By Ross Forman – Drawing an overwhelming double thumbs-up, the HOllywood HOckey movie – with an emotion-filled, slap shot-packed script – played out on New Year’s Eve, hours before the customary midnight celebration.
The stage actually was set less than 24 hours earlier, on Dec. 30, when Glenbrook North moved into the following day’s semifinals of the 26th annual post-Christmas high school tournament, run this year by Ultimate Hockey Tournaments and held at the Fifth Third Arena in downtown Chicago, with 18 teams competing from three states.
GBN goalie Matt Carr, a junior, was injured and the team was nervous, at best. Carr was unavailable for the semis and the team’s second goalie was out of town. Plus, the two goalies on the GBN JV also were out of town.
No. 2-ranked GBN was to play perennial Combined Division power Glenbard at about 10 a.m. on Dec. 31, but the team didn’t have a goalie – and only had a matter of hours to figure out a solution.
Glenbrook North head coach Evan Poulakidas and the program’s brain-trust realized that a Northbrook Bluehawks’ Bantam AA goalie, who is a freshman at GBN in Northbrook, is on the JV roster. Of course, it had to be approved and policies followed to add the freshman to the varsity roster, if in fact he was available.
Nate Kasdan agreed to goaltend for the GBN varsity – and the semifinals were to be his debut, followed by the finals, if the Spartans defeated Glenbard.
Kasdan was approved to play after countless phone calls, text messages and emails – and he ultimately helped the Spartans repeat as tournament champions. GBN defeated Glenbard 3-1 in the semis, then slipped past Stevenson 4-3 in a shootout.
“In 30 years of coaching hockey, I’ve never seen anything like this. I’m not easily surprised, and tonight really was a shocker. This was a moment that will stay with me forever, as I’m sure it will (for) everyone in our locker room,” Poulakidas said. “It was really one for the ages, (given) the circumstances.
“I think today showed a ton of character, guts and perseverance … if you look up what Spartans really represent, this was it, with a never-quit, never-surrender approach.
“This was one of the most courageous efforts I’ve ever seen.”
Kasdan was playing video games on Monday night. He was the winning goaltender for the championship-winning team in the Holiday Hockey Classic on Tuesday night.
GBN defeated Glenbard 3-1 on goals from Matt Dahlke, Charlie Slovis and Daniel Wilcox. Glenbard’s lone goal, scored by Brett Quinn, came with 3:08 remaining to play in the third period.
In the finals, the Spartans held a 1-0 edge over Stevenson into the third. But the Patriots scored their three goals in a 7-minute span of the third period to build a 3-1 edge.
Dahlke scored with 3:56 left to cut the score to 3-2 and Wilcox tied the game with 1:15 remaining.
Neither team scored in overtime, so that pushed the game into a five-player shootout scenario.
Both teams missed their first two shootout attempts.
Then Dahlke converted.
Stevenson missed its third and fourth shots, and when Jaden Andrews scored in round four, the GBN victory was sealed.
“I was just trying to treat the (championship game) like a regular game, which didn’t really work out; it got into my head a bit and (I) got nervous. But ultimately we got the job done,” said Kasdan, who faced 31 shots from Stevenson, the No. 6-ranked team in Illinois.
Kasdan got the call to see about his availability to play from GBN goalie coach Rob Schmidt, and Kasdan admitted, “I had no idea what he was calling about.”
GBN has now won the Ho Ho Tournament five times, including back to back years. The Spartans defeated New Trier Green last year for the title.
“I was excited and nervous at the same time; I didn’t really know what to expect,” in varsity-level hockey, Kasdan said. “I was confident in the team that they (would be) able to come back,” after falling behind 3-1 in the championship game.
Andrews, a senior forward, iced the victory with his shootout goal. Poulakidas wasn’t surprised.
“Jaden is probably our most consistent breakaway player we have, so I had a lot of confidence in him,” the GBN coach said.
Kasdan was in his first-ever shootout.
“I was nervous every time (Stevenson) came down on him (during the shootout), but he was great,” Poulakidas said.
So what does Kasdan have planned as an encore?
“I’ll have to wait and see,” he said with a smile on his face before returning to overly loud and accessibly jubilant GBN locker room at Fifth Third Arena, where the Spartans started their New Year’s Eve celebration hours before the calendar said 2020.
Photos Courtesy, Joel Schneider
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.