid-broadcast as Jimmy pushes the envelope on graphics and cameras. If we’re going to be professional quality, we can’t have crashes. And guess what? Each and every SHL Team agreed. Carmel Catholic, Fenwick, Glenbrook North, Glenbrook South, Lake Forest, Loyola Academy, New Trier, St. Ignatius, St. Viator, Stevenson and York hockey programs did not blink when we went to them asking if they would share in the cost of building this new, professional level computer that would take the league and Illinois high school hockey into the next 5-10 years with professional broadcasts. This new computer will allow picture quality that matches what you see on your TV screens on the biggest TV Networks. We cannot thank each and every program enough for their willingness to invest in us and, in turn, you.

Some additional thanks are in order. First and foremost when it comes to everything with the SHL, President Evan Poulakidas. As we’ve said numerous times over the years, there is never an ask of Evan with a response that isn’t either: A) Yes or B) We will find a way. The effort, energy, and passion that he has for high school hockey and the SHL is 2nd to no one. Fans, coaches and players have no idea the amount of time that Evan puts in with us behind the scenes (with the SHL Network being just a TINY fraction of his broader time and attention for the league). That’s of course on top of the time and commitment for his own Glenbrook North Hockey team. 

One of the improvements I’m most proud of the network over the last 2-3 years is the community involvement. The people that donate their time, expertise and equipment simply because they love high school hockey and what it means to their communities. 3 People in particular: Joel Schneider, Gerard Borys and Butch Connely deserve specific shoutouts. Most of the league may know them as GBN, GBS and St. Ignatius team videographers respectively, but we know them as dedicated volunteers who on countless occasions have lent their expertise and equipment for our use on the network while asking for absolutely nothing in return (including this mention). GBN and GBS may be bitter rivals on the ice and St. Ignatius the newcomers on the block but when it comes to The Network, they are true team players. 

It’s time for Sam Schwartz and Dylan Ward to get the praise and flowers they deserve. When Sam isn’t stirring up the instagram account comments section with his weekly power rankings, he spends countless hours behind the scenes ensuring the SHL Website is pristine. He’s on top of every stat category and broader league information, giving the broadcast team and fans stats and info that simply do not exist at the high school level anywhere else. Dylan has overseen a more than 800% growth in the following on the SHL Instagram account. He’s responsible for the competitions that have become so beloved such as the SHL jersey competition to go with countless nights spent, above and beyond his job description, at rinks around the area bringing live content to social media consumers everywhere. Dylan and Sam help create a league media presence that mirror Division 1 College Sports Information departments, not high school hockey leagues. 

Last but certainly not least, a huge thank you to Jimmy “The Whiz” Olson. Normally building a professional production computer would cost more than double what it’s costing the SHL, and that’s thanks to Jimmy. He volunteered, at no additional cost, to put this together himself. Throughout the SHL season Jimmy is constantly looking for ways, big and small, to improve the viewing experience for you. The Network would be a clunky, tiny shadow of itself without The Whiz. The next time you thank the broadcast crew at a game, make sure you thank Jimmy too.

So that’s the news for today. A huge technology investment and a big thanks to a community of hockey supporters that make the SHL one of the top high school hockey leagues in the country. Much of the update from the end of the regular season last season stands true through this season, just add 10-15% on all of the stats. But like we always promise you, we’re pushing for higher heights and those new altitudes are just around the corner. Stay tuned… 

- The Network