Illini’s John Olen Selected for Team USA

By Sean Neumann

John Olen, a sophomore on the Illinois hockey team will join 21 other players from the ACHA to represent the United States at the 2013 World University Games in Trentino, Italy.

Olen is the 18th Illini all-time to join Team USA at the World University Games.

Head coach Nick Fabbrini told Olen he was being scouted for the team this past summer, but it wasn’t until October when the sophomore received a call from Team USA’s head coach to let him know he was one of the first 10 players selected for the team.

“I was ecstatic,” Olen said. “Just playing for our country, wearing a Team USA jersey and playing overseas is going to be awesome.”

On Nov. 6, Pope Francis lit the torch for the 26th World University Games, which features athletes from 60 different nations.

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While Olen’s excited at the opportunity to play with USA on his chest, he’s also thrilled to fulfill his lifelong dream of playing on national television, after being informed the games would be broadcast on CBS.

“That kind of recognition is unbelievable,” Olen said.

The sophomore winger led the Illini in goals (25) and points (48) last season as a freshman, and this year, Olen again leads Illinois with eight goals and 14 points.

Olen, of Hawthorn Woods, Ill., is one of three players on the national team from Illinois (Gehrett Sargis of Midlothian, Ill. and Ryan Bachman of Orland Park, Ill.).

“It says a lot about the talent we have in Illinois and how competitive Illinois hockey is,” Olen said. “I would have really liked to see some of my teammates go, but it’s still a great opportunity.”

The Illini forward will be traveling overseas and playing alongside 21 ACHA players he’s used to playing against during the regular season.

“It’ll be different,” Olen said, never having been forced to play with an entirely new team of this magnitude before. “We have a couple of days to practice and get acquainted, so there’s that, I guess.”

On Dec. 9, the United States Men’s National Team will play an exhibition game against HC Fassa, a team from Serie A — Italy’s top hockey league. Team USA will take on Sweden, Latvia and Italy before beginning tournament play on Dec. 18.

But with Olen playing for the United States in early December, the Illini will be without their star sophomore against No. 3 Robert Morris and Northern Illinois (D-II).

John’s brother Joe Olen, who is a goaltender on the Illini, said he’s excited to see his brother represent the United Sates, but is nervous about losing the team’s top scorer.

“The only problem is that he’s going to miss games and that’s going to kind of suck,” he said. “I guess we’ll get through it.”

Olen said he’s not worried about missing the series against Northern Illinois and believes the Illini will be evenly matched against No. 3 Robert Morris, seeing as the Eagles will also be without assistant captain Gehrett Sargis (also playing for Team USA).

“It’s not going to be easy when you lose probably you’re best player,” Illini head coach Nick Fabbrini said. “We haven’t really had a full roster all year, so I think the guys understand that somebody else is going to have to step up and get it done.”

But Fabbrini understands the importance of sending John Olen with the United States Men’s National Team.

“It’s a really cool honor,” Fabbrini said. “When I was here, I never got a chance to do it, but I played with a bunch of guys that did and they always talk about it being a special experience. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Sean can be reached at [email protected] and @Neumannthehuman.