David Heflin is the man between pipes for the Illini this season


Elisabeth Neely

David Heflin stands in goal ready to block any shots from Robert Morris at the Ice Arena on Feb. 17, 2017. Illinois beat Robert Morris 5-1.

By Erich Fisher and Erich Fisher

Senior goaltender David Heflin just couldn’t wait any longer. The anticipation was killing him, and there was no way he could avoid it.

“I was excited the moment I got here. I even came here during orientation before that summer,” Heflin said. “I had to see what it was going to be like.”

That was Heflin describing his first time arriving at the University of Illinois in 2015. Even on orientation day where students are supposed to be figuring out how they are going to adjust to life on campus, all Heflin could think about was what the Illinois Ice Arena was like.

Fast forward three years now, and Heflin is now taking over the reins for Illinois hockey, finally getting his shot at being the definite starting goaltender for the Illinois hockey team.

“It’s really exciting, my whole career I’ve been playing a lot and now for my last year I get to just take over and it’s kind of my team,” Heflin said. “I’ll be out there playing for the guys and they will be out there playing for me and I just can’t wait to get after it this season.”

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Starting out in youth hockey, Heflin was not manning the net. Instead he was playing a forward position. However, for those two years, all he could think about was being a netminder.

Even while he was playing forward, Heflin was relentless on his efforts to persuade his father to let him become a goalie. Eventually, his dad had no other choice but to give in.

Hockey was not a popular sport at his high school in Mundelein, Illinois. When Heflin’s friends were off playing baseball and football, he was at the rink, refining his goaltending skills.

And refine he did, as Heflin had a solid first season as an Illini. Even though he was the third-string goalie in the 2015-2016 season, Heflin received seven starts, winning five of them and having an .888 save percentage and a 3.21 goals allowed average.

But, it was Heflin’s junior season when he really proved just how valuable he could be for his team. As the back-up goaltender, Heflin had an impressive 11-2 record to go along with two shutouts, a save percentage of .919 and an average of 2.56 goals allowed per game.

Heflin gives credit for his development as a goaltender to his longtime teammate and the man he played backup for those two seasons, Joe Olen.

“Joey O’ and I used to play with each other when I was younger and I was kind of his back-up back then, too. So I’ve always looked up to him in that way,” Heflin said. “He’s sort of led the way for me in that sort of sense.”

While Heflin gives credit to Olen for his comradery, he is not unfamiliar with doing the same thing with his teammates.

“(Heflin) was one of the guys I knew coming in last year. We actually skated together in Vernon Hills over the summer; he was one of the first guys I got to ask questions to about the program,” sophomore defenseman Charlie Salk said. “We became friends pretty much right away.”

Throughout these last three seasons, head coach Nick Fabbrini takes note that it has been a real pleasure to watch Heflin develop over the years. When Heflin got to Illinois, Fabbrini said there was “franticness” to his game, and now, he has transformed into the “cool, calm and collective guy” he is today.

Fabbrini also says that what sets Heflin apart from other goal tenders in the league is him playing on one of the most difficult rinks to be a goal tender in “the Big Pond”.

“His home games are on one of the most difficult ices to be a goal tender in; it’s bigger than an Olympic sheet. There’s more time and space,” Fabbrini said. “He’s got a taller task than most other goalies, but for my money, he is probably the best goalie in the CSCHL.”

With the Illini’s preseason series against the Springfield Blues kicking off Saturday, Heflin is ready to lead his team through the high expectations set for himself and his team this season.

“I’m just trying to lead by example,” Heflin said. “I’m going to go out there, work my (butt) off and see if the guys follow it.”


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