The landscape has changed for local high school hockey teams.
Prairie Ridge spent its past few seasons playing an independent schedule, along with the High School Invitational Tournament, while Crystal Lake South and the CCM Tigers played in the Chicago Metropolitan Hockey League’s Central Division.
The Metro League no longer exists. In its place is the Scholastic Hockey League, of which Prairie Ridge now is a member, and the Illinois High School Hockey League, where South and CCM (which combines with Crystal Lake Central, Dundee-Crown and McHenry) now reside. Those two play in the North Central Division’s Mikita West Division.
The SHL took some of the top teams in the state – many of which also play in the HIT – to form a nine-team conference. In the SHL with Prairie Ridge is New Trier Green, Loyola, Rockford, Barrington, Glenbrook North, Glenbrook South, Stevenson and St. Viator.
The Wolves (17-11-4 overall, 5-7-2 SHL) face an even more demanding schedule than when they played as an independent, although they have a pair of seven-game winning streaks. They have won eight of their past nine games.
“We play teams like New Trier Green and Loyola three times now, so yeah, it’s tougher,” Prairie Ridge coach Rick Rewiako said. “In this league, anybody can beat anybody on any night.”
Center Kyle Buresh, left wing Gavin Tarazi and right wing Sean Van Damme team up on the Wolves’ top line. Defensemen Pat Biewald, Mitch Mohr, Keenan Zordon and Tate Nolan have played well for a team that has surrendered 20 goals in its last eight games. Nolan played for the Leafs Hockey Club.
South (19-7-2 overall, 12-4-1 Mikita, 25 points) is trailing division-leading Buffalo Grove (32 points), but Gators coach Rich Perillo likes where his team is positioned. Left wing Jake Bigos leads the league in points.
“We’re doing really well, our guys are playing real hard,” Perillo said. “We have a good group.”
Center Matt Kinker and right wing Shane Gustafson join Bigos on the top line. Right wing Matt Allen and defensemen Connor Hudak and Cory Lamansky have played well. Three freshmen – center Steven Bonne and defensemen Timmy LaRue and Peter Mateo – have been key additions.
After two goalies graduated, South found replacements from the Leafs’ club in Cory Wasilewski and from Hoffman Estates’ Troy Dante. Since Dante is a goalie and the only player who does not attend South, the Gators are not considered a combined team.
CCM (15-4-3, 9-3-3) recently has played some of its best hockey, going 3-1 against the other top teams in Mikita, including a 4-3 victory over South.
“We’ve had a good stretch,” Tigers coach John Lenzi said. “We’re near the top and we’ve competed with all the teams in the division.”
Right wing Anthony Casaletto is third in Mikita scoring and plays with center Colin Telmanik and left wing Dakota Slone. Lenzi credits center Ryan Delghingaro and defenseman Trevor Banas as two other key players.
The Tigers are currently tied for third in the Mikita with Lake Forest Academy with 21 points.
• Joe Stevenson is a senior sports writer for the Northwest Herald. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can follow him on Twitter @nwh_JoePrepZone.