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Nick Botvinnik looked forward to this game three years ago when he started playing hockey for Glenbrook South.
There were no superlatives needed; playing Glenbrook North in the state tournament semifinals with a chance to play for a state championship at the United Center. Everyone in the South locker room felt confidence that this would be the game the Titans would prevail over the Spartans and validate all of their hard work throughout the years.
That confidence fell to the ground when the Titans players saw the news in their group chat: the Amateur Hockey Association Illinois cancelled the rest of the state tournament because of fears due to COVID-19.
Most players had to walk out of their classroom when they got the news, they just wanted to be together because something so special was taken away.
“It’s tough ending the season like that and having it basically ripped from you, the time with our teammates, basically mourning your season is what it was,” Botvinnik said. “We won our last game and it feels like a funeral.”
It was tough for South head coach Jim Philbin to watch his team’s season end that way. He remembers taking on a bunch of sophomores a couple years ago because of the talent they showed. The Titans developed throughout the years and made it to the state semifinals this year ready to take on their rival.
Even though they understand why it needed to happen, it’s still tough to deal with.
“There were a lot of tears on the ice,” Philbin said. “They’re hard-working tears. We had a good year, the kids deserved better, we all understand what’s going on and the seriousness of it. You take it with a grain of salt and understand.”
South did hold an intersquad scrimmage during the weekend the semifinal was set to take place, a last opportunity for some parents to watch their sons play together. Because of concerns about large groups with relation to the coronavirus, the Titans didn’t even get a chance to have an end-of-season party to celebrate a successful season.
“Normally in sports you control what you can and everything else will figure itself out, but this was something that we had nothing in our control,” Botvinnik said. “We all just felt helpless.”
That helplessness is something that the players and coaches have talked about a lot. The “what if” question has gone through many of their heads. At least if they played the game, they would know that it all depended on them.
Had they lost the game against Glenbrook North, they would get a chance to talk about it after the game in the locker room and reflect on a successful season. If they had won the game, well, the celebration would’ve been great.
But that’s something the players admitted they’ll live with for the rest of their lives. They were ready to show everyone else just how ready they were to take on their rival and make it to the state championship at the United Center.
Now, they’ll never know.
“We’re never going to know,” Botvinnik said. “All we’re going to live with is what could’ve been, and that’s really tough to deal with.”