Lake Forest Academy goes 2-2 in Showcase
By Ross Forman
Evan Poulakidas admitted that, when he arrived in Blaine, Minn., for the four-day North American Prospects Hockey League Showcase as the head coach for the Illinois High School team, he had no idea what to expect.
The Illinois all-star team had been selected in early-September, but didn’t have a game or even a practice before they landed in Minnesota. Their first meeting was a team breakfast on the day of their first game, followed by a brief discussion on systems of play. Their second team meeting was after the first meeting.
“We certainly thought we were bringing a talented group, but our play and overall commitment to just playing as a team was a major factor in how we were able to be successful,” said Poulakidas, the head coach at Glenbrook North. “I give all of the credit to the players. There were no egos in the locker room, on the bench, or on the ice. Everyone pulled together; everyone played as a team. There was no one on the ice just looking for personal points. It really was a team, and for that to come from a team that had never been together, that was really shocking.”
Illinois shined in Minnesota, winning all four games it played.
“You would have thought we had been together for six months,” Poulakidas said. “I think everyone at this Showcase was shocked at the talent level that Illinois brought (to the event).
“I knew we would be challenged, but never expected (to finish 4-0 and have such a strong showing), with people from the NA (league) telling me that Illinois raised a lot of eyebrows.”
Illinois opened play Sept. 20 with a 6-2 win over the Wenatchee Wolves, anchored by a 2-goal game from Connor Bauman. Eamon O’Brien also had 1-goal, 1-assist in the win. Brennan Nein was in goal.
On Friday, Sept. 21, Illinois defeated the Metro SE Moose, 4-2, as Tom Davis had 1 goal, 1 assist and Charles Doherty was the winning goalie, stopping 43 shots.
On Saturday, Sept. 22, Davis was again the offensive star, with a 3-goal, 2-assist game as Illinois blanked the Metro NE Loons, 9-0. Illinois led 1-0 after the first, then scored 4 in the second and 4 more in the third as Nein was only forced to make 19 saves. Billy Pashen had 2 goals, while Will Sammons had 3 assists.
Illinois stopped the South Gray Ducks 6-4 for their final victory, with a 2-goal, 1-assist game from O’Brien.
“Some of the players knew each other very well, and that definitely helped us,” Poulakidas said. “(Aiden) Finegan and O’Brien were outstanding; (Jeff) Tyrakowski and Davis from Providence were outstanding; and Sammons just did everything we asked him to do on the ice.
“All six defensemen were great – Declan Darcy and Nick Liebers from Loyola Gold; (Dave) Wilcox and (Connor) Bauman from GBN; (Brian) Lolli and (Joseph) Dalton who didn’t know each other (before the event), but played very well together.
“The goaltending was great all weekend.”
In addition to the Illinois team, Lake Forest Academy participated in the event. The Caxys went 2-2, with Julian Recine leading the team with a 1-goal, 3-assist Showcase showing. Charlie Skinner and Justin Palmer each had 2 goals. LFA scored 9 goals and allowed 6 in the 4 games, which included a 1-0 overtime loss.
“Some of the games look like they were blowouts, but they were tight and they we’d pull away at the end,” Poulakidas said. “Some of the goals we scored were beautiful. Billy Pashen from York scored (a highlight reel goal.)
“There were a bunch of guys who shocked me. O’Brien, for instance, does so many amazing plays on the ice, and makes everyone around him better, period. Sammons from Benet (Academy) didn’t show great in the tryouts, but when he was on the ice, his ability really shined. Davis from Providence was playing at a different level.”
Poulakidas added, “I have long said that Illinois hockey doesn’t get the credit it deserves. This shows the level that Illinois high school hockey players are at – and it’s as good as any out there.”
Poulakidas confirmed that Illinois has been invited to participate in the 2019 event, though likely will be promoted to face more AAA teams for more challenging games.
AHAI’s Mike Mullally said before the September event that AHAI would send Illinois teams to this 2018 fall showcase and the long-running spring 2019 showcase, which will be held in St. Louis, and then determine which will be the one AHAI continues with going forward.
That theory appears to have changed, Mullally said hours after Illinois secured its fourth victory in four days in Minnesota.
“We’re thinking about juniors and seniors (participating) in the fall showcase, sophomores and juniors for the spring (event),” he said. “Then we would do both (events) and, hopefully, expose more Illinois high school hockey players on a national basis.”
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.