Shawn Nelson, a junior at Naperville Central, admits it's kind of weird skating alongside others from around the state as part of the elite Illinois team that will participate in the annual America's Showcase, set for April 13-17 in Pittsburgh.
That's because some of his new teammates, he, well, hated playing against during the regular season. Such as senior Luke Morin, a forward from Waubonsie Valley, even though he was a teammate of Nelson's when the two were younger.
"I really hated going against him, but it's nice now to put those bad vibes aside," said Nelson, 16, a center. "You're not used to liking certain players, or players from certain (rival) teams. We hate each other during the regular-season, but now accept each other as Showcase teammates and we're working toward the same goal ---- to win."
Nelson, Morin and 18 others will represent Illinois in the prestigious tournament that attracts scouts from many higher levels of hockey for some of the best high school games played every season. The event was previously known as the Chicago Showcase and was held locally for its first 25 years. Last season was the first time it moved out of Chicago and when the event's name was changed.
The Illinois team also features Matt Kostopoulos (Neuqua Valley), Mike Keogh (Benet Academy), Fred Pickard (Hinsdale Central) and Michael Tiede (York), among others.
"One of my goals this season was to make the Showcase team," Nelson said. "This is a great opportunity to play more hockey, thus the season isn't over, yet. I'm really looking forward to playing with new teammates and playing against some really good teams. It definitely will be fun, exciting and challenging to play (against) the best of the best."
And hopefully, Nelson said, he'll grab a few looks from scouts. But certainly, "have fun," he added.
Nelson was second in Metro West scoring this past season with 27 goals and 21 assists in 22 league games. He had five powerplay and two game-winning goals. His 48 points only trailed York's Nick Albergo (57 points) -- and Albergo also is a Showcase forward.
The Illinois team, coached by former Chicago Blackhawk Brian Noonan (Naperville North's head coach), is "really fast," Nelson said, "with a lot of overall offensive talent on every line."
Nelson, a playmaker who is solid defensively with an ability to score from anywhere on the ice, will form a line with Mike Murphy (Lincoln-Way Central) and Ethan Slopecki (Maine West).
"Shawn did a great job this season," said Jeff Nelson, who is both Shaun's dad and coach. "He's got a great shot and is a good role model. He's a good leader on the team."
Jeff Nelson played four seasons at Illinois-Chicago and ranks as the all-time leading scorer for the now-defunct team. He's a member of the UIC Athletic Hall of Fame and the Illinois Hockey Hall of Fame.
Jeff played two seasons professionally in Holland and also was a member of USA Hockey's Inline National Team.
"Overall, I enjoy it," Nelson said of having dad as a coach. "At home, he's just a typical dad and it's not hockey all the time. At the rink, it's nice to have someone who I can always go to and trust."
But what about when dad, er, coach becomes irate during a game?
"It's just kind of expected from hockey," Nelson said. "Normally, he's pretty quiet until he gets into the locker room, and then he'll vent."
Or more. Such as the first Metro playoff game this past season when the Redhawks lost handily to Sandburg. Coach Nelson was silent on the bench, though no doubt brewing. He walked into the locker room and kicked a garbage can, injuring his knee in the process.
"I always think it's funny when he does things like that because that's so not what he's like all the time," the younger Nelson said.
Nelson praised his dad for significantly improving his shot -- and showing the benefit of working hard.
The Nelson legacy isn't just Jeff and Shaun. Michael, 19, played three years at forward for the Redhawks and is now a freshman at Minnesota. Troy is 13 and in the eighth grade.
"It was a lot of fun," playing with my brother Michael last season, said Shaun, who noted that the two also were once Little League teammates. "Troy could (play varsity next season) if he puts on some weight and grows a bit. I'd love to have him on our team because we're really good friends off the ice. It'd be a lot of fun and I think I could really help his game."
The Redhawks struggled in Metro West this past season, especially after losing nine seniors to graduation from the 2009-2010 team. But Nelson truly enjoyed the run.
"This was one of the more exciting seasons for me personally because you never knew who you were going to get. And when we did play well, it was 10 times more exciting to win and achieve the same goal because many guys on the team had never felt that excitement and the benefit of hard work," he said.
Such as during the annual Chicago Blackhawk Charities Holiday Tournament, held in late-December at The Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville.
"We were not expected to do well, yet we advanced," into the playoff round, Nelson said.
The Redhawks, though, lost 4-3 to perennial power and eventual Combined Division state champion Rockford.
"That kind of shocked everyone," he said, especially since the Redhawks actually were leading 3-2 with about five minutes remaining to play.
National champions: New Trier Green defended its National Championship last month at The Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville. The Trevians defeated the Southlake Carroll (Tex.) Dragons in the championship 3-0 as Joe Miller, George Ross and Greg Smart each scored. Goalie Greg Ogard recorded the championship game shutout.