Olen brothers return to Illini hockey from Spain

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Illinois’ John Olen (16) maintains control of the puck as Robert Morris’ Jake Floro (44) comes up from behind during the hockey game vs. Robert Morris at the Ice Arena on Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015. The Illini lost 4-3.

Illinois hockey’s center John Olen spent most of his Sunday on a nine and a half hour flight from Spain to the United States, reminiscing about the past three weeks. While the Illinois hockey team played games against Oklahoma, Lindenwood and Ohio, its top-two players — brothers John and goaltender Joe Olen — faced some of the greatest teams in the world at the World University Games in Granada, Spain from Feb. 4-14.

The best players in the ACHA made up Team USA. The selection was John’s second and Joe’s first for the event, which takes place every other year. It was also the first time Team USA had brothers on the same team.

“It was really awesome being able to share (that experience) with him,” Joe said. “Playing on the U.S. team together, it’s kind of a dream come true.”

A few days were spent touring castles, cathedrals and the Mediterranean Sea, but Joe said most of the trip was business-like. Days were mainly devoted to practices, meetings and film sessions.

After going 1-1-0 in the preliminary round, Team USA advanced to the qualification round where it defeated Sweden 4-1 in a game where John recorded an assist. However, USA’s tournament play was cut short, falling 4-0 to Canada on Feb. 11. 

In consolation play, the U.S. lost in overtime to Slovakia and beat Korea. Team USA finished seventh out of 11 teams, going 3-2-1 overall. Russia won the gold medal game over Kazakhstan.

John said playing teams from around the world is much different than playing ACHA competition.

“International play is something else,” John said. “It’s a lot higher level than what I experience (in the ACHA).”

John recorded one goal and one assist, while playing in all six games. Joe made only one appearance in net, making 10 saves on 14 shots in the 5-4 overtime loss to Slovakia.

Joe, heavily relied on as Illinois’ starting goaltender, had to take the backseat most of the tournament behind Iowa State’s Matt Cooper. Nonetheless, Joe learned some skills, which he looks to use to improve his game, just in time for the CSCHL tournament this weekend.

“It’s a lot faster game there and I didn’t think it could get much faster,” Joe said. “(It’s) just quick decisions and more anticipation than anything else.”

Five players on Team USA compete on CSCHL teams, in addition to the Olen brothers. Two of those five play for Iowa State, Illinois’ opponent in Friday’s CSCHL tournament opener.

Joe said it will be weird playing against guys who were his teammates a week ago, but it will be a fun experience.

Regardless, both the Olens are shifting focus to Illini hockey and their missed school work. During their absence, the Illini have gone 4-2-0 and the Olens have missed three weeks of class.

“We’re going to have to do a little catching up,” Joe said. “We didn’t have much Internet, so we kind of got a little behind. (We have) a lot of studying to do.”

During their study breaks, the Olens will be gearing up for Illini hockey and the conference and national tournaments.

“It’s back to Illinois hockey,” John said. “I had my fun overseas, but now we’re looking at our long-term goals here with Nationals and the CSCHL tournament.”

Although he admits it was a great experience to put on the USA uniform, John is ready to be back with Illinois.

“I’m going to stick with the orange and blue,” John said. “Although it was definitely fun wearing the red, white and blue.”

Matt can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter

@MattGertsmeier.