Jonathan Adler, Goalie from Stevenson
Illinois will be represented better than ever at the annual America’s Showcase St. Louis, set for April 21-25, and hosted by Missouri Hockey in conjunction with the Midstates Club Hockey Association.
There will be two Illinois boys’ teams competing in the field of 16 and two Illinois girls’ teams competing in the field of eight.
“Having two teams is a great blessing for Illinois,” said AHAI’s Mike Mullally. “We will have 40 boys of 4,000 Illinois high school players who now have the chance to skate in front of 100-plus scouts,” from multiple collegiate leagues and teams, plus junior leagues, teams and more.
America’s Showcase was founded in 1985 – in Illinois – to provide the nation’s premier high school players an opportunity to be scouted by high-level programs so those players may further their hockey careers in prep school, juniors, college, and beyond.
In 2009, the 25th and final year of the Chicago Showcase was held locally. In 2010, the event moved to Pittsburgh and was renamed America's Showcase. The girls' division was added in 2013.
In 2018, the event moved to St. Louis and was renamed America's Showcase St. Louis.
The event was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have plenty of great high school players in Illinois who deserve and need to be scouted, players who could have played the highest level of club hockey except for their devotion to their own high schools,” Mullally said. “Playing against 20 other affiliate high school teams of their best players is a fantastic opportunity for these players.”
Illinois Black (boys) will play in the top-tiered A Pool-Stars division, featuring Team California, Team Texas and Team DC/Maryland/Virginia. Illinois White (boys) will be in the B Pool-Liberty division along with Team Tampa Bay, Team Midwest and Team San Diego.
Illinois Black (girls) will skate in the Cammi Granato Division, along with Team North Dakota, Team Wisconsin and Team Colorado. Illinois White (girls) will be in the Jincy Dunne Division along with Team Minnesota, Team Missouri and Team Indiana.
“I think we could have an all-Illinois final … our players are (good) enough,” Mullally said. “As always, if our players are scouted, there is a chance for them (at the next level). The Illinois players are wonderful people; they deserve whatever success the attain.”
Illinois Black is a pre-event favorite to claim the championship, as Illinois teams have been powerhouses for the past 10 years or so. Team Illinois won the title in 2017 and challenged again in 2018, losing to Team Pittsburgh, 4-3 in overtime of the championship game.
Stevenson’s Tom Wood – who led the Patriots to the school’s first-ever Illinois High School Hockey State Championship and a second-place finish in the 2022 USA Hockey-Chipotle High School Division I National Championship – is coaching Illinois Black, a unit that is balanced on offense, defense and goaltending.
“I like that we have balance, with high skill across the entire Black team and solid goaltending,” Wood said.
Maine Township’s Greg Mrofcza is the Illinois White coach.
“White is going to need to play at a high (competition) level. They are highly skilled but will need to play with more of an edge … and (it) seems like more gritty players are on White,” Wood said. “White will be able to play with skill but will need to grind out more games.”
Wood played in the event during his playing career at Stevenson and he is well aware that the Showcase brings “great exposure for our players.”
Illinois Black should have no issues putting the puck in the net as its highly skilled offense features Nick Delaney, Will Schreiber and Jack Gustafson. The top playmakers on Black are Owen Just and Cam Schneider.
Illinois White should see solid offensive contributions from Anthony Roti, Luke Waterson, Luke Maher, Richard Mattia, Christiano DiBenedetto, and others.
Wood said Illinois Black is “very strong” on defense, anchored on Nolan Jones, Ryan Cowen and Jack Hawkins should provide a strong defensive core. “Losing (Will) Kroeger is going to present some depth problems, but we should OK,” Wood said.
Sam Chioda and Jack Kneiling should anchor the Illinois White defense.
Wood has two steady goaltenders on Illinois Black: Sebastian Wigfield and Luke Brzezinski. Illinois White features Jonathan Adler, Adam Kaczmarek and Anthony DaSilva.
“Wigfield has great positioning and seems to be in the right spot before the puck gets to him. Brzezinski is incredibly athletic. Adler and Kaczmarek are both able to steal games,” Wood said. “We really have five excellent goalies.”
The breakout players are plentiful on both Illinois boys’ teams, but certainly must include Delaney, Bryce Stensrud and Mike Stein on Black; DiBenedetto and Waterson on White.
Wood added: “I think guys like Nolan Herubin, Mike Stein and Frank Nicosia can be as deadly as guys like Gustafson and Delaney. It’s been fun to watch.”
Wood said both Illinois teams have the talent to create a lot of problems for their opponents. “Either team can compete with anyone,” he said. “Our teams should be very competitive. A lot of these kids have played in big games. I think we should be confident and do our best. Pressure is part of the fun in these games.”
Wood will be assisted on the bench by PJ Eberhardt from Carmel and Steve Silvey from AHAI.
“The entire Illinois coaching staff is great and run good programs. It’s fun to learn from other great coaches,” Wood said. “The kids all have great hockey knowledge and skill. It’s nice to have players who can make things happen when their appears to be nothing there.”
Michelle Lichterman and Laurie Markowski are the Illinois Black and Illinois White girls head coaches, respectively. Each will be an assistant coach for the other team. Nick Lavalle will be an assistant for both teams.
Players to watch from Illinois include Maeve McAdams, Jenna Kent, Jessica Tadevich, Emily Ommen, Bella Goetz and Sophia Gorman, among others.