Saint Ignatius and Fenwick are jumping into the Scholastic Hockey League this upcoming season, while Barrington is leaving the SHL and moving into the IHSHL North-Central Division.
Plus, SHL confirmed a major expansion with a new division: the Academic Hockey League, comprised of select school’s second varsity teams, including Glenbrook South, Fenwick, New Trier White, Saint Ignatius, Saint Viator and Loyola Maroon, and Lake Forest.
“This is an exciting addition to our league,” said Evan Poulakidas, SHL president.
The SHL, in its 11th season in the fall, has 11 varsity teams playing a 30-game schedule and 9 full JV teams playing a 26-game schedule and 8 qualifying for the playoffs. Ignatius and Fenwick JV teams were granted an exception for this year. Their JV teams will only play SHL teams once. Both teams are required to bring their JV teams into the SHL full-time the following season.
“Saint Ignatius has proven over the last few years that they belong and (can) compete in the SHL. Their coaching staff has very high expectations and playing in the SHL gives them a better opportunity to do something special in the state tournament,” said Poulakidas, the Glenbrook North head coach who also serves as the SHL president. “Fenwick has a rich history in high school hockey. Their goal in joining the SHL, in my opinion, is to attract some of the players they were not getting and to work their way back to where they once were. The coaches in the SHL agreed that a good Fenwick team is good for high school hockey, so now they have a chance to prove themselves.”
Three other teams were considered for admittance into the SHL, Poulakidas confirmed.
“The SHL is not for everyone; night in and night out it is a battle. From top to bottom. You must get points every night. Only 8 of the 11 (varsity teams) make the playoffs, so you don’t want to go through any long losing streaks,” Poulakidas said. “Nobody in our league wants teams to be dropped, but in the minds of the coaches, the last 3 years have been tough on Barrington and something needed to be done not only for the SHL but for the players at Barrington. I think they have a new group that can do some good things in North-Central. It will be good for their program and good for their players.
“Saint Viator went through a few tough years, got their program back on track, asked for readmittance and was accepted back. Certainly, if Barrington can show improvement the league would consider a return.”
Poulakidas said the SHL has considered expanding to 14 teams.
Perennial power New Trier Green is the defending regular-season and playoff champion of the SHL, a first for one team to claim both. The Trevians then defeated fellow SHL foe York to claim the state championship and finished second to national powerhouse Shattuck St. Mary’s in the Nationals.
“You must find a way to get through the ‘Beast from the East’ if you are going to win the Red Division,” of the state tournament, Poulakidas said. “Winning state is hard; winning the Scholastic Cup is harder.”
As expected, the SHL looks loaded for the 2023-24 season. “It is interesting that even outside Illinois the SHL is well known; many (promote) the fact that an SHL team is coming to compete in a tournament. I think that speaks volume of what the SHL has become.”
The Trevians will be solid once again this upcoming season, along with Loyola Gold, York, Saint Viator and Saint Ignatius.
“The differences among (SHL varsity) teams is so small that eventually it will come down to who has the best goalie in the playoffs, it’s that close,” said Poulakidas, entering his 24th season coaching Illinois high school hockey. This will be his 12th year at GBN.
He spent nine seasons at Lake Zurich and three at Viator before jumping to GBN.
Poulakidas is 9 wins shy of 550 for his career.
The SHL also confirmed that its varsity playoff finals will be a one-game championship. The quarterfinal and semifinal rounds will remain best-of-3 series.
Poulakidas confirmed that the SHL is working on the first-ever High School Showcase, pitting 8 SHL teams against 8 out-of-state, high-ranking high schools, to be played Nov. 9-12.
“SHL teams have benefited from the overall exposure of the SHL Network, but it really is the players who have benefitted them most,” Poulakidas said. “Junior teams can watch potential players on the SHL Network along with some of the college coaches and ACHA high-level programs. The production of the SHL Network is truly professional. If we are not playing, I am always tuned into the game and when we are playing in an SHL game that is being televised, the players understand that it is a little more than just an average game.”
Max Anderson, who handles play-by-play on SHL broadcasts, was announced this spring as the new fill-in radio play-by-play announcer for the Chicago Fire FC of Major League Soccer (MLS) when Max Thoma is unavailable.
“We are always trying to innovate and bring more to each telecast,” Poulakidas said. “The graphics keep improving; the production keeps improving; the announcing keeps improving. Nobody connected with the SHL Network is satisfied, which is a good thing. Jimmy Olson and Max see to this. They are always asking for more to improve everything which shows how committed they are to the Network.”