Illinois was well represented at the 2023 Chipotle-USA Hockey High School National Championships for the Prep and Division 2 divisions, held March 23-27 in Plymouth, Minnesota. Both New Trier Green and PREP advanced to the championship games – and co-op PREP, a mix of players from Prospect, Elk Grove and Rolling Meadows High Schools, captured its championship.
PREP stopped the Des Moines (Iowa) Oak Leafs 6-3 for the Division 2 title.
The Trevians fell 8-0 in the finals to Minnesota powerhouse Shattuck St.-Mary’s.
Nick Lamberg continued his magic in high-profile games.
The senior forward (Elk Grove) scored the game-winning goal on Sunday, March 19, at the United Center when co-op PREP captured its first-ever Illinois High School Hockey State Championship.
He did it again Monday, March 27, when his second period goal (assisted by Nick Albrecht and, believe it or not, goalie Michael Delea) proved to be the game-winner as PREP held on to defeat the Des Moines Oak Leafs 6-3 to claim the 2023 Chipotle-USA Hockey High School Division 2 High School National Championship. The 5-day, 16-team tournament was held March 23-27 in Plymouth, Minnesota.
“I just wouldn’t bet against them, ever. They’ve exceeded our expectations 10-fold and this experience was unbelievable,” said PREP head coach Nick Panos. “We told them to enjoy the experience the whole time, every game. I just hope it sunk in, but I think it’ll take a few days to sink in what they did.”
Lamberg added: It’s unreal … Winning state was our main goal and once we found out that we were going to nationals, it became our second goal. So, everyone is pretty excited about it. When the buzzer rang, throwing our equipment off and celebrating again was a moment I’ll never forget. We’ve worked since August for all of this; it’s an unreal feeling.”
PREP (59-1-6-1) built a 2-0 first period lead on goals from Kounosuke Tsuchiya (assisted by Kamil Skowyra and Albrecht) and Matthew Melachrinakis (William Behls), and then pushed it to 4-0 after two periods.
Albrecht also scored in the second.
“The early lead was crucial for us,” Panos said. “That team was very talented.”
PREP’s Iowa-based opponents continued fighting in the third period and scored three times. But PREP added goals from Melachrinakis and Lamberg to ice the victory.
“I get a text from Lamberg’s mom before every game, with two words: He’s Ready! Today, there were three words: He’s @#$%& Ready!,” Panos said with a laugh. “There’s no other words, he was simply amazing at Nationals.”
Delea sent the puck to Albrecht, who dished it to Lamberg, who took it wide and drilled home a wrist shot.
“We take time and space away from even the most talented teams, so they have less time to make a good decision; we definitely did that in this tournament. We also were reading the plays well,” Panos said. “Plus, we finally were scoring in this tournament. We were a scoring machine in this tournament. The offense just clicked. This was our best hockey of the season.”
PREP went 6-0 at Nationals, outscoring its opponents 35-13. They stopped Bishop Canevin of Pennsylvania 5-1 in the semifinals.
PREP defeated the East Islip Chiefs of New York 8-6 in a back and forth round-robin game that was crucial for seeding, Panos said. “Everyone contributed, which was key,” he said.
Jacob Rozanski had 4 goals against the Chiefs, including the game-winner.
“I came to PREP 12 years ago as a JV coach and we won state with that JV team. Nine of those (JV) players watched the (national championship game) together. So this win was really special,” Panos said.
Lamberg was the most dominant forward in the tournament, finishing with the most goals (11), points (17) and power play goals (5). He also tied for the tournament lead in short-handed goals (2) and short-handed assists (2).
“I had people from around the state of Illinois texting me during the tournament, wishing us well, including opposing coaches, referees and people I didn’t even know. I got anonymous texts (with Illinois area codes) rooting us on. That was so special,” Panos said. “I got an anonymous text from a (Northwest) Chargers coach who said he practiced before our practice ice slot. He simply said, ‘Go get ‘em!
“This was an experience I’ll never forget, and I know the kids won’t either.”
Landon Douthit had a goal and an assist on Sunday, March 26, in the Trevians’ 2-1 semifinal win over American Hockey Academy at CATS Academy of Boston.
Douthit finished the 5-day, 5-game tournament as Green’s top forward (2 goals, 3 assists).
“Landon Douthit was amazing this entire tournament,” said Green head coach Adam Cheris.
Kitchel Snow gave the Trevians’ a 1-0 first period lead in the semifinal, assisted by Douthit.
That lead last into the third when CATS pushed one past Green goalie Drew Durdov.
Douthit tallied the game-winner at 3:17, assisted by Christian Randle.
“That (semifinal game), to me, was our finals – because we knew what Shattuck was going to be. We thought (the final) would be more competitive, but it wasn’t,” Cheris said. “We had a great gameplan in place for the semi, and it worked.
“That win was a big deal.
“We spent everything in the semifinal; we had nothing left in our tank (in the finals).”
Shattuck St.-Mary’s led 1-0 after one, but that blitzed the Trevians for six goals in the second period. They added one more in the third.
Cheris took the finals loss as a life lesson for his team.
“Not everything in life is going to go your way,” Cheris said. “When you have so much success in a season, as we did, inevitably, you’re going to have those games – such as the Barrington loss earlier this season and today’s final – where you either just don’t have it or the other team does. That becomes a life lesson – and that’s what we talked about with the team after the game.
“You’re going to have challenges in life – be it a tough exam in college, or maybe you’re going to get fired from a job. The question is, how are you going to regroup and respond?
“That’s what we’ve been teaching them all season.”
The Trevians will lose 13 to graduation, but Cheris said the returning Green players “are already motivated for next year.”
The Trevians opened Nationals with a 4-2 win over Denver East, then stopped the Orange Lutheran Lancers (California), 4-3. Green then defeated Culver Academies Varsity (Indiana) 3-2 – with Douthit scoring the third period game-winning goal, assisted by Henry Chessen and Brendan Heneghan.
“It was a great overall experience, something we were thrilled to be a part of,” Cheris said. “The timing was hard for us. We won state on Sunday, March 19, and had to leave on Wednesday, yet had no plans, nothing booked.
“The kids were … worn out (in the finals).
The Trevians finished 63-4-2-3.
“Overall, it was a great experience,” Cheris said. “The kids had a great year, winning so many (tournament) championships. These kids are a tremendous group of players, great personalities and will be super successful in whatever they do. I’m really proud of them.
“It was a great event, a wonderful opportunity to see how broad hockey is. This event is so special and very well-run.”
Shattuck St.-Mary’s is dominant; there is no flaw in their game. They had the top five scorers in the Prep Division and 7 of the top 10.
“Wow, can they play; they are amazing,” Cheris said of Shattuck. “They have size, speed, strength … everything they did was what you’d expect out of a school that’s based on hockey.”
Still, Cheris was pleased with the play of his Trevians.
“Will Cusick played exceptionally, even with an injured shoulder. He just gutted it out; he’s a warrior. Butler Chessen has been amazing all year. Those guys and others really stepped up,” Cheris said.
The Trevians and PREP stayed at the same hotel, which led to strong bonds and friendships being built, Cheris said.
“It was great to see the two teams unite in that we both were representing Illinois. I think there’s a good level of respect between the two programs,” Cheris said. “After our loss (in the finals), they were the first to come up and support our team. We told them, ‘Bring it home for the state.’
“This tournament showed that Illinois high school hockey is super competitive (versus the rest of the nation),” Cheris said.