By Ross Forman
Michelle Lichterman is admittedly nervous as the new head coach for the Illinois girls’ squad (view roster) that will compete in the 2018 America’s Showcase, but super excited too.
Michelle brings a strong resume to the role, having played in the prestigious annual tournament about 10 years ago, and having been a Showcase assistant coach for the past two years.
“Having experience in this event, I think I can succeed as a head coach. I know what the tournament is about and what I need to do to help these girls succeed,” Michelle said.
America’s Showcase, formerly known as the Chicago Showcase when it was held locally for its first 25 years, will be held April 19-22 for the girls in Missouri, with eight teams competing. It will run April 18-23 for the boys, with 24 teams. More than 600 of the top players from across the country will participate, and every major hockey program, including NCAA Division I, II and III, college club, prep and juniors are invited to scout players.
The 2018 event will be held in St. Louis, hosted by the Mid-States Club Hockey Association.
America’s Showcase, held in Pittsburgh for the past eight years, was developed to provide the nation’s premier high school players an opportunity to be scouted by high-level programs so they may further their hockey careers after graduating. The event features more than 50 games.
This year marks the third year that Illinois has fielded an all-Illinois girls Showcase team.
So, can Illinois win the title?
“I sure as hell hope so,” Michelle said. “Then again, winning isn’t everything for this event. I want the girls to have fun; play their hardest every game and every shift; get better (as players); and hopefully (get the chance to) further their hockey careers.”
Anita Lichterman, the general manager for Illinois’ girls’ Showcase team, added: “Winning the title is a reasonable goal. Our toughest competition will be Indiana or Wisconsin. However, it’s not about winning at all cost; it’s about the girls getting recognized, seen by scouts.”
Michelle said Illinois’ strength will be its offense, with such standout players as juniors Evie Kapes (who attends New Trier) and Sami Lhotak (Bishop McNamara). “Evie is one who, for sure, I am really looking forward to watching her play. I think she will really shine,” Michelle said. “Sami, her ability with the puck, plus her speed, is going to really stand out.”
Illinois’ Showcase team only has four defensemen.
Jill Knobeloch, who has officiated and coached locally, is the team’s new assistant coach.
“She brings, and will focus on, strategy – both offensively and defensively,” said Michelle, who will focus on personnel matters.
Illinois also features Katerina Poulos (Glenbrook South), who skated for high school state runner-up, co-op Glenbrook; and the goalies are Alexa Dixon and Annette Scislowicz. Plus, the roster features four members of the Falcons U16 team that will be skating at Nationals after that Falcons team shined in mid-March at the USA Hockey Central District Tier I Kohlman Cup, held in Mequon, Wisc.
“The team is looking really good. All of the girls are very excited to be on the team,” Anita said. “The adrenaline and excitement (of the Falcons’ players) is carrying over to the Showcase team; it’s been contagious to all of the other players.”
Anita said Illinois’ overall energy and skill-level is better than the past few years.
“The first two years (Illinois had a pure team), it was a bit of a struggle to have a full (roster), Anita said. Two years ago, Illinois combined with Rocky Mountain players, but the team didn’t have pre-Showcase time to get to know each other, which is really important, Anita added.
Last year, Illinois mixed with players from Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin.
“Having (teammates who they) played with and against means they are more familiar with their style of play, possible moves. That gives the team better cohesiveness,” Anita said.
Michelle, who replaces Jennifer Wilson as the head coach, played locally in Skokie, Winnetka, Hoffman Estates and for the co-op PREP high school boy’s team.
“Michelle brings a very unique twist to the position,” Anita said. “First, she’s close to the players’ age, so they can really relate to her. She’s a certified athletic trainer and also an on-ice official. She knows what it takes to be seen and what the scouts are looking for.
“It was a no-brainer to move Michelle into the head coaching position.
“Personally, I love that my daughter is the head coach. I saw her in action at our first practice and was in awe. I was so proud of the way she ran the practice, the attention she had from the players.”
Illinois opens play April 19 against Team New Jersey.
The team also will face Indiana, Missouri and Northern Plains in round-robin play.
Ross Forman has written about Illinois high school hockey for more than 15 years, and is the only sportswriter to have covered Illinois High School hockey every year during that stretch. He played locally and then at Indiana University before becoming a referee. Ross was a referee for the State Championship game several years ago at the United Center. Contact Ross by email at Rossco814@aol.com.