A hockey referee now knows what it feels like to receive a hit from New Trier Green senior forward Tommy Cahill.
It wasn’t as vicious as a cheetah mauling a zebra on Discovery Channel, but it did elicit more than a few winces and looks of concern in the first period of an Amateur Hockey Association (AHAI)/Blackhawk Cup state semifinal on March 13.
And the collision — at the start of a post-goal celebration near Green’s bench at Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville — was an inadvertent one. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Cahill, an assistant captain, apologized to the ref shortly after the incident and repeated the gesture as NT Green and Benet headed to their locker rooms for the first intermission.
“I didn’t realize he was in my path,” Cahill recounted more than an hour later.
Reigning state champion New Trier Green continued on its road to United Center — venue of the state final on March 17 (7 p.m.) — when it walloped Benet 8-2 to set up a state-final rematch with Providence Catholic, which beat Loyola Academy Gold 5-0 in the first semifinal at Edge on March 13.
Cahill notched a hat trick and provided two assists against the program that stunned Green in a state semifinal at the same rink two years ago.
“He’s fun to watch,” Green senior forward and captain Charlie Burton said of Cahill, who played AAA hockey (Chicago Mission) last winter after his sophomore season as a member of New Trier Blue, which almost beat New Trier Green in a state quarterfinal in 2015. “It’s impossible to knock him off the puck, with his size, with his hands. And he’s got a really good shot.”
Burton scored twice for the tournament’s top-seeded team, and Green mates Kyle Retondo, Mason Smith and John Robinson each netted one goal to help goaltender Hayden Wieczorek (16 saves) secure his 35th victory of the season.
NT Green’s 31st consecutive win upped its overall record to 66-9.
The club hasn’t lost to an Illinois team.
Green’s record vs. Providence Catholic this winter: 4-0.
“It’s important to get everybody involved, and that’s what we’ve been able to do,” said NT Green coach Bob Melton, whose record in AHAI/Blackhawk state finals is 11-1, including last year’s 5-2 defeat of Providence Catholic on the Chicago Blackhawks’ home ice.
“Our team this year is special, real special.”
Fifth-seeded Benet (29-18-1) struck first in the semifinal, at the 9:27 mark of the first period. Shortly thereafter, Green defenseman Daniel Hauser — a forward at the beginning of the season — delivered three clean, thunderous hits in a span of about 25 seconds.
“They juiced us up,” Cahill said.
“The hits made all of our bench players jump,” Melton added.
From that point, it didn’t take long for Cahill to fire the puck past Benet’s goaltender, and shortly after that tally — 33 seconds, to be exact — Retondo made it a 2-1 game.
Snow was falling outside.
Benet’s collective will was beginning to wilt inside.
“When [Hauser] gets physical, the other team’s forwards think a little when he’s near them, or they hesitate,” said Burton, who might play club hockey next winter at the University of Illinois. “He helps us out a lot.”
NT Green scored the first two goals of the second period and outscored Benet 3-0 in the third period. The team’s final two goals — unassisted ones by Robinson and Cahill — were separated by a little more than a minute.
“No regrets,” Cahill said of taking a year off from prep hockey to develop his formidable game with the Chicago Mission. “I did watch last year’s state championship on TV, and it feels good knowing I’ll get to play for a state championship in that kind of atmosphere with my friends from school.”
Cahill later recalled being the smallest hockey player on his Chicago Young Americans hockey team when he was an eighth-grader.
“I felt like a kid playing with and against men,” he said.
The kid is all grown up now.
A certain referee can attest to that.
Notable: Other assists in the state semifinal, in addition to Tommy Cahill’s two, came from John Huber (two), Daniel Hauser, Jack Raith and Matthew Mulhern. … NT Green defeated Lake Forest 7-0 (March 1) and Stevenson 4-0 (March 7) in its first two state playoff games. … Five New Trier Green players made the 2016-17 AHAI all-state team: junior defenseman Connor Baldwin and senior forwards Cahill, Raith, Charlie Burton and Michael Graham. … Burton was also named the JJ O’Connor Male High School Player of the Year. The Cammi Granato Female High School Player of the Year honors went to NT’s Isabelle Sennett, who has committed to play lacrosse at Amherst College in Massachusetts. … Cahill was one of only six boys to make the 2017 Chicago Blackhawks Alumni Association All-Star Team. … NT Green’s top six players in points, through March 13: Cahill (64 goals, 61 assists); Raith (55, 63); Burton (40, 62); Graham (49, 50); Mulhern (44, 42); and Huber (36, 42). … Three NT Green players have a plus-minus rating higher than 100: Tristan Jones (108), Raith (106) and Baldwin (102). … Green goaltenders Hayden Wieczorek and Scott Foster have combined for 19 shutouts this winter, with the former recording 10. Wieczorek has a .911 save percentage.