By Ross Forman – Peyton Botich is a senior co-captain for perennial power Providence Catholic, a three-year varsity right wing who skated last fall for the AHAI Showcase Team and is one of the most skilled, talented, and feared forwards in Illinois.
Even though he lives in Indiana.
Playing for PC is truly a drive to commitment and sacrifice for Botich, who lives in Crown Point. The Celtics’ home rink is the Arctic Ice Arena in Orland Park, which is 45-minute drive – each way – for Botich, maybe a bit longer.
The commute, he said, is not enjoyable, “but I just turn on music and drive,” he said. The reward, he added, “is that I get to skate with the boys.”
Botich knows that the trek for road games against such foes as Carmel Catholic (in Vernon Hills), New Trier Green (Wilmette), Loyola Gold (Lincolnwood) can be 90-minutes – each way.
But the miles lead to memories that are well worth it, he said.
“Hockey has been one of the best experiences of my life,” he said. “I’ve been given so many opportunities because of the sport; I cannot imagine my life without it. The thrill and excitement are unmatched.”
To help the travel woes, Botich has a billet family, of sorts. He often stays with the family of PC goalie Luke Brzezinski in Shorewood, Illinois.
“I’ve been staying with the Brzezinski’s since last February. They were so nice to offer me a place to stay so I did not have to drive back and forth from hockey and school,” Botich said. “Luke and I will often go to the driving range or a teammate’s house to hang out after school if we don’t have practice. It’s like having a little brother; we’re together most of the day from school in the morning to hockey at night.”
Botich’s hockey journey also has been helped by, ugh, the enemy. Botich has known Benet Academy goalie Liam Casto since they played for St. Jude and were teammates for three years.
“I’ve always been good friends with Liam; I have spent countless nights at his house when we played together. I’ve even gone on vacation with his family,” said Botich, who admitted that Casto “actually is the reason I went on a shadow day at Providence.”
Casto, you see, was narrowing down his high school options to Benet and Providence, while Botich was choosing between St. Rita and Brother Rice. “He asked if I wanted to shadow with him at Providence; I figured why not, and it turned out to be my favorite school. I stayed with the Casto’s throughout my sophomore year and first semester of my junior year. I had fun staying at his house and was grateful to have the opportunity.”
Botich said he and Casto did not actually see each other a lot while living together as they often had practice on opposite days. “When we were home at the same time, we would pretty much play video games or chill in the basement and watch South Park with his sisters,” Botich said.
Botich said he would do his hockey journey all over again – in a heartbeat.
“I’ve made so many friends and memories that I never would have had (without hockey) – from the long bus trips to tournaments to playing in front of hundreds of people on a Friday night at The Arctic.
“The commute and the sacrifice were well worth it to have experienced those moments.”
Botich, in uniform No. 12, played his youth hockey for the Chicago Jets. He was second at PC in points and goals last season, finishing the Chicago Catholic Hockey League 20-game regular-season slate with 20 goals, 12 assists, and was named a CCHL All-Star.
“Last season was probably the most memorable season I’ve ever had,” Botich said. “We had a solid team with great chemistry; we all liked playing with each other and very rarely had any issues. It was a great year for me, particularly playing for the AHAI Showcase Team in Minnesota, along with teammates Tommy Davis and Tommy Zschach. I had a great time playing and getting to know players from other teams like Glenbrook South, Glenbrook North, New Trier, and Loyola.
“We were so excited for the CCHL playoffs after a solid regular-season and since we knew the students would pack the Arctic Ice Arena for playoff hockey. The student body had been great to the hockey team all season; we always had a crowd at home, and we knew there would be more fans than ever for playoffs. In our last home game versus Benet on a Wednesday night, Arctic’s Championship Rink was packed shoulder to shoulder. It was a feeling like no other to play in front of that many people.
“Sadly, our season ended with two disappointing loses. The first coming against Benet Academy in the Kennedy Cup final game 3 in overtime. That series was incredible from the level of play to the fan sections for both sides, even though it did not end how we wanted. Still, it was something I will always remember.
“The second loss coming to Barrington in the second round of the state tournament. We fought hard, but we just couldn’t score. Although the season did not end the way we wanted, I built memories with my teammate that I will remember the rest of my career.”
Last season’s woes are this season’s drive.
Starting with the Kennedy Cup.
“My main goal for the season it to bring the Kennedy Cup back to Providence,” Botich said. “We came so close last year, so it makes me want to win even more.”
Botich brings a passive approach to the ice. He prefers to be the high guy on a forecheck, then chase a defenseman behind the net. “I’m an unselfish player, sometimes to a fault. I always look for a pass before I shoot. I like to think my hockey smarts are good; I seem to be able to read plays pretty well and pick off passes or make a smart play.”
Botich credits Jets coach Jimmy McKeague and former PC JV coach Mark Bandzi for much of his success. “Back when I used to play defense, Coach Jimmy really helped me develop skills like my shot, puck movement, and just reading the play as it is happening, but with all that, I lacked confidence with things like carrying the puck. I had moments where it would all come together, but it was just that, a moment, never consistent.
“My freshman year on JV, Coach Bandzi realized I had the potential, but lacked confidence. He pushed me and gave me opportunities where I had to perform and be confident with the puck. It worked – after my freshman year was when I felt like it had all come together.
“Without those two, I do not know if I would be the hockey player I am today.”
Botich’s sophomore season featured a goal to tie a state semifinal game against Loyola Gold six seconds after PC had just scored.
He also shines in the classroom, even it means doing homework after practice – and he is a member of the National Honors Society.
“It can be stressful at times if you’re at a tournament or have multiple games during the weekend and have to study for tests and do homework at the same time, but I find a way,” he said.
Botich brings a cool and collected approach to the PC bench. He rarely loses his temper, takes stupid penalties or yells at teammates.
“If we go down in a game, I try to pick people back up and give them some hope that we can get back in it,” he said. “Whenever we get scored on, I always make a point to go to our goalie, Luke Brzezinski or Vince Barracca, to tell them to stay calm, that we need them to do their job right now, or that it wasn’t their fault and to shake it off.
“If everyone can stay focused and do their job, we should have no problem beating anyone, but we get caught up in the game and forget; that is where I try and get everyone back on track. I also think I bring ability to make the smart play or the play we need at that moment.”
That helped Botich lead PC last season with 12 game-winning goals.
Botich is a co-captain this season with Joey McConnell and Vince Barracca. “This year has been a strange one to be a captain; it has been more about keeping people motivated and giving them hope then hyping up the boys for a game,” he said. “It has been difficult, but I’ve had the help of McConnell, Barracca and coach Nick. It has not been what I imagined being a captain would be like; I’d rather be getting everyone ready to go play a game and I hope I still have the chance to do so.”
Botich is undecided on his college plans, though he wants to major in sports medicine or environmental sciences.
**Photos courtesy of Peyton Botich**
Slapshots With … Providence Catholic Forward Peyton Botich
Favorite NHL Team: Florida Panthers
Favorite NHL Player: Alexander Barkov
Favorite Sports-Themed Movie: Miracle
Favorite Pre-Game Meal: Popeye’s chicken sandwich with mac and cheese
Celebrity You’d Like To Meet: Robert Downey Jr.
Best Hockey Tip: “Play until it’s not fun to you anymore.” His dad
Teammate Who You Could See As A Hockey Coach: Joey McConnell
Hardest Slapshot On PC: Joey McConnell
Most Accurate Shot: Mike Hurley
Fastest Skater: Sam Knight
Best High School Uniforms (other than PC): Glenbrook North (black jerseys)
Giving Thanks: “I would like to thank my parents for the sacrifice they have made through the years. Driving an hour each way to games and practices, just so I could play on a competitive team. I know it makes them happy when my team and I succeed, but that is the reason I do it – to see them happy.”
Off The Ice: “I enjoy hiking and repelling in Utah, specifically, at Zion National Park with my dad, my uncle and my cousin.”
Little-Known Fact: Until high school he was home-schooled. “It was easier on me and my parents as we were always running around with hockey. My mom was a teacher, so she would teach me from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day and soon after we would head out for practice.
The PC Experience: “Going to Providence has been such an incredible experience – from school to hockey. It truly has been an awesome time in my life.”
Hooked on Hockey: At age 6, he started watching the Chicago Blackhawks at his neighbor’s home – an older couple that have been like grandparents to Botich, he said.
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.