March’s divisional playoffs have yielded three title game participants
By Greg Bates, Special to AHAI
Lacing up their skates and preparing for the biggest game of their young lives, the players who will compete in this Friday’s Illinois State High School Hockey Championships will have an experience of a lifetime.
It will be something they won’t soon forget.
For the 32nd year, AHAI will host championship day on West Madison Street at the United Center/Chicago Stadium, and this year’s event is raising plenty of excitement.
“We’ve always thought it was important to showcase the youth hockey community, especially the high school community and allowing them to play at the United Center,” said Annie Camins, the Chicago Blackhawks senior director of fan development. “What better way to end your high school career or be part of your high school career than to be able to play on the same ice as the Blackhawks?”
The Girls’ Division championship will kick off the day as Fenwick takes on New Trier at 4:30 p.m. The Boys’ Red Division championship will be Loyola Gold vs. New Trier Green at 7:30 p.m. The nightcap will see Waubonsie/Metea meet Glenbard in the Boys’ Combined Division championship at 9:15 p.m.
“I just think the rivalry is there,” Camins said. “New Trier won last year in the Girls’ Division, Loyola won last year in the Boys’ Division, so we have two repeat champions coming back. The Combined Division has two new teams, with Waubonsie/Metea and Glenbard. So, we’ll see if we have some repeat champions in the Girls’ and the Red Division or if we’ll walk away with some new champions.
“On a Friday night, I just think it’s going to be a really fun atmosphere for the fans.”
Said Jack Weinberg, AHAI high school committee chairman: “You’ve got some good games, good coaches and you should have some very excited fans and family and they’re playing in one of the premier facilities in the entire country where the Blackhawks in the last dozen years won three Stanley Cups — it doesn’t get much more fun than that.”
Yes, the games — on paper — have the look of something special.
The Boys’ Red Division championship will be a battle of bordering towns Wilmette and Winnetka. New Trier Green won the 2017 title and Loyola Gold took home last year’s trophy. This season, the two teams have faced each other five times with No. 1-ranked New Trier holding a 3-2 edge, outscoring Loyola Gold 10-8. But it was Loyola Gold that won the Scholastic Hockey League for the second straight season.
“The Loyola-New Trier rivalry I think will draw a good fanbase,” Camins said.
The Boys’ Red Division championship will be on NBC Sports Chicago and also livestreamed to authenticated NBC Sports Chicago subscribers at NBCSportsChicago.com/WatchLive. Chris Boden will provide the play-by-play and former Chicago Blackhawk Patrick Sharp will make his debut as the color analyst.
In the Boys’ Combined Division championship, a new champion will be crowned as two familiar foes will be facing off. Waubonsie/Metea won the state title in 2014 and Glenbard has captured titles in 2012 and ’15.
New Trier is looking for back-to-back titles in the Girls’ Division championship. Fenwick is hoping to get its first state title in program history.
Unlike many states in the country, the girls share the stage with the boys on the very same day. Camins wouldn’t want it any differently.
“It’s showcasing the best, most premier high school hockey players in Illinois — it doesn’t matter if they’re male or female,” Camins said. “I think the girls’ game, it’s just as exciting to watch, especially those two teams. They have some really great players on them, so I’m excited to see that one.”
Camins noted the one-day event draws about 10,000 spectators for the championships each year to the United Center. A big crowd is anticipated again this season. Tickets are just $5 at the door or available at Blackhawks.com in advance, and parking in the arena lots is free.
“It’s one of those things where we want to draw in the youth hockey community and make it affordable for kids and their parents to come out and watch the games,” Camins said. “It’s general admission, so they can sit front row, if they choose. It’s sponsored by Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana Chevy Dealers, so every fan will get a backpack on the way in.”
Weinberg and his AHAI colleagues are excited for championship Friday. They know the event wouldn’t be as spectacular without the assistance of the Blackhawks.
“The quality of the play and the ice basically gifted to us by the Blackhawks and the United Center to play these championships — that relationship speaks volumes, I think, to the relationship of the Blackhawks to our community,” Weinberg said.
The day is extremely important for the Blackhawks and their staff.
“Without the support of [team chairman] Rocky Wirtz and [president & CEO] John McDonough and [executive VP] Jay Blunk allowing us to play at the United Center — I don’t know how many other NHL teams get this opportunity where they get to showcase high school hockey talent, other than Minnesota having a whole day around it,” Camins said. “I feel like we’re pretty fortunate and lucky that we have the support from ownership to be able to use the facility for the day for this. It’s just a special moment for these kids.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.