I love March Madness.
You’ve got teams fighting for their survival, their season on the line as the clock ticks down. There are last-second game-winners, bitter rivalries renewed, breakout stars and so much more. There are ranked teams, shocking moments and lifelong memories.
March Madness truly is magical, ultimately ending with that one shining moment.
But I’m talking high school hockey, not the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
Yep, it’s that time of year – sink or swim – when teams look to topple New Trier Green and, eventually, be the lone standing, cheering, probably crying, overjoyed at the United Center, when the Illinois state champion is crowned.
For Red Division teams, the season-long goal is Sunday, March 22, when the title will be awarded. As of March 2, the dream was still alive for 16 teams. Yep, the Sweet 16, though when this article hits your in-box and goes live online, that number will be reduced and the season sniped for several talent-filled teams.
New Trier Green earned the No. 1 seed and played Evanston on March 2 at The Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville. The Trevians were expected to be there, not so much for the Wildkits, but that’s what makes March Madness so special.
Evanston was the No. 16 seed in the tournament and defeated No. 17 seed Fenwick, a perennial powerhouse, 3-2 on Feb. 18 in Evanston.
The Wildkits, without question, were the biggest surprise among the Sweet 16 teams.
Evanston, coached by Delayon Morris, finished 8-6-6 in the Champions League of the North Central Division. The team is led by senior forwards Brandon Hilliard and Rocco Matera, and also had strong seasons from senior defenseman Ben Cousineau and senior forward Ryan Kleschen.
New Trier Blue, meanwhile, skated into the Sweet 16 against Neuqua Valley, a matchup of the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds.
New Trier Blue would face New Trier Green in the quarterfinals, if both advance.
Loyola Gold advanced to the Sweet 16, once again, as did Stevenson. The clash between the Ramblers and the Patriots is interesting in that both teams have struggled this season, so who will step up for a quarterfinal berth?
Glenbrook North and Sandburg met in the Sweet 16, while Naperville Central battled Highland Park.
St. Rita and Barrington battled in the Sweet 16, while Providence faced surprising Notre Dame.
Finally, it was Benet in the Sweet 16, along with Glenbrook South. The Titans haven’t seen playoff stardom in years, but anchored behind goalie Matt Grinde, it’s been a fun run in Glenview for the blue and yellow.
New Trier Green captured the regular-season title in the nine-team Scholastic Hockey League, with a 21-2-0-1 record (43), followed by Glenbrook North (17-3-0-4, 38 points). And it’s No. 1 against No. 2, Green vs. GBN, for the Scholastic League playoff title. New Trier advanced with a 2-0 semifinal series win over Barrington, while GBN swept Rockford.
GBN coach Evan Poulakidas and Barrington coach Steve Martins are the Scholastic League Co-Coaches of the Year.
Barrington is led by Anthony Iacullo, who scored 11 goals, 17 assists in 24 regular-season games.
MORE STATE TOURNAMENT NEWS:
* No. 1 seed Rockford opens its state tournament run (Combined Division) on March 7 against No. 17 AWF, which was a 6-5 winner over Lane Tech.
* The biggest surprise so far in the Combined Division is the 7-0 win by No. 19 Lakers over No. 14 DHS.
* Lake Forest and Latin School of Chicago have already secured semifinal spots in the Girls State Tournament. The No. 5-seeded Scouts blanked No. 4 Evanston, 3-0. Latin School stopped Glenbrook South, 5-2.
* The Lake Forest JV advanced to the Sweet 16 with one of the biggest surprises: a 3-1 win over Fenwick #1.
* Evanston’s JV team also has shown late-season success as the No. 22-seed Wildkits slipped past No. 11-seed Hinsdale Central, 3-2, on the road.
PROUD PERSONAL PERFORMANCES:
* Senior forward Sam Wheeland had 25 goals, 22 assists for Dist. 155, tops in the North-Central’s Sterling League.
* Charlton Mcardle had 7 game-winning goals for Latin School of Chicago among his 21.
* BG/H/W has the top three scorers in the Champions League: Michael DeSalvo (23 goals, 25 assists), Nicholas Christianson (10, 26) and Patrick Myers (19, 16). Myers was the lone player among the top 20 league scorers who was not penalized all season.
* Dillon George, a senior forward for the Fox Valley Hawks, captured the Suburban Division scoring title with 23 goals, 18 assists in 21 games played. Teammate Trevor Kurtzhals had 6 game-winning goals among his 24. And fellow Fox Valley Hawks sophomore forward Josh Gadow led the league with 23 assists.
* Troy Nelson, a senior forward for Naperville Central, grabbed the West Division scoring title with 37 goals, 27 assists, edging Nick Pietro, a senior forward for co-op Glenbard, who had 37, 26.
Benet Academy swept Providence by identical 4-2 scores to capture the Catholic League’s top prize, ultimately winning the title on Feb. 28 at the Southwest Ice Arena.
Benet built a 4-0 lead on goals from Josh Tumpane, Trenton Kunas, Lee Barnes and Daniel Stent before the Celtics struck on a goal from Matt McConnell. Matt Iaciancio scored Providence’s second goal.
Ross Forman has written about Illinois high school hockey for more than 15 years, and is the only sportswriter to have covered Illinois High School hockey every year during that stretch. He played locally and then at Indiana University before becoming a referee. Ross was a referee for the State Championship game several years ago at the United Center. Contact Ross by email at Rossco814@aol.com.