Within the next two weeks, the champions of the Blackhawk Cup, the Illinois West Division and the Chicago Catholic Hockey League will all be decided. Both Benet Academy and the Waubonsie Warriors Hockey Club entered the week with their eyes on bringing home two championships in one year. Check out the latest feature story, presented by Edward Medical Group.
One of the things that makes high school hockey in Illinois so distinctive is the post season schedules. While all other IHSA team sports enter their playoff rounds following the completion of the regular season and conference tournament, AHAI hockey in Illinois creates a unique scenario where many teams are competing for the state and conference championship tournaments simultaneously.
Entering March, two of our local teams were in that exact situation, with two championships on the table. As the regular season champions of the Illinois West, the Warriors Hockey Club made their way to the Illinois West tournament championship series after going undefeated in pool play. That put the green and gold into the best two of three Illinois West Cup championship series against Maine.
One day after dropping the opening game to that series by a score of 4-3, the Warriors defeated District 155 in their opening game of the Combined Blackhawk Cup tournament. While the Blackhawk Cup is single elimination, meaning win or go home, the Warriors still had a chance for the Illinois West title, by winning games two and three against Maine. Despite juggling opponents and tournaments, players and coaches try to keep the mindset the same throughout the playoffs.
The challenge is finding time to prepare for two different post season opponents. After the win over District 155, the Warriors turned their attention to Maine for games two and three of the Illinois West Cup, while knowing that Libertyville awaits in the Elite 8 game of the Blackhawk Cup next week. Unfortunately, the Warriors fell once again in game 2 by the exact same 4-3 score as Maine earned the 2022 Illinois West Cup. Oddly enough, while Maine celebrated on the ice as Conference Champions, their season was now complete, as the team was eliminated from the Blackhawk Cup by Chicago Central. So despite the disappointment of the loss, Waubonsie is still competing for the Blackhawk Cup State Championship.
Benet Academy is in a very similar boat while competing for two championships in the Chicago Catholic League Kennedy Cup series as well as the Blackhawk Cup Red Division tournament. The Redwings earned a spot in the Kennedy Cup finals against St. Ignatius before opening Blackhawk Cup play against Barrington, a team seeded 60th entering the tournament. After the first two periods, Barrington had the 9th seeded Redwings on the ropes with a 3-0 lead. However Benet turned things around with three goals in the third period, before winning in over time on a goal from Tommy Budreck. After the win, Benet players theorized that preparing for two post season opponents simultaneously may have caused the team to over look Barrington.
The Redwings fell to St. Ignatius in the opening game of the Kennedy Cup championship, but just like the Warriors Hockey Club, won their next Blackhawk Cup tournament game over Glenbrook North. The Wings advanced to the quarterfinals thanks to another come from behind overtime thriller by the score of 4-3. However, that would be the last victory of the Blackhawk Cup journey as Benet was eliminated by top ranked New Trier Green in the quarterfinals.
Three days later, St. Ignatius ended the Redwings bid for two championships and a Kennedy Cup three peat with a 4-0 win in game 2. In a blink, Benet Academy hockey went from playing for a pair of trophies, to seeing the season come to an end.
It’s all part of the post season journey that makes AHAI high school hockey so special and so daunting. And championship victories like the Warriors Blackhawk Cup victory in 2019 and Benet’s back to back Kennedy Cup’s in 2020 and 2021, so gratifying.
For Naperville Sports Weekly, I’m Justin Cornwell.
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