Fenwick, Glenbrook North Take Similar Paths To Cup
It can be said that Fenwick and Glenbrook North will meet Saturday for the Blackhawk Cup state title for a "similar" reason.
"I don't think there is another team in Illinois that is more similar to us than Fenwick," Spartans' coach Mark Brunner said. "We are so similar in so many ways. It's almost scary. It's like watching your team, but only in different uniforms."
The list of similarities, which is almost endless, starts with the head coaches. For Brunner and Fenwick coach Dan Wolff, this is both their first appearances in the Blackhawk Cup as head coaches.
Wolff is in his 19th season as a coach at Fenwick and has previous experience coaching in big games, but that came at the junior varsity level and as an assistant. Wolff replaced former head coach Dave Cromer, who led the Friars to back-to-back Blackhawk Cup titles in 2003 and 2004, before last season.
"It is different being a head coach," Wolff said. "As head coach, you make the final decisions. The responsibility is greater."
For Brunner, who has been with Glenbrook North for the past 10 years, this is his first time coaching in the state finals. Brunner was not with Glenbrook North when it last won the state title in 1985.
"There certainly seems to be a lot of excitement around this game," Brunner said. "The whole community (at Glenbrook North) gets involved and is real into it."
Next, both teams come into Blackhawk Cup title already donned with league titles. Fenwick won the Metro North regular season title and captured the Catholic League's Kennedy Cup for the fourth straight year.
"It's been a long year, but a good one," Wolff said.
Glenbrook North won the highly regarded Metro North regular season title this season, edging out arch-rival Glenbrook South in a tiebreaker, and then went on to win the Metro League's Scholastic Cup.
"We had some goals this year and I think we definitely exceeded some," Brunner said.
On the ice, the Friars and Spartans' style of play is almost identical. Both teams are fast and physical, productive in transition and on special teams, and both are extremely aggressive on the forecheck.
"Glenbrook North is a fast team, but so are we," Wolff said. "They've got a good transition game from the defense to the forwards. I think we do too. I think our transition game is good. They move the puck and that's what we do to."
Brunner said both teams have the same type of players as well.
"We both have goal-scorers and skilled players," he said. "We both got finishers and checkers, set-up men and fast, aggressive players."
Strong goaltending is another obvious similarity between Fenwick and Glenbrook North.
Vincenz Barsanti, one of the top goalies from the Catholic League, backstops Fenwick. Barsanti, who is a member of the Illinois Showcase team, was also the best goalie in the Metro West, posting a goal-against average of 1.44 and 93 percent save percentage during the regular season. He has also been dominant in the Blackhawk Cup state tournament, allowing only two goals in four playoff games.
"He's been focused all year," Wolff said. "He is even more focused now (with the Blackhawk Cup)."
Glenbrook North's William Dodge has been as dominant as Barsanti in the state playoffs. Dodge posted three shutouts in the tourney including a 2-0 win over top-ranked New Trier Green in the Elite Eight. Dodge was also the best goalie in the Metro North allowing only 17 goals in 16 games for a 1.06 goals-against average.
"We both have strong goaltending. No doubt about that," Wolff said. "Goaltending is always a key to the game."
If there is one difference between the two teams it is the results of their previous meetings. Glenbrook North is the last team to beat Fenwick this season, a 5-2 victory on Feb. 19 and posts an impressive 2-0-1 record against the Friars this season.
"The last time we played, we were really aggressive on them," Brunner said. "They looked like they were tired and we used that to our advantage. We were super aggressive and it resulted in a win."
In the Blackhawk Cup, the results, again, will be the only thing different.
BEST IN SHOW: Not only will the two best teams be on display Saturday at the Blackhawk Cup state championship, but some of the best players in Illinois will also take the ice.
Four members of the Illinois Showcase team will play in the state title game. Barsanti, Nick Powers and KC Madock from Fenwick and Brandon Goldblatt from Glenbrook North will represent the team.
The Illinois Showcase team consists of the best players in the state. It plays other states' top players during a five-day event designed to let scouts at all levels evaluate players.
Wolff said he believes that forward Mike Freitag is another Fenwick player that will play for the showcase team some day. Freitag is a sophomore and was not allowed to play this year.
"Freitag is already getting a lot of attention," he said. "There are a lot East Coast prep schools calling him."
Freitag plays on a line with Powers and Madock.
"I think it's best line in the state," Wolff said.
"JUNIOR" VARSITY: Glenbrook North lost 11 players to graduation from last year's Elite Eight team, but a strong group of juniors has made sure the Spartans' program hasn't missed a beat.
Paced by the Goldblatt twins, Adam and Brandon, Glenbrook North's juniors - 12 to be exact - are some of the most talented and skilled players in the area.
Adam Goldblatt finished fourth in Metro North scoring race with 32 points in 24 games and Jayson Megna had 27 points. In all, four Spartans finished in the top-20 in scoring in the Metro North.
Brunner, though, said his juniors' success is rooted in last season's playoff run.
"They learned a lot from last year," he said. "They now know what it takes now to win."
HISTORY LESSON: The Chicago Blackhawks opened the doors of the Chicago Stadium in 1986 to host the first high school state championship. In February of 1997, the game was officially named the Blackhawk Cup.