To Glenbrook South coach Jim Philbin, there was only one team that firmly stood in the Titans' way of becoming back-to-back Blackhawk Cup state champions.
And, it wasn't top-ranked New Trier Green, Philbin said. In fact, it was the team he predicted would beat New Trier Green.
"Myself and our entire coaching staff, we thought Glenbrook North was going to beat Green," he said. "When the brackets came out, we looked ahead at what could be. We knew how good North was."
No. 8 Glenbrook North knocked off New Trier 2-0 in the Elite Eight to advance to the Final Four, and No. 4 Glenbrook South rolled past Mount Carmel 6-1.
The Spartans and Titans play tonight at 6:35 at The Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville. The winner moves on to the Blackhawk Cup title game on Saturday at the United Center.
With the schools located just three miles apart, many of the players know each other and have played hockey with or against each other for years. Considered two of the best teams in the state, the Spartans and Titans' rivalry is considered one of the most competitive and emotional rivalries in Illinois hockey.
"The kids on the ice really get into it," Philbin said. "The rivalry is big. It's very intense for the kids, the schools, the families, the faculty and the entire student body. Everybody gets into it."
This season, Glenbrook North has gotten the better of Glenbrook South, posting a 3-0-1 record against its neighborhood rival.
"They were all real close games," Spartans' coach Mark Brunner said. "They were close games that came down to whoever got the lucky bounces would win. We just came out on the better end."
A fast and defensive oriented team, Glenbrook North has had a lot bounces go its way this season. With only nine losses on the year, the Spartans won the Metro North conference regular season title and then took the Metro's Scholastic Cup.
"We feel that if we play our game, we can beat anybody," Brunner said. "We are a very hungry hockey team."
The Spartans are the only team not to allow a goal in the Blackhawk Cup state tournament this year. Goaltender William Dodge had minded the net for all three of Glenbrook North's Blackhawk Cup wins.
"Our team plays with a lot of confidence with Dodge back there," Brunner said. "He has been outstanding for us. Will has stepped up his game immensely."
Brunner, though, still expects a battle with Glenbrook South.
"We always get their best game from them," he said. "They are a good hockey team and a well-coached. When we play, you can throw records out the window. When we play (tonight), I expect better than anything we saw from them all year."
As defending state champions, Glenbrook South is loaded with experience, returning all but one player from last year's team.
Experience is also why the Titans are trying to approach tonight's showdown with Glenbrook North like any other game.
"You have to look at it like it's another game, but also like there are six periods of hockey remaining in your season," Philbin said. "It's another team in our way to the title. It's just a little sweeter you have to beat North to get there."
THE LATE GAME
The winner of the Glenbrook North / Glenbrook South game will player either Fenwick or Loyola Gold. The Friars and Ramblers play tonight at 8:35 at The Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville.