District 155 center Brennan Kelly hopes when the Predators tangle with Crystal Lake South on Saturday in their Crosstown Classic hockey game, the matchup will produce an aura similar to last year, just with a different outcome.
The two teams, which represent all four D-155 schools, meet at 8:10 p.m. Saturday at the Leafs Ice Centre in West Dundee in a rivalry matchup, but one that is not a league game this time.
“It was the most fun game last year,” Kelly said. “It was just a great atmosphere. We had a lead early, and they came back. It was a rough game, and we’re looking to get them back on Saturday.”
The game ended in a 6-6 tie as South rallied for three third-period goals. The crowd was spirited and one of the largest both teams saw all season. They hope for more of the same in a couple of days.
“It was a really good environment; there were a lot of people there,” Gators left wing-defenseman Michael Helm said. “It made it a really fun game. Also, knowing a lot of kids on the other team and growing up playing with them, it’s always a fun experience. It’s one of the favorite games of the year.”
South (20-2-3) won the Illinois High School Hockey League North-Central Gold Division with 41 points. D-155 (10-13-1) finished eighth in the IHSHL North-Central Champions Division, the upper league. They both played in the Champions Division last season, but South was placed in the Gold Division this year.
D-155 draws players from Cary-Grove, Crystal Lake Central and Prairie Ridge and plays under the Prairie Ridge name.
South forward Midas Bacidore led the Gold Division with 28 goals and 45 points. Helm was third in scoring with 36 points, and defenseman Bryce Sturm tied for fifth with 25 points. First-year Gators coach Nick Madonia coached with the Northern Illinois University club team the previous five seasons.
“I really didn’t know too much about what I was getting into. It’s been a blast,” Madonia said. “It’s a really good group of kids. We’ve played some good teams, and we’ve done really well.”
South will play in its league tournament, then compete in the AHAI Blackhawk Cup Red State Tournament. D-155 was knocked out of the Champions Division Tournament and is waiting for the pairings for the Blackhawk Cup Combined State Tournament.
Predators coach Kurt Rohloff is in his first year with the team. D-155 added C-G with Central and Prairie Ridge this season.
“We had about four returning kids from varsity, so we were almost building a new team,” Rohloff said. “We’ve had some ups and downs. Overall, it’s been pretty positive, and the team’s come a long way. It has been a very competitive league. From where we were at the beginning of the year, I’m proud of how far they’ve come.”
The Predators’ scoring is well spread across their lineup.
“We lost a lot of guys last year and had a lot of new guys coming in,” Kelly said. “They’ve all really improved, and we’re looking forward to this game.”
Rohloff saw some of last year’s game and enjoyed the atmosphere. The teams really wanted to play each other, even though they were in different leagues.
“There’s going to be a good crowd there. All the kids are going to get very excited,” Rohloff said. “We’ve played really well in front of loud crowds. All these kids have been looking forward to it.”