Olen’s time with Illinois hockey is running out

By Lucas Wright

#Illini hockey captain John Olen’s career is in waning hours 

After going down with an ankle injury in October, captain John Olen’s final season and the Illini’s 2015-16 campaign became filled with uncertainties.

How would the team play without its captain at full capacity?

How long would the injury affect him even after coming back?

Who would step up in Olen’s place?

In short, the answers to the first two questions weren’t what the team and Olen had hoped for. The answer to the third question would provide the Illini with some hope.

Illinois is in the middle of an 18-13-3 season, sitting 16th in the ACHA rankings and barely in the field for the national tournament in March. Olen returned from injury in November, but admitted that the injury lingered around for longer than he had imagined.

“It still bothers me every once in a while, but it’s definitely a whole lot better,” Olen said. “I think taking the break for Christmas was where I had the transition where I felt like I was more of myself. So, these last couple weeks have been definitely better.”

If there is a silver lining in Olen’s problem-laden season, it is that the Illini have found other faces to turn to for leadership and production on the ice. Head coach Nick Fabbrini has found his core of the future, featuring sophomore stars Eric Cruickshank and James Mcging, who have led the team in goals and assists, respectively.

Back to the present. Olen’s college career on the ice is in its final stages, but his recent output – six points over two games last weekend against ISU – has provided hope for a strong finish, although still a far cry away from last year’s production.

“He’s arguably been our best player since he got here as a freshman, so it was obviously a big loss with him going out for five or six weeks,” Fabbrini said. “For him to get going at this point in the season is huge for us. Anytime your best players are your best players, you have a chance of making some noise in the playoffs.”

With playoffs on the horizon, Olen’s hockey career is almost over and he graduates in a few months. He has to answer the question that eventually creeps up on all athletes at a point in their life: What’s next?

Though Olen hangs up his skates in March, he still plans to follow up on his goals.

“A lot of people have been asking me about hockey after college,” Olen said. “But I think I’m just going to pursue my engineering and career goals.”

Although he won’t be donning the orange and blue on the ice, Olen didn’t rule out the possibility of staying involved in hockey after college, although he is not all-in on coaching — he’s accepted a job at Amazon as an operations team leader.

“I don’t know how much I’ll be involved with coaching, but I’ll definitely get into men’s leagues and stuff like that,” Olen said. “I don’t see it not being a part of my life.”

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