The co-op Libertyville IceCats are coming off their best season in team history, despite losing 4-0 to eventual combined division state champion PREP in the state tournament semifinals. They were hit hard by graduation, losing their top offensive line, all defensemen except one, and more.
Senior Ben Shkap is that lone returning defenseman but isn’t feeling pressure for the 2023-24 season.
“Having graduated so many great players, I feel a lot of people don’t have high expectations for us. The same was true last season and that lack of expectations fueled our success,” Shkap said. “I see no reason it won’t do the same this season.”
Shkap, 17, didn’t hesitate when asked about goals for Libertyville this season: winning state, he said.
“This group has a lot of potential,” Shkap said. “A lot of our top guys have played together for years and have great chemistry already with returning guys like Parker Widman and Blake Rossi are due for big seasons. We’re also returning our starting goalie from last year, Vince Simonian, so it’s a relief to not have to worry about goaltending. Our forwards play a much more physical brand of hockey than last season and our young defensemen can produce for us immediately.
“A lot of guys (on the team) won’t play hockey competitively after this season, so everyone wants to step away from this season proud of what we’ve accomplished. As for the younger guys, they want to work for us seniors. Knowing that we only get one chance with this talented of a roster, they feel that sense of urgency too and are willing to put in the same amount of work as the seniors.”
Shkap, 17, who lives in Vernon Hills is in his final year at Vernon Hills High School, though undecided on college plans for next fall. He was named to the 2022-23 All IHSHL North-Central Division Team and played his youth hockey for the Ice Dogs.
“It was a great season (last year), an honor to be a part of it with great people. I hope to build off it this upcoming season,” Shkap said. “We had a good mix of juniors and seniors last year so us seniors (this season) are looking to step up.”
Shkap is an offensive defenseman whose speed is, perhaps, his strongest attribute, including using it to break the puck out Libertyville’s defensive end. He is a second-generation Illinois high school hockey player as his dad also locally and then for DePaul University.
“We always had old equipment and sticks lying around in our basement,” recalled Shkap, who said the Chicago Blackhawks also influenced his hockey life. “I loved watching Patrick Kane as a kid and played forward for a long time so I think that’s why I’m so inclined to try and create scoring chances even as a defenseman.”
In the team’s 5-4 overtime win last February in its first state tournament game against the D211 Chiefs, Shkap assisted Tyler Kolb’s game-winning goal. “I struggled that game, so it felt good to get my first point of the playoffs on the board and get some of that confidence back,” Shkap said.
Last season also featured a Libertyville season-opening win over arch-rival Carmel Catholic. “We were the underdogs going into that game, so coming out with a win was amazing for us and our fans,” said Shkap, whose hockey memory bank also includes a double overtime win as a squirt in the championship game of a tournament in St. Louis – when he re-directed a shot off his head to score the game-winning goal. “I ended up winning MVP of that tournament and was so proud of myself that I wore the dog tag they gave out to school for the next week,” Shkap said.
Slapshots With … Libertyville IceCats Defenseman Ben Shkap
First-Ever Hockey Game: “I don’t remember (it), but, per my parents, it involved a lot of crying and wanting to go home.”
Off The Ice: Plays guitar, enjoys spending time with friends and listen to music.
Off-Ice Activities That Help On The Ice: “The last few seasons I began doing a lot of plyometrics and it has made my speed and acceleration significantly better.”
Over The Summer: “I think my shot has come a long way in both power and consistency by just trying to focus more on scoring rather than playmaking.”
Also Over The Summer: “I spent a lot of mornings at the rink, working on my edgework and stick handling. I’ve been trying to stay on the ice regularly to work on my cardio as last season I tended to be gassed by the end of the game after skating the puck up so often.”
Favorite NHL Team: Chicago Blackhawks
Favorite NHL Player: Cale Makar
Favorite Sports-themed Movie: Rookie of the Year
Favorite TV Show: The Bear
Favorite Pre-game Meal: Pasta
Favorite app: YouTube
Celebrity You’d Like To Meet: Kendrick Lamar
Best Hockey Tip: “Just skate the damn puck”- From his dad.
Best High School Uniform (other than Libertyville): Evanston (navy blue)