By Ross Forman
In the Chicago Catholic Hockey League, the season – every season for every team – is centered on the Kennedy Cup championship. Win the Kennedy Cup, that’s all that matters. Period, end of story. Awarded annually to the CCHL playoff champion, the Kennedy Cup dates to 1964 and is the oldest trophy in Illinois High School hockey. Every team wants to win the Kennedy Cup every season, and then CCHL teams turn their attention to other season-long goals.
Benet Academy is the defending Kennedy Cup Champion, hoisting the title this past March days before the pandemic silenced the sport. Benet topped Providence Catholic in the best-of-three series, winning the deciding game 4-3 in overtime. I am proud to spotlight two key returning players for the Redwings who again are focused first off on repeating. Nothing less than a Kennedy Cup championship will do.
For Benet or any CCHL team.
Two-Sport Standout Klos
Anthony Klos, 18, who lives in Clarendon Hills, played his youth hockey for the Chicago Hawks, Glenview Stars and Chicago Fury. His drive this season is motivated by last season’s “extremely underwhelming performance in the state tournament.”
No. 9-seeded Benet was blitzed by No. 8-seeded Saint Ignatius, 6-1, in the team’s first state tournament game this past March.
His goals this season are concrete:
** Lead Benet to another Kennedy Cup championship.
** Go undefeated in the CCHL.
** Win the first hockey state championship in school history.
** Break the single season point record for Benet.
** Win the J.J. O’Connor Award, “and make a strong case for being the best Benet player ever,” he said.
“These obviously are very ambitious goals, but I truly believe they are possible, especially considering we have a very talented and determined group of returning players and many great new additions,” said Klos, best described as an offensive defenseman. “I like to skate the puck up and take on defenders or find an open pass. I also read the game well and can pick off passes in all three zones. When needed, I also can play very capable defense and help close out tight games.”
Klos said his dad (Barry) has been a major influence on his career. “He always holds me to a higher standard and pushes me to be my best,” Klos said. “He never sugar-coats anything and tells me what I didn’t do well or need to work on. He is probably the hardest working person I know and that motivates me to be the same way.”
Klos also noted former Benet players have influenced his career. “Seeing what the previous Benet teams and players have accomplished motivates me to work harder and harder,” he said. “The great players who played before me have motivated me to become better and better because I want to be the best.”
Klos, as a sophomore, scored another memorable goal from his career, as it helped Benet win a tournament in Detroit. He had the game-tying goal in the semifinal and a shootout goal in the championship game.
“My main improvements from last year are my physicality and goal-scoring, but I’ve also been working on my passing and skating,” he said. “I am a fierce competitor and am somebody who my teammates can count on in big games. I can contribute to the team through goals and assists, but as captain can also make an impact being a leader and bringing out the best in my peers.
“I feel like I am somebody who a lot of my team looks up to, especially the underclassmen. I lead by example and show my dedication and commitment to the team every time I step on the ice. I try to mentor the newer players on the team by being positive, but also by giving some constructive criticism and holding teammates accountable when needed. I always try to get others to work harder by showing that I’ve gotten where I am through hard work and resilience.”
Klos – undecided on his college plans, though he plans to major in accounting – also was a 4-year varsity player (3 as a starter) for Benet’s soccer team, which shut out Crystal Lake South in early-November to win the Class 2A state championship, which he tagged as, “one of the greatest sports moments I’ve ever experienced.”
He added: “It was an amazing atmosphere and being able to win that trophy and play in front of so many people in the Benet community meant a lot to me. Winning a trophy of that significance also taught me so much about how to work and succeed as a team. I learned so many lessons from that experience that translate to hockey.”
Hockey and soccer certainly help each other. “A lot of the foot work from soccer translates over to hockey and I’m confident using my feet to control the puck or kick it to my stick. Vice versa, my aggression and physicality from hockey has really helped me as a soccer player,” he said.
SLAPSHOTS WITH … Benet Academy defenseman Anthony Klos
Hockey Uniform Number: 48
In The Classroom: “Last semester, I finished with A’s in all of my classes except one, and I took some pretty challenging classes, such as BC Calculus.”
Little-Known Facts: “I was born in Minnesota, which is a big reason I got into hockey. I dreamed of playing high school hockey there.”
Favorite NHL Team: Minnesota Wild
Favorite NHL Player: Zach Parise
Favorite Sports-Themed Movie: Miracle
Favorite Pre-Game Meal: Butter Pasta
Celebrity You’d Like To Have Met: Kobe Bryant
Best Coaching Tip: “Being nervous and excited is the same thing, but you play better when you’re excited and not nervous.” – Coach Sean Wesley (Benet Soccer Coach)
Teammate Who You Could See As A Hockey Coach: Liam Casto
Hardest Slapshot On Your Team: Tommy MacDonald
Most Accurate Shot: Jacob Runge
Fastest Skater: Gabe Szopinski
Best High School Uniforms (other than Benet): Loyola Academy
Casto Shines in Goal – with ‘Goal’ Being the Key Word
When he started playing hockey in 2007, Liam Casto was a forward for the Homewood Flossmoor Vikings, yet was the only player on his team to not score a goal all season.
“I quickly learned that I was not a goal-scorer, so I became a goalie,” he said.
And quite a good one at that.
Casto, 18, who lives in New Lenox, is a senior in his second season on the Benet varsity, coming off a remarkable junior campaign: All-State honors, being named to the Illinois Showcase Team and, of course, anchoring the Redwings’ Kennedy Cup championship.
“It was really special to our team and fans to bring home the Kennedy Cup trophy after a hard-fought series. That was something all of us will remember for the rest of our lives,” Casto said. “My personal career highlight was being selected to the Illinois High School Showcase Team (as) there were a ton of great goalies trying out; I was extremely proud to be chosen to represent the state.
“Last season was the most fun I have ever had playing hockey. I was surrounded by teammates who wanted to win. I owe my defensemen a lot of credit for helping me out every time they stepped on the ice. They made my job much easier and we wouldn’t have been successful if it weren’t for all the work they put in all season long.”
Benet went 17-2-1 in league play last season, finishing 1 point behind regular-season champion Providence Catholic. Casto was 10-2 in league play, with 1 shutout and a 1.88 goals-against average.
“I have worked hard to improve my ability to play the puck. I’ve spent a lot of time working on stopping the puck behind the net and knowing where my defensemen like it rested along the boards,” Casto said. “I try to be as simple as possible. I’ve been told that if I’m in the right position the puck will just hit me. My goal every game is to make every save I am supposed to and a few that I am not supposed to.”
He credits his dad (Jeff) and others for his success. “My dad has been a huge influence on my career. He does everything he can to make sure I have the best time possible and he works so hard to support me. My hockey career wouldn’t be possible without him.
“I feel I bring dependability to the team. My coaches and teammates know I am going to give it my all whenever I’m on the ice. I am a vocal leader. I talk to my defensemen a lot during games and tell them what I see.”
Casto is undecided on his college plans, though he is leaning toward leaving the Midwest.
**Photos courtesy of Benet Academy**
Kick-Saves With … Benet Goalie Liam Casto
Uniform Number: 35
Memories: “My favorite hockey memory was my first-ever shutout. I made three saves all game, and I still have the game puck.”
Helping My Hockey: “I throw around a racquet ball and it helps me track pucks on the ice.”
Looking Ahead: “We have a ton of young, talented goalies in the program. My goal is to make sure they know they’re ready for anything that comes their way in the future.”
Favorite NHL Team: Philadelphia Flyers
Favorite NHL Player: Carey Price
Favorite Sports-Themed Movie: Moneyball
Favorite Pre-Game Meal: “A mango smoothie.”
Celebrity You’d Like To Meet: Allen Robinson
Best Hockey Tip: “If you give up a goal, just forget about.”
Teammate Who You Could See As A Hockey Coach: Jacob Plonka
Hardest Slapshot On Benet: Anthony Klos
Most Accurate Shot: Tommy MacDonald
Most Difficult Teammate To Stop On A Breakaway: “Jacob Runge, and just behind him is Scottie Ernsting.”
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.