Breaking the Ice

Discovering the wide world of hockey within District 128


Stuart Vieth

Alex Feinman, one of the Varsity IceCats’ leading scorers, skates into play.

Within the last 10 years alone, Chicago pride towards its hockey team has exploded.  The Chicago Blackhawks, within the memorable lifetime of all current teens and young adults, began an era of greatness.  They have had six playoff appearances and two Stanley Cup titles in the last six years and have had a huge part in expanding the sport of hockey in Illinois, especially in youth athletes.

A great example of this regional expansion would be the Icecats, the Vernon Hills and Libertyville High Schools hockey team that is fighting for the spotlight among other Libertyville sports.  While they do have off-ice team practices at LHS, their on-ice practices and games take place at Glacier Ice Arena in Vernon Hills or at facilities provided by opposing teams.

“I do wish the school gave us a little more recognition sometimes,” said junior Pete Capaccio, varsity goalie. “I do think our fan base would grow [if the school advertised us] because I have talked to people who didn’t even know that we had a hockey team.”

However, the team’s fan base and its participation, are growing.  Again, much of this can be attributed to the Blackhawks, arguably the most successful Chicago sports team over the last several years.

“Young kids see that and get excited about the Hawks, and I think they like to come out and learn how to skate and play hockey,” said Icecats head coach Shawn Brown.  “Hockey has become bigger and bigger in the last 5-6 years, so hopefully we’ll see that up in the high school level in the next several years.”

According to both players and coaches, this year has seen the biggest jump in fans.  While there is little hard evidence that this spike in spectatorship can be attributed to, one reason could be how well the team is doing, and is expected to do this year.  Right now, the team is 17-11-3 and they are fighting for a top spot against local teams like Warren and Lake Forest and teams as far Cary-Grove and Niles.

The team has just about every ingredient for success at this point.  As of four years ago, the team experienced a major turnaround when Brown, who has a lifetime of hockey experience and 20 years of coaching experience, took over as head coach.  According to Brown, the team had only won a handful of games the year prior to his inclusion and has been making slow progress since then.  While the goal always is to win state, the Icecats have made it to the playoffs in the years since Brown took over but have always come up a little short.

“We started with a younger group the last couple years and now some of those younger guys are now juniors and seniors, so we have some good senior leadership,” said Brown.

Another advantage for the team is that, unlike most high school sports teams, they run year-round, from fundamental work in spring and summer, to tryouts in August, to playoffs in March.  This not only forces the players to work on their skill at all times of the year, but it strengthens the small team’s dynamic, as they are doing work together, all the time, on and off of the ice.

“We’re closer as a team, we’re becoming smarter…I think we’re like a family,” said sophomore Justin Vieth.

The varsity team, made up of 16 players, is a combination of five Vernon Hills High School athletes and 11 LHS athletes, and is in fact a club team, a team independent of high school funding or leadership, but is still listed as an LHS winter sport.  Despite hockey’s growth, both of the schools’ substantial amount of students, and the coaches’ and players’ efforts to promote the team, there are not enough hockey players to make a split feasible.

“We’ve always thought of [splitting up] but we wouldn’t want to leave Vernon Hills because they would never be big enough,” said Vieth.  “It’s actually really fun because there’s different people there than people you see every day.”

While the team still has a ways to go, they are looking forward to a strong rest of the season.  The team continues to draw crowds through their strong playing and continues to function as a part of the community as well as part of LHS sports.  They have been ramping up promotion efforts, which include inviting out school administrators, encouraging players to talk about the team at school, and hosting special nights, such as their pink out for breast cancer on October 18, where they raised $800 for Advocate Condell Women’s Center.