Senior Scully’s aggression results in goals, intimidation for Illini hockey

By Sean Neumann

Editor’s note: The Daily Illini sports desk sits down Sunday nights and decides which Illinois athlete or coach is our Illini of the Week. Athletes and coaches are evaluated by individual performance and contribution to team success.

If you first met John Scully off the ice, he’d most likely give you a big smile and shake your hand. But if the first time you met Scully was on the ice, he might be running you through the boards.

It’s a transition of personality unlike any other on the Illini hockey team and one that makes him one of the most feared players on the roster.

Scully had five goals this weekend against CSCHL conference rival Indiana, which helped the team secure a spot in the ACHA national tournament. And 18 minutes, 47 seconds into the first period of Friday night’s 12-0 win, the senior forward already had a hat trick. Scully went on to net three more goals throughout the weekend for a total of six (though a scorekeeper’s miscredit on his deflection in the second period of Friday’s game left him with just five in the box score).

“It was one of those things where things were just clicking that night,” Scully said.

He was wide-eyed in disbelief when informed that Friday night’s would-be five-goal performance left him just one shy of an single-game Illini scoring record set by Ken Selby in 1962 and tied in 1989 by Mike Goldberg.

The senior’s fierce aggression on the forecheck also led to a hit on Indiana defenseman Sam Linder on Friday night that was so hard it broke the supports holding the glass together behind the Hoosiers’ net, resulting in a 15-minute delay as crews cleaned up after Scully’s wreckage.

“I didn’t really realize it until there was the stoppage of play and they were like, ‘Is that from when you hit that kid?’ And I thought, ‘Oh yeah, I guess it was!’” Scully laughed. “I don’t know, it might have been loose as it was.”

Scully already has 29 points (20 goals, nine assists) this season — the same point total in his last two seasons combined. All during a season where Illini head coach Nick Fabbrini has primarily matched Scully up against opposing team’s best line.

The senior also has more goals this season than he has in every other season combined in his collegiate career (18). Scully’s performance has him third in points for the Illini, behind CSCHL Rookie of the Year contender Cody von Rueden and linemate Eddie Quagliata — with whom he’s formed the most productive line on the Illini roster, combining for 62 points in 36 games.

“I’m more of a passer,” said Quagliata, who assisted on two of Scully’s goals this weekend. “He’s a goal scorer, so my job is to give him the puck. It’s kind of funny, because I’m the complete opposite (of Scully off the ice). I’m a big mess all the time. We sit right next to each other in the locker room, too, so his spot always seems to be a little bit cleaner than mine.”

Scully’s organization off the ice gives him a value to the team that reaches far beyond The Big Pond’s 195-by-115-foot surface. On the club team that receives no University funding, Scully acts as the team’s treasurer, handling all monetary issues — including the organization and planning of the team’s annual spending.

“With the way that we have to operate, having guys that are on top of things make things go a lot more smoothly for us,” Fabbrini said. “He’s done a lot for us in his role and it’s just part of the leadership he provides.”

The 5-foot-11 senior said his attitude toward the sport is what forces him to be precise and organized when it comes to his role in Illini hockey program.

“I take the whole hockey thing pretty seriously, and the treasury stuff is something that keeps the program running,” Scully said. “Away from hockey, I’m pretty laid back.”

Yet, as soon as a referee drops the puck, Scully’s anything but laid back. The Scully-Quagliata duo bring about a quick, physical forecheck, making them two of the most feared players on the Illini roster as they look to finish every check they commit to — sometimes finishing their checks so hard they break the glass, as Scully did on Friday.

The senior gives the credit for his line’s thorough conditioning to its work at practice.

“You can run on the treadmill everyday, but there’s nothing like hockey-shape,” Scully said.

Scully’s conditioning comes from a lifetime of training on the ice, having played hockey since he was in first grade.

He remembered his burning interest for the game at a young age and the desire to watch every game his favorite team, the Chicago Blackhawks, played.

“When the Hawks were playing, they’d only put the away games on TV, so I’d always want to watch it, but even when they were playing out in California or something, my dad had a rule where, ‘If you have your homework done, you can stay up and watch it,” Scully said. “I’d always look forward to those games and they always kept me going (academically).”

But it’s Scully said his decision to skip the junior-level experience and come to Illinois his freshman year that was the best he’d ever made.

“I had my heart set on playing juniors,” Scully said. “I went to go see (the Illini) play at nationals my senior year, and it was hard not to come here. There’s a lot of good schools out here, but when you pair that with the kind of hockey program it is and you’re out on the ice everyday, you can’t ask for anything better.”

With only three weekends left in his senior year, Scully’s hockey career and the life he’s known since he first started skating at 4 years old is quickly coming to an end. But if you see Scully breaking the glass above the boards with an opposing defender’s body, it’s worth noting that it’s done out of love: The love for the game of hockey.

“I look forward to going to practice everyday, and games? Games are huge.” Scully said. “When you get out there on the Pond with all the fans, I look forward to it every time. And when you can have a weekend like that, it really just brings it to a whole new level of fun.”

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