John Scully signs with Bloomington’s semi-professional hockey team


John Scully (14) celebrates after putting in the first goal of the night in the 1st period of a 6-3 win against Indiana Saturday night at the Ice Arena.

By Sean Neumann

It’s not the end of the road for John Scully.

The Illini hockey senior signed a 3-game contract with the Bloomington Thunder on Monday night — a semi-professional team in Bloomington, Ill.

Scully thought he had played his final competitive game earlier this month when the No. 18 seed Illini were knocked out of the ACHA national tournament by No. 2 Oklahoma.

“It’s a dream come true,” Scully said. “Just having an opportunity like this isn’t something that comes around every day. It’s a pretty cool opportunity, and I’m going to make the most of it.”

Illini head coach Nick Fabbrini said it’s becoming more common for ACHA players to sign semi-professional contracts after the collegiate season ends, as the club hockey league grows bigger.

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“If he produces and does what the coaching staff’s looking for, then he’ll absolutely have a shot at getting a contract next year,” Fabbrini said. “They’re pushing for the playoffs and wanted to bring him on, so I think that says a lot about him.”

The forward led the team with 24 goals this season and also added 10 assists, scoring a career high 34 points in 41 games.

Illini teammate Nick Clarke called Scully one of the team’s best players this season.

The senior goaltender, who also played his final competitive game in Illinois’ 6-1 loss to Oklahoma, said the rest of the Illini are excited to see Scully continue his career professionally.

“We’re really happy for him,” Clarke said. “It’s not a normal thing. Some of (the seniors) had it in mind, but Scully’s really the only one that went out there and made the moves to actually make it happen. He put in the extra work.”

Scully’s contract with the Thunder isn’t only a success for the forward, but for the Illinois hockey program as well, according to Clarke.

“It’s a fairly respectable league, so it’s not only great for John but great for the (Illinois) program as well,” Clarke said. 

Bloomington is a part of the Southern Professional Hockey League and is coached by Greg Pankewicz, who briefly played with the Ottawa Senators and the Calgary Flames.

Scully joined the Thunder on Tuesday before their road trip to Peoria to face the third-place Rivermen — a former affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks in the American Hockey League.

Scully said he stopped in the U.S. Cellular Coliseum — Bloomington’s home arena — in December and met with Pankewicz by chance, expressing his interest in playing semi-professional hockey after graduating.

But Scully didn’t have to wait until graduation and received a phone call from Pankewicz Monday night asking him to play for the remainder of the Thunder season.

“I really wasn’t expecting anything,” Scully said. “It just happened that something came about a week after (Illinois’ season ended). It was pretty fortunate.”

While the Thunder most likely won’t make the SPHL playoffs — as they sit five points behind the Mississippi Surge with three games left in the regular season — Scully will look to impress Pankewicz and extend his 3-game contract into a bigger opportunity with the team. Either way, Scully is thankful to squeeze three extra games out of his hockey career.

“It’d be pretty cool to continue playing hockey,” Scully said. “I had a great time at U of I and if I could stay on the ice for a little bit longer that would be ideal.”

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