Senior defenseman Mike Evans making the most of his final weeks as an Illini

By Joey Figueroa

Even after the No. 19 Illinois hockey team’s disheartening weekend at No. 9 Iowa State, senior defenseman Mike Evans was still all smiles at Monday’s practice.

“I consider myself to be somewhat personable,” Evans said just minutes after almost attempting an interview with his helmet on.

Evans’ positive, outgoing attitude will be missed in the locker room next year, as his final games are approaching before he graduates.

After he graduated high school, Evans said his parents didn’t want him to pursue junior hockey, so he set his sights on playing for Illinois, which is just two hours away from his hometown of Orland Park, Ill.

“It’s a great school academically, and I actually knew a few guys on the hockey team already,” Evans said. “So I came down and visited and went to a few of their games, and it was definitely the place where I wanted to be.”

Evans wasn’t accepted to Illinois when he first applied, so he spent a year at Parkland College before he was able to transfer in a year later. While at Parkland, Evans still practiced with the Illinois hockey team every day, went to all of the games and had rookie duties, so he’s technically been with the team for the past five years.

“I’ve been around the team longer than anyone except (head coach Nick Fabbrini), basically, so it’s going be tough with my career winding down,” Evans said. “It’s really starting to weigh heavy on me now.”

The large campus and friendly people are just a few aspects of the University Evans is going to miss, but he says he’s going to miss the hockey fans more than anything else.

“We have the best fans in the country,” he said. “I get butterflies every single time I step on the ice. Even after five years of being here, it never gets old.”

Evans developed his passion for hockey at a young age because his older brother and father both played the sport. Evans always watched his brother play hockey growing up and described him as a “rink rat” because of how much he loved being around the ice.

Before entering high school, Evans said he had to decide whether to focus on playing baseball or hockey, and in hindsight he is really glad he picked hockey.

“At heart, I was always a hockey player,” he said. “I love being in the hockey rink and I love that characteristic of being a hockey player.”

In 134 games played as an Illini, Evans has accounted for 81 points, with 20 goals and 61 assists; however, his biggest contributions have been on the defensive end and as a leader in the locker room.

“Having him the past few years has definitely made my job a lot easier,” Fabbrini said. “All the guys look up to him. He was our best defenseman last year and has been for good stretches of this season, too. He’s an anchor back there; he plays half the game. We’re definitely going to miss him next year and everything he brings both on and off the ice.”

Perhaps the most important thing about having Evans on the team is how much he has embraced being an assistant captain and gotten the best out of his teammates.

“It’s very important and I take it really seriously,” Evans said. “I think it’s really important that us seniors lead the way so then all the underclassmen see that (we) are going.”

Evans is a communications major and already has some job offers in marketing, but he still plans on creating a wide range of professional option for himself. However, all he’s thinking about right now is making the most of his last few weeks as an Illini hockey player.

“It’s all really starting get heavy right now, especially because, at this point, we’re not necessarily in nationals as of yet,” Evans said. “It’s going to be bittersweet, but I’m really trying to take advantage of the next couple weeks.”

Joey can be reached at [email protected] and @joeyfigueroa3