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posted: 4/3/2013 7:04 PM

Illinois unites for hockey Showcase

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  • St. Viator junior David Kellner is among 23 players selected to play for Team Illinois in the annual USA Hockey America's Hockey Showcase, held April 10-14 in Pittsburgh.

    St. Viator junior David Kellner is among 23 players selected to play for Team Illinois in the annual USA Hockey America's Hockey Showcase, held April 10-14 in Pittsburgh.
    Photo by Scott Jamieson

By Ross Forman
Daily Herald Correspondent

Bitter rivals during the regular season will be teammates for one week in April. That's both players and coaches.

Loyola Gold senior defenseman Nick Schaefer might be sending goal-scoring passes to Kyle Melton from arch-rival New Trier Green. Senior defenseman Kurt Oswalt might be the first to congratulate a goal by senior forward Paul Mascitti, which would be a union of Naperville Central and Naperville North players, respectively.

It's time for the annual USA Hockey America's Showcase, scheduled for April 10-14, in Pittsburgh.

The Illinois team was selected from 120 players, juniors and seniors, with 72 forwards, 36 defensemen and 12 goalies divided into six teams participating in the tryouts, with 20 local varsity head coaches participating in the evaluation process.

Team Illinois' Showcase head coach, Brian Noonan (Naperville North), ultimately selected the team after discussion with the assistant coaches: Jeff Nelson (Naperville Central) and Kurt Kabat (Fenwick).

"The selection process always is difficult, as you're trying to figure out who can do what, and who can bring what to the table, and just how players will do against better competition. I think we did a good job (selecting the team)," Nelson said. "I think we'll be vying for the quarterfinal spot, just as we did last year, and who knows where we can go (after that round of the tournament).

"Last year, we had a really good team, just had a really bad game in the quarterfinals. Last year, we should have won the whole thing, but we had the worst possible game we could have in the quarterfinals and got knocked out."

Team Illinois advanced to the semifinals in the 2011 Showcase, and the finals in 2010.

"We can make it to the championship (game) based on what we have on this team, though we have no true idea about the talent of the players on other teams," Nelson said.

Based on the performance of recent years, Team Illinois landed in the top-tiered A-Pool, and its first three opponents are Team Indiana, Team New Jersey and Team Ohio.

The championship game will be played Sunday, April 14.

Team Illinois features three senior goalies: Zach Danna (Fenwick), Martin Dignan (Sandburg) and Kyle Nielson (Bartlett).

"I think we have very good goaltending, which is something we definitely will need because I know some of the teams we will be playing are stacked," Nelson said.

Dignan played in the 2012 event, though for Team Ohio. He has been "solid all year" for Sandburg, while Danna has "impressed" Nelson all season. "He's kept Fenwick in a lot of games this season. He made a lot of really good saves in the one game (Naperville Central lost to Fenwick) this season.

"I think we'll be very strong in goal."

The Team Illinois defensefeatures one junior: Liam Conroy (Fenwick). The D also includes Tom Breitfuss (Rockford), Vincent Moschea (Stevenson) and Patrick Biewald (Prairie Ridge), among others.

Nelson said the Illinois defense features players who are mobile with good shots. "Plus, we have a lot of smart defensemen, such as Conroy. We should be decent on defense," Nelson said.

The Team Illinois offense Jonathan Gauger (Glenbrook North), Joe Scorpio (Fenwick), Michael Trapp (Stevenson), and Michael Wiggemansen (Deerfield), among others.

"I think we picked a few (forwards) who weren't (high) on the radar -- players who are big and can score, such as Anthony Casaletto from co-op CCM Tigers. He's a big kid with good hands who can skate pretty well. He might do some damage out there," said Nelson. "Overall, the offense should do well."

So who will be the surprise player for Team Illinois?

Nelson tagged New Trier Green's Kyle Melton, who was a sensation during the regular season for the Trevians, leading Green to the state championship.

"I'm very interested to see how Kyle does," Nelson said. "He was a very good offensive player this season who can control the puck and shoots it well. I'm really looking forward to seeing how he does in the tournament. He could be one of the team's real leaders when it comes to point-getters."

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