Providence seeks first state title; Glenbard is back for third consecutive season; Girls game pits No. 1 vs. No 2
By Ross Forman
The final slapshots of the 2015-16 High School Hockey season will be this week – and boy will they have huge impact.
It’s State Championship Week, as the top-tiered Red, Combined and Girls Divisions are now set to skate at the United Center on Friday, March 18.
Let’s start with the Girls, as that’s the first game, starting at 4 p.m. No. 1-seeded Barrington faces No. 2-seed Loyola.
The Ramblers advanced to the finals with a crushing win over their arch-rival, New Trier, 8-2 in the semifinals, played March 10 in Bensenville. The Fillies slipped past No. 5 Lake Forest, 4-2, in the other semi.
“It should be a really good game; goaltending will be the key,” said Barrington head coach Rob Renner, who brings his Barrington team into the United Center with a 23-3-2 overall record. The Fillies were 13-1 in Metro Girls regular-season league play, with the lone loss coming to Loyola, 5-3, last November in Crystal Lake. Barrington then went 8-2-2 in the seven-team, top-tiered Scholastic Cup playoffs. Barrington also has a win and a tie against Loyola this season.
“One of the biggest challenges is to present this as just another game,” Renner said. “It’s tough to walk into that venue and not overthink things – and that’s when things might not work out well.”
Coach Renner’s daughter, Andrea, is a left-handed shooting center who was second in Metro Girls regular-season scoring (30 goals, 6 assists). She also had 11 goals, 9 assists in 8 Scholastic Cup games. Andrea, a senior at St. Viator who has committed to play next season at Northeastern University, has been playing hockey since she was about 7, when Rob was an assistant coach on a team in Hoffman Estates and the goalie then was Nicole Guagliardo.
Andrea and Nicole are now known as the dynamic duo of girls’ hockey – and linemates. Guagliardo, a senior at Barrington, had 16 goals, 6 assists in league play, with 5 game-winning goals.
Ross’ prediction: Barrington wins, 4-2. Guagliardo scores the game-winning goal.
At 7 p.m., the faceoff in the Red Division will feature New Trier Green against Providence Catholic, as the Celtics stopped Benet Academy 2-1 in the semifinals, while the Trevians defeated arch-rival Loyola Gold, 2-1.
New Trier Green is looking for its 11th state championship during the coaching reign of Bob Melton and the Trevians have won state two of the past three seasons.
But Providence Catholic stands in New Trier’s way, and the Celtics have had New Trier’s number this season. Sure, the Trevians won 4-0 last September, but the Celtics have won the last two meetings: 4-1 in November and 2-1 in December.
This is the Celtics’ first skate at the United Center, and they enter with a 56-10-1 record.
Providence, which has won 12 of its last 13 games, is led by Jake Rott (21 goals, 31 assists in Catholic League play). The Celtic attack also features Jake Vennetti (24, 23) and Joe Strick (17, 21).
Goalie Ryan Iaciancio (1.62 goals-against average) is the son of Providence coach Nick Iaciancio.
New Trier, meanwhile, enters the United Center with a 54-10-1 record and is riding a 5-game winning streak and the Trevians have won 15 of their last 16 games. New Trier has only surrendered 1 goal in each of its three state tournament games.
The high-powered Trevians’ offense is led by Charlie Burton, who has 28 goals, 44 assists. He is aided on offense by John Huber (34 goals, 34 assists), Jack Raith (34, 34), Michael Graham (36, 29) and Matthew Mulhern (34, 30).
Will Douthit has played 35 games, while Hayden Wieczorek has been in goal for 31 games.
Ross’ Prediction: Jack Raith tallies twice, leading Green to a 3-1 win.
Action at the United Center on Friday culminates with Glenbard facing BG/H/W for the Combined Division title, marking the third consecutive season Glenbard is playing for the state championship and the fourth time of the last five seasons.
“No one ever expects us to go back, but we always find a way,” Glenbard head coach Jason Hawkins said after his team stopped co-op Wheaton West 2-1 in the semifinals, played March 13 in Bensenville.
BG/H/W, a mix of players from Buffalo Grove, Hersey and Wheeling, silenced Waubonsie Valley, 5-0 in its semifinal.
“We’re a deep team this season, deeper than past years. And, we’ve had different guys step up all season, guys who aren’t necessarily at the top of the stat sheet,” Hawkins said.
Senior Sam Weiss (Glenbard South) has shined this season, with a team-leading 32 goals and 12 assists. He was the MVP at the annual All-State Game, played in February, and he netted the game-winning, short-handed goal in the semifinal with less than 2 minutes remaining in regulation time.
“He has scored big goals for us throughout his three-year career, including the state championship game-winner in overtime last season,” Hawkins said. “He just keeps coming through in crucial moments.”
Glenbard enters with a 27-21 record, while the Stampede stands at 31-19-5 and is the Champions Cup playoff runner-up from the North-Central Division. This is the first meeting this season between the two teams.
Junior Nicholas Christianson and senior William Busby are two of the Stampede’s top forwards, each tallying 20 or more points in the 11-team Champions Division. Chris Waters is the Stampede’s first-year head coach, joined on the bench by longtime BG/H/W head coach Bob Wagner and assistant Pat Wagner.
Ross’ Prediction: There’s joy in the Northwest suburbs as BG/H/W wins in overtime, 4-3, with junior Nick Iliescu scoring the game-winning 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.