Some of the biggest overall goals for Illinois High School Hockey this season are off-ice focused: further promoting the high school game, increasing social media coverage, storytelling and player exposure.
“High school hockey represents the best of our game,” said Spencer Montgomery, St. Ignatius head coach and chair of the AHAI High School Committee, talking for the annual State of High School Hockey in Illinois. “It is an opportunity to compete with your classmates and community in an environment with legacy and heritage. Athletes are put in an environment conducive to academic success that prioritizes team over individual. Rivalries are strong and the care level is high. High school hockey has been missed over the summer months.
“Great rivalries will be renewed with new players this season. The competition across all four (boys’) leagues will increase and there will be exciting action at rinks across the state from September through March as a new group of hockey players will have their chance to add to their school’s legacy and claim their place in their school’s success.
Montgomery said the level of competition at the high school level is as high as it has ever been and there is great parity amongst programs. “Our hope is to continue to bring new fans into rinks by investing in social media, storytelling, game broadcasts, and the Blackhawks Rivalry Series. Hope springs eternal heading into the beginning of the season. Excitement builds over which clubs have improved and will it be enough to compete against perennial powerhouse programs.”
The upcoming high school hockey season will feature a new varsity league, under the Scholastic Hockey League banner: the Academic Hockey League will feature second varsity teams from SHL clubs.
St. Ignatius and Fenwick are newcomers to the SHL this fall, while Barrington has moved from the SHL to the IHSHL North-Central Division. Plus, Notre Dame has left the Chicago Catholic Hockey League and joins North-Central.
“The level of play for Illinois High School Hockey continues to improve,” Montgomery said. “It is a place to play hockey and be a student-athlete. Illinois High School games draw large crowds, including more than 100,000 game views on YouTube. The state championship game had 20,000 viewers.”
New Trier Green is the defending red division state champion. In fact, the Trevians also are the defending SHL Champions. “They will be the team-to-beat in an extremely competitive league that features all of the top eight pure teams from last year,” Montgomery said. “The SHL is the most competitive league in Illinois; every game is a dogfight.”
Barrington is the defending girls state champion and though the Fillies appear to be a strong repeat contender, repeating has been near-impossible for the past decade-plus. In fact, of the seven state champions since 2015, there have been seven different champions. The last repeat champions were in the early 2000s, before today’s skaters were even born: Loyola (2003 and 2004), New Trier (2005 and 2006) and Glenbrook (2007 and 2008).
PREP, from the North-Central, is the defending combined division state champion – and PREP is a likely team to again be skating next March at the United Center.
Parity is clear in North-Central.
“Our tiering system (in North-Central) allows for a season full of evenly matched opponents,” Montgomery said. “PREP was clearly the class of the division the last two seasons, but this season should be wide open for nearly every team in the top division. The additions of Barrington and Notre Dame to North-Central will add even more competition in an already tough division.”
North-Central this season features three varsity division with 27 total teams, plus three divisions of JV play with 32 total teams.
Parity also is prevalent in the IHSHL Illinois West.
“The strength of (West) is the rivalries and the parity of the top 2/3 of the league,” Montgomery said. “With the structure of the season, beginning with a tiering round, each game will be paramount if a club wants to compete for the Illinois West league title.”
There are 16 varsity and 16 JV teams in West this season.
Waubonsie Valley will, once again, be the team-to-beat and Maine Township looks to be a title contender, too. The DuPage Stars will be vastly improved, and others to watch include Hinsdale Central, Sandburg and Neuqua Valley, among others.
The Catholic League is celebrating its 60th anniversary season, with the fabled Kennedy Cup awaiting the titlist next March. Saint Ignatius has won both the President’s and Kennedy Cup the past few seasons and appear to be just as stacked.
Providence, Benet Academy, Brother Rice and Fenwick all look to build upon last year’s success.
The Catholic League has eight varsity and 9 JV teams.
In addition to the annual All-State Game, traditionally played in early February, there also will be intra-league All-Star Games, presenting a “great opportunity to showcase what Illinois High School Hockey has to offer,” Montgomery said.
“One of our main goals from the High School Hockey Committee is to increase exposure for our athletes while also educating and informing them about options for continuing to play. The All-State and All-Star games are an excellent opportunity for club, junior, and prep coaches to observe Illinois high school players.”