John Olen: Just warming up

John Olen doesn’t want to slow down.

Last season, he led the Illini in goals (25) and points (48) as a freshman, something the young star said neither he nor his teammates expected him to do.

When he hits the ice to kick off the season next week, he will strive to be even more effective as well as consistent.

“I felt like there were weekends (last season) where I felt I didn’t really produce as well as I should have,” Olen said. “Hopefully I’ll be more consistent with my production this year.”

Olen doesn’t give himself all of the credit, though. Linemates Kevin Chowaniec and Scott Barrera were just as responsible for his success, he said. Chowaniec and Barrera were second and third behind Olen as the Illini’s top goal scorers.

If Olen didn’t score the majority of the goals his line produced, he may have even led the team in assists, too. Olen’s 23 assists sat him just behind Barrera, who spent most of his time feeding the puck to Olen for him to bury in the back of the net.

Barrera is gone now, having graduated at the end of the last season, but Olen isn’t letting it keep him down.

“It really sucks,” Olen said. “But it is what it is. Guys come in and fill spots, so I’m excited to get this year started off.”

While Olen’s impressive run was enough to help lead his team to a CSCHL conference title last season, head coach Nick Fabbrini expects more from him in his sophomore year.

Fabbrini said he hopes to see the same type of play Olen brings to the ice in other young players throughout all four lines this season.

“Johnny (Olen) was probably our best player last year — or at least one of them — and I’m expecting him to get better for us this year,” Fabbrini said. “I think we’ve added a lot of scoring depth up front, so hopefully that’s going to take some of the pressure off of him and make us a lot more difficult to game plan for.”

Coming into his second season with Illinois, Olen said he already feels more comfortable and hopes that will carry over into improving his presence on the ice.

“While getting the first year under your belt, you’re kind of still feeling things out,” Olen said. “But now that it’s my second year, I’m getting more comfortable and know the guys who I’m playing with. It makes it a little easier.”

While Olen has grown comfortable around his teammates over the past season, there’s one new addition to the Illini lineup that will make him feel right at home — his younger brother Joe.

“I’m excited,” Olen said with a big smile. “I’m a year and a half older, so it’s actually the first time we’ll ever be playing together.”

The brothers said they both began playing hockey at the age of four, while Joe converted to goaltender around the age of ten.

“Our dad got us started,” John said. “He played hockey as well, so I guess it’s sort of a family thing.”

Joe transferred to Illinois from Northern Illinois and will play backup behind second team All-American goaltender Nick Clarke.

Joe admitted his brother’s impressive season made him a little bit jealous, but he vowed to spin the rivalry in a productive direction.

“I’ll show him up a little bit,” Joe said with a laugh. “I’ll try to take some of his shine.”

Joe is just one of 12 or 13 new players Fabbrini plans to bring on this season, something the second-year coach said he is looking forward to after the production he got last year out of multiple freshmen, like John Olen.

“We’re still a young team for the most part, so I don’t think that age is going to be a detriment to us,” Fabbrini said. “You don’t need to be an upperclassmen to contribute. That’s the beauty of college hockey.”

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