A conversation with an Illini: Austin Zima
September 29, 2015
As smooth as he is on the ice, apparently he’s even smoother on the dance floor — Illini defenseman Austin Zima sat down to talk with me about everything from my flow to his beard.
Kevin McCarthy: You guys got your butts handed to you on Saturday night against the Oklahoma Sooners. What happened?
Austin Zima: It was just bad. It was just a good ol’ fashioned (butt) whoopin’. We were on the penalty kill for the first eight minutes. It’s hard to generate much on offense when you’re constantly on the kill. You’re right though, we just got our (butts) handed to us — there’s really no way around it.
KM: How good can this year’s team be?
AZ: Very good. There’s no reason that we can’t contend for a championship. We’re a good hockey team when we show up. Friday night we competed hard against one of the best teams in the nation, but Saturday we didn’t show up. We’re a two-headed monster. My dad sent me a quote the other day that said, “when good teams lose, it’s not because they lose to their opponents, but usually because they lose to themselves.” That’s the case with this year’s team.
KM: The last two times that Illinois won an ACHA National Championship, head coach Nick Fabbrini was wearing an Illinois sweater. What does it mean to play for a guy who has been there and done that?
AZ: It’s comforting. You know that the person that you’re looking to has done it himself before. He’s been in our locker room, he’s played in front of our same fans. He has two rings, nobody in our locker room can say that.
KM: What makes playing hockey so fun?
AZ: When I ran into concussion issues last year, hockey was not fun. It sucked. I was scared to go to the rink, I was scared to go on the ice during the game, I was scared to play in front of 2,000 fans. When I was away from the rink, I realized that the most fun part of hockey is being a part of something bigger than yourself.
KM: You guys were 20-6 on home ice last season. Talk about playing in front of the “Harassing Illini.” (The student section at all Illini home games)
AZ: Every time I hit the ice, I get the jitters in my legs.
KM: If we threw you, all of your teammates and coach Fabbrini on a desert island — everybody gets a stick and a skate — who comes out alive?
AZ: I’m gonna say Grant Stueve. He’s just got some weird stuff going on that would make him survive. He’s definitely one of the weirdest kids in the room. He’d find some weird way to make it out.
KM: I’m the between-the-glass reporter this year for all of the home games. Any advice for me?
AZ: Just look out for the puck. Another thing, I’d advise you to keep your mic off if something goes wrong. For the sake of us, and for the sake of censorship.
KM: Hockey players talk some mad trash. What’s the worst thing an opponent has ever said to you?
AZ: The only thing that anyone’s ever said that really got to me is when somebody told me that I was the ugliest guy on the ice. I just know that’s not true. It wasn’t as upsetting as it was confusing. I don’t want a guy to be lying to himself like that. I don’t know if something was going on with my hair that day or something, but I just know that’s not true.
KM: You mentioned your hair, is mine good enough to fit in on the team?
AZ: Your hair’s great. Very good. We don’t really have a lot of long-haired guys on the team. Grant Stueve probably has both the best and worst hair. So you’d probably be up there as one of the top two on the team.
KM: Got any fake teeth?
AZ: I have never lost or chipped a tooth playing hockey.
KM: I’ve got two fake teeth.
AZ: Really? Sign him up. We’ll get you a jersey.
KM: What’s your best dance move?
AZ: It’s something I like to call the “Spawning Rooster.” It’s a mixture of the chicken dance, and like a slow strut. When you see it, you know exactly what it is. We don’t really break it out at the bar that much. So when it happens, you know it’s a good night.
KM: Where might one see the “Spawning Rooster” on a Friday or Saturday night?
Author’s note: Once I turned the recording devices off, Austin told me about his alter-ego on Friday and Saturday nights. His name is “Simeon.” I’m still investigating for further details.
KM: What’s the playoff beard going to look like this year?
AZ: It’s going to be bad. It’ll be there — no doubt about that — but it’ll be rough.
KM: What’s the best hockey fight you’ve ever been in?
AZ: Last year, I grabbed a kid on Rhode Island by the ear and bounced his head off the ice three times. I got thrown out of the game, Coach didn’t like that one.
KM: Wanna drop the gloves right now?
AZ: No. I’m not in the mood — I had a real big lunch.
Kevin is a sophomore in Media.