High school hockey: Leptich, Team Illinois aim to star again in Showcase
Jackson Leptich is back under the national spotlight as one of four returning players on the Illinois team competing in the annual America's Showcase hockey tournament.
Team Illinois has been dominant of late in the prestigious, 24-team tourney that started as the Chicago Showcase and was held locally for its first 25 years. After an eight-year run held in Pittsburgh, the 2018 America's Showcase is being held in suburban St. Louis. The tournament started Wednesday and runs through next Monday.
Team Illinois has won the America's Showcase championship four of the past five years and is the two-time defending champion. Illinois defeated Team Pittsburgh 6-3 in the 2017 championship game.
"We should win the championship … I know that's the expectation in the locker room," said Leptich, a Stevenson senior who played four years of varsity hockey for the Patriots. "I wouldn't say (there's) pressure (on Team Illinois to win again). I'd say winning the championship is just an expectation."
Leptich, a right hand-shooting forward, had a standout season for Stevenson with 75 goals and 47 assists in 74 games. The Patriots finished second in the state, losing to No. 1-ranked Loyola Gold 4-2 in the state championship game at the United Center, marking the school's first appearance in the title game.
"It's a huge honor to be chosen as a top player in the state, considering how many talented players there are playing high school hockey in Illinois," said Leptich, of Long Grove. "As a returning member of the (Showcase) team, I can't wait to get down to St. Louis and make a run for another championship. Last year was such a great experience and I hope this year is the same."
Leptich, who expects to play alongside Stevenson teammate Trevor Hilt and Liam Burns of OPRF, said Team Illinois is "a complete team, with no weak links."
"We have size, speed, skill, great goaltending and great coaching," he said. "I definitely believe we could compete against any AAA team. Depth is probably our biggest strength. Everyone can play. Also, (we have) great goaltending (as) both of our goalies are capable of stealing a game on any given night."
Returning players to Team Illinois also include senior forwards John Purcell (Loyola Gold) and Reid Nelson (Carmel) and senior goaltender Tyler Laarveld (Glenbrook North). The rest of the roster includes senior forwards Anthony Letto and Vincent Avino and senior defenseman Kevin Joyce (Saint Viator), plus junior forward Will Sammons and junior defenseman (Benet Academy).
Benet head coach Jon Grzbek returns as the Team Illinois head coach.
The girls' America's Showcase eight-team tournament will be held Thursday through Sunday, also in St. Louis. This year marks the third that Illinois has fielded an all-Illinois girls Showcase team.
"Winning isn't everything for this event," first-year Team Illinois coach Michelle Lichterman said. "I want the girls to have fun, play their hardest every game and every shift, get better (as players) and hopefully (get the chance to) further their hockey careers."
America's Showcase brings players from 43 states to display their skill for scouts. The event remains focused on its original goal -- to give hockey players from around the country who do not traditionally get scouted due to geographic and budgetary constraints within the scouting circles the opportunity to compete against the best of the best during a five-day period and be seen by every major hockey institution in North America.