Highland Park Looks To Surprise In State Tournament

Excitement abounds at HP under first-year head coach Anthony Booth

By Ross Forman

The playoff streak has been snapped by Highland Park – and that’s a good thing.

The Giants ended a nine-game playoff losing streak, dating back three years, with a 6-4 win over Fox Valley Black Jan. 27 in Geneva, anchored on a five-goal second period, including 4-point nights from Jack Elbaum and Sam Shachtman, and 3 points from William Rosenberg.

They followed that with another playoff win, 3-0 at home over the Lakers on Feb. 2.

But then the Giants were slowed by co-op LZMW, losing 3-2 on Feb. 4, despite outshooting their opponent 52-27.

“This season has been a great learning year,” said HP head coach Anthony Booth. “With a completely new staff and new approach to development, every player has had to adjust and buy into our vision. Saying that, I have been very impressed with the players respect and desire to improve and compete.”

Particularly after a “really rough” start to the season, Booth added.

“With a very young and inexperienced team, the jump (to varsity play) for most of the players was a huge learning curve. But as the season has gone on, every player has stepped up and been a big part of our late season success despite numerous injuries.

“This year was definitely a rebuilding year as last year’s varsity team graduated 12 players.”

Booth, 38, who lives in Lindenhurst and is the president of Precision Hockey LLC, is in his 18th year coaching, his third in the high school ranks and his first at Highland Park. He replaced longtime HP coach Sean Freeman, who spent close to 20 seasons on the Giants’ bench and turned the team into a North-Central power.

Booth, who previously coached Loyola Maroon, is assisted at HP by Ari Aberman. Booth and Aberman have coached together for three seasons. “He brings a great knowledge of the game and a passion to develop defenseman,” Booth said.

Booth’s coaching resume also has included the Skokie Flyers, Northbrook Bluehawks, Lake County Atoms, TI and CYA, among others. He has coached both boys’ and girls’ teams, and has coached collegiately and in the junior ranks.

Booth played locally for the Falcons from mite to bantam, with three state runner-up teams, then for CYA as a midget, including state runner-up as a midget major, then for the Toledo Cherokee Juniors.

“I want to be a mentor and role-model for hockey players,” Booth said. “Most players will never play professional hockey, so I want to teach players the importance of work ethic, time management, and integrity.”

And this year’s Giants certainly have character, too.

“There is great player leadership from the seniors. They have laid the ground work for the juniors and other underclassmen that will lead to success next year and (beyond),” Booth said. “I have been impressed with the player’s ability to adapt to a new philosophy and approach to the game. It’s not all about the wins and losses, but more about what did we learn and how are we going to get better night in and night out.”

That said, the Giants did win the most important game of their regular-season, defeating arch-rival Deerfield 5-2 on the night before Thanksgiving in front of a standing-room-only crowd in Vernon Hills.

“It was an awesome atmosphere to coach a game in, a lot of fun,” Booth said. “It was a great challenge for Ari and me to keep the players’ emotions in check and to tone out the fans. It was the first varsity pre-Thanksgiving rivalry game for most of the players, so having them compete hard for three periods was a lot of fun to see.”

Another memorable win this season came against Evanston.

“The game was tied, (and) with 15 seconds (remaining to play) Evanston dumps the puck into our zone. Goalie Zach Gordon came out to play the puck, to start a (final) rush,” Booth said. “We move the puck quickly into the Evanston zone and score with :01 remaining to play.”

The Giants feature eight seniors this season, who were honored before the team’s game Jan. 26. The class includes Isaac Hope, Marcus Abt, Jacob Schaffer, Drew Felman, Jordan Meek, Zach Gordon, George Giese and Sebastian Thomas.

Giese, an alternate captain, is the only four-year varsity letterman in the Class of 2019, and he will represent Highland Park in the annual All-State Game, as selected by the AHAI High School Committee. The game is Monday, February 11, at The Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville, starting at 8:35 p.m.

Giese (28 goals, 18 assists) was named his team’s MVP in the IHSHL North Central All-Star Game.

This is the 30th anniversary of the All-State Game and it features the top 42 high school players (24 forwards, 12 defensemen and 6 goalies) in Illinois.

Key juniors this season include forwards Jack Elbaum and Sam Shachtman, among others.

“Over the past 15 games we have been competing much better, (but) have had trouble finishing in the third period,” Booth said. “The team has made great strides this season. At the start of the year we were losing by 4 (or) 5 goals; now we are in every game.

“The North-Central League has been great this year, very even and any team can win on any night.”

Two keys this season have certainly been sophomores Will Rosenberg (forward) and Jack Fishman (defense). “They have really come into their and been impact players on their lines and on special team situations,” Booth said.

So how far can the Giants go in state?

“With a healthy lineup, I think we could surprise some teams,” Booth said.

And the program’s success should continue next season.

“The JV teams have competed very well this season,” Booth said. “(We have) a lot of young, talented players (who) are very eager to play at a higher level.”

On The Bench With … Highland Park Head Coach Anthony Booth

Favorite NHL Team: Toronto Maple Leafs
Favorite NHL Player: Mats Sundin
The 2019 Stanley Cup Champion Will Be: Winnipeg Jets
The 2019 Illinois High School Hockey State Champion Will Be: Loyola Gold
Hardest Slapshot on HP: George Giese
Most Accurate Shot On HP: Sam Shachtman
Fastest Skater on HP: George Giese
HP Player Who Could Be A Coach One Day: Sebastian Thomas
Best Coaching Advice: “Hard work is always worth it and will always pay off.” – Wally Kormylo
Hockey Pet Peeve: “Don’t complain about ice time.”
Hockey Superstitions: “I always chew gum during games.”

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.

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